Is my dog too skinny — questions and answers about underweight dogs
Are you worried about your dog’s health and suspect they may be losing weight? Weight loss cannot always be determined simply through a visual inspection. In this article, we explain how to tell if your dog really is too skinny, what the possible underlying causes could be, and how to combat weight loss in the long term
How can I tell if my dog is too skinny?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer here, however, a dog’s ideal weight is determined by various criteria (e.g. breed, size, age, muscle ratio and fur characteristics). Breed-specific weight indications are average values and can offer a rough guide. In general, the following signs suggest your dog is too thin:
- very prominent ribs and hip bones
- visibly sunken abdominal area
- thin, dull fur with noticeable gaps
To get a clear answer as to whether your dog really is underweight and needs treatment, you should ask for an examination by your vet.
A better guide: the Body Condition Score
Is my dog too skinny?
A visual inspection is not enough to tell whether your pet is too thin. With the help of the BCS (Body Condition Score) you can make an assessment by feeling around your dog’s waist, ribs and fat stores. The BCS is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. Below we describe exactly what each score means.
Note: For growing dogs, the BCS system is of very limited value. Caution is also advised with animals that have thick or long fur.
- BCS 1: Your dog’s bones (particularly ribs and vertebrae) are highly prominent. If your pet has a short coat, you will be able to see as well as feel the bones. When viewed from above, the waistline looks distinctly sunken. Muscle or stored fat? – Negative! Your dog is much too thin.
- BCS 2: In this case too, your dog’s bones will be visibly protruding (particularly in the case of short fur). You can feel a thin layer of fat over the ribs. Your dog’s waistline looks as though it is drawn in. Your dog is underweight.
- BCS 3: Your dog’s vertebrae, ribs and bones can be felt clearly when you run your hands over the body. Despite a thin layer of fat over the ribs, they can easily be counted. The waistline is visible and well-shaped — your dog is at the ideal weight!
- BCS 4: You can hardly feel your dog’s bones. The ribs are covered with a layer of fat that makes them impossible to count. When you inspect your dog from above, the waistline can barely be detected. Your dog is overweight and needs to trim down!
- BCS 5: Your dog’s vertebrae, bones and ribs can no longer be detected. The waistline is invisible. Even the chest, back and base of the tail are covered in fat. Your dog is obese! A diet should be started immediately.
Using the BCS gives a more accurate evaluation of your dog’s physical condition than considering body weight alone. If you have a long-haired pet, the BCS assessment may be rather trickier. Run your hands over the dog’s bones, vertebrae and ribs, and stroke the fur back so you can see or at least feel around the waist.
If you are unsure about your assessment, contact your vet. They will also be able to help you draw up a meal plan, and your dog will soon be at an ideal weight!
We would be delighted to help you choose an appropriate food product for your dog.
Why is my dog so skinny?
To balance the calories burned by a dog every day, sufficient energy needs to be consumed through food. If this quantity is too high, your dog will put on weight. Weight loss occurs if your dog uses more energy than is being consumed.
Intestinal parasites such as worms and Giardia deprive your dog’s body of essential nutrients. This can result in a nutrient deficiency, which may become apparent through fur or skin problems. Despite a balanced energy intake, your dog continues to lose weight. To make sure your dog quickly gets back to an ideal weight and avoids the health consequences of a parasite infection, you should eradicate these pests from your dog as quickly as possible.
If your dog is highly discerning or a picky eater who turns a nose up at its food, this problem is relatively easy to solve with a bit more variety in the bowl. On the other hand, psychological strain and other stressful situations (e.g. moving house, a change of owner, another family dog, being on heat) are serious issues that can have a negative impact on appetite and thus also on your dog’s weight.
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Dietary causes — what food to offer if a dog is too skinny
Incorrect feeding can also result in a dog being underweight. If you do not offer your dog enough food, for example, this leads to a calorie deficit and weight loss. Substandard food that damages your dog’s intestinal flora can also cause weight loss. This is because the absorption of nutrients is inhibited over an extended period, resulting in nutritional deficiencies.
