Feeding a Previously Starved Dog
This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.
Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
“Emaciated” was too mild a word to describe the condition of the young
terrier mix. This sad animal had no known history other than obvious
hardship. Her pathetic body condition was not the only testimony to her
previous existence, a wide scar encircled her muzzle indicating at some
point her mouth had been bound shut; either by accident or intention was
immaterial, the end result was the same. A dog, that should weigh forty-five
pounds, tipped the scale at only thirteen, and as a veterinary student it
was my charge to get her back to a healthy weight.
Feeding her a high quality, well-balanced dog food was the first step toward
recovery. That meant a dog food that contained protein, fat, carbohydrates,
vitamins and minerals, of sufficient quantity and quality, to meet her
Federal law requires that a dog food be labeled as either nutritionally
complete or “complementary”. Complementary labeled food must be fed in
association with additional food, or nutritional supplements, to make a
ration that would meet a dog’s total nutritional needs. A “nutritionally
complete” dog food requires no supplementation; it is a balanced ration.
Comparing nutritionally complete dog foods, and national brands sold by
many local veterinary clinics, illustrated their nutritional values were
Simply feeding her dog food seemed insufficient, given the degree of her
starvation. Surprisingly, the veterinary texts I consulted said the key was
to simply feed her more dog food, not additional nutrients. Despite her
starvation, she was an otherwise healthy dog. Consequently, supplementation
of nutrients above and beyond what her food already contained could actually
be harmful, not helpful. Excessive vitamin D could lead to calcium deposits
in her kidneys and excessive carbohydrate could cause digestive problems
such as lactose intolerance (the carbohydrate naturally found in milk/milk
products). Best intentions aside, she received nothing but dog food and
Within a week, her pelvic bones began to disappear under a layer of new
muscle. After two weeks, her ribs began to melt into a smooth side. After a
month, the fur that had been shaved for a spay operation began to grow,
diminishing her look of a patchwork quilt. An animal that once bit the bars
of her cage trying to get the food faster than it could be put down, now
left a portion uneaten. Her muzzle scar was all that remained as evidence to
her former mistreatment: a thick white line sewn down a dark face. It was
akin to her life experiences, the sharp contrast between human cruelty and
This Pet Health Topic was written by Sarah Hoggan, Washington State
University, Class of 2001.
Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or
your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.
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