Allergies and intolerances to particular ingredients can also cause diarrhoea and vomiting, a loss of appetite and weight loss. Since animal protein or gluten are common triggers for these reactions, you can try e.g. a grain-free feed or a product containing insect protein to avoid these allergens. If the intolerance is due to an age-related slowing of the metabolism, you can give your dog an easily digested feed that has been designed for older animals.
Dry food recommendation for your four-legged friend - tasty nutritional food:
What are the possible consequences of a dog being too skinny?
If a dog is underweight for a short period, there is no need to worry. However, a sustained period of being underweight is associated with nutrient deficiencies and serious health consequences, e.g.:
- a weakened immune system
- increased risk of infection
- impaired hormonal balance
- slow healing of wounds
- reduced bone density
- impaired water balance
- skin and coat problems (e.g. hair loss)
- muscle loss
- diminished physical resilience
- shorter life expectancy
What can I do if my dog is too skinny?
The very first thing you should do is investigate the cause of the problem. If the issue is due to an underlying physical illness or a parasite infection, appropriate treatment will be required. If your dog is too skinny, in most cases a specialised feed will be required. Having said that, a high-performance feed may cause your dog to become sufficiently fidgety that any additional energy is simply burned off immediately. For this reason, it is often advisable to offer your dog larger quantities of their normal feed. You can also make this more nutritious by adding sunflower, linseed or safflower oil.
What food is particularly good for a dog that is too skinny?
An underweight dog will benefit from food that is high in energy, easy to digest and that regulates digestion to ensure optimal absorption and exploitation of all vital substances. This also helps the digestive tract recover after an episode of diarrhoea.
Food that is rich in protein and fat also makes it easier to provide excess calories and ensure the dog gains weight. A particularly high-quality, delicious feed can help stimulate the appetite too. During the weight gain phase, try to avoid overexerting your dog, focusing instead on ensuring sufficient rest, leisurely walks, long breaks, and plenty of petting opportunities.
Help, my dog is not gaining weight!
How can I feed up my skinny dog? 10 tips for a healthy feeding routine
- Introduce fixed feeding times and locations, even when your dog is a young puppy. Remember: when puppies are growing, they need to eat more frequently than a mature dog.
- Make sure your dog is left in peace when eating to avoid distractions and discourage eating too quickly.
- Always offer food at room temperature. If the food is too cold, your dog won’t like it and it can cause digestive problems.
- If your dog has a natural tendency to eat very little, you can offer encouragement by feeding by hand or by hiding food and letting him track it down.
5. If dental problems are the source of your dog’s loss of appetite, you should seek medical treatment. In the meantime, you can purée your dog’s food.
6. Carefully increase the quantity of food to avoid overstraining your dog’s body and causing digestive problems. Over a period of several days, offer a third of the recommended quantity, then gradually increase this amount until your dog is managing a “normal” portion.
7. One or two meals per day are sufficient for an adult dog. Too many snacks between meals put a strain on digestion and may mean your dog will refuse to eat later.
8. A specialised feed, which is rich in energy and contains important nutrients, can be a helpful way to feed up your dog, even in small quantities.
9. If your dog is too weak to take on solid food, contact your vet and discuss the possibility of a feeding syringe or nutritional feed for your dog.
10. Liven up your dog’s food with delicious toppings to stimulate his appetite! Make sure the added ingredients are easily digestible.
How can I prevent my dog becoming too skinny?
As a dog owner, there are a couple of simple rules you can follow to help stimulate your beloved pet’s natural appetite, e.g.:
- feed once or twice a day (ideally in the morning)
- ensure extended breaks between meals
- add delicious toppings to make food more interesting
- choose a high-quality dog food that is filling but also contains all the key nutrients
- avoid offering leftovers or treats between meals
- occasionally mix some linseed or safflower oil into the food
- It can definitely be tempting at first to offer a fussy dog the occasional little snack to encourage him to eat something. Unfortunately, this is not good for your dog’s intestinal flora in the long term and will inhibit the optimal intake of nutrients by the body. As a result, your dog will continue to lose weight.
To feed up your dog successfully, the first thing to do is to ask why is my dog so skinny? Depending on the source of the problem, you should act as quickly as possible if your dog is too skinny. The best approach is to consult your vet to decide on a suitable treatment method and potentially get a menu plan drawn up. By following our tips, you can also prevent your dog becoming underweight in the longer term.