Is My Dog Underweight?

Pet Care


June 11, 2020

Whether a dog is the correct weight for their age and breed is becoming more of a concern for both pet owners and vets alike. Some owners, unfortunately, fall into the habit of overfeeding their pets and subsequently bring little chubby couch potatoes to their vet. On the other hand, a lot of owners become concerned that their pet isn’t eating enough or is not gaining weight as they should.

Many vets believe that educating owners about their pet’s ideal weight, weight-related health issues, and how to spot signs of an underweight/overweight pet is vital.

Giving owners this information helps them to ensure their furball maintains a healthy weight and can even help to avoid extra vet appointments and bills in the future. Determining if your dog is underweight or overweight can be quite tricky because it doesn’t just happen overnight. Still, there’s a lot of things you can look for. 

How to Tell if Your Dog Is Underweight

The most common signs of an underweight pet include a lower-than-average body size than the typical standard for your pet’s breed. You must be aware of the typical weight standard for a specific breed as they age to ensure that your pet is where they need to be for healthy growth and development into adulthood, and also to maintain their healthy adult weight.

Your dog may seem lethargic or generally have lower activity levels than usual. This is due to the lack of the nutrients needed to generate energy for exercise, so you may find that your dog might move around less and even avoid exercise where possible.

Another common indicator is that your dog’s coat appears less ‘glossy’ or has lost its natural shine. Matted, dull fur and a loss of muscle mass are among other indicators that your dog is underweight, and extreme weight loss can result in your dog’s ribs becoming visible. 

How to Detect Weight Loss

Perhaps the most common and easy method to detect weight loss is via the scales. Owners often weigh their pets and make a note of it to compare to the breed standard. Some even make logs to ensure that their pet is maintaining a healthy weight, which makes detecting sudden weight loss easier. Taking notes of your dog’s weight from vet visits gives you your pet’s typical weight range that you can compare with your measurements at home.

If you don’t have access to scales at home, a good method of checking your pet’s weight is by standing above them and looking down. While pets should have a definite waist indentation, an exaggerated hourglass figure could signify that they are underweight. You can also run your hands along your pet’s sides, which is the same method to check for obesity.

When a dog is a healthy weight, you should be able to feel their ribs with a thin layer of fat over them. With an underweight dog, you cannot feel this thin layer of fat. Instead, it feels like you are touching bone through the skin. Overweight dogs have the reverse issue; you can’t feel their ribs due to a much thicker layer of fat. 

Why Is Your Dog Underweight?

There are various causes of weight loss that can lead to an underweight dog. Most of these causes are nothing to worry about, but there are conditions more severe if you detect that your dog is losing weight, especially rapidly. These causes can include: 

  • Insufficient diet 

Your dog’s diet may simply be lacking in the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy weight. 

  • Underfeeding 

You may merely be underfeeding your dog without even realizing. Fortunately, this can be fixed easily. 

  • Parasites 

Unwanted guests like tapeworm and other worm variants live in the intestine and absorb nutrients that your dog needs, which can result in weight loss even though your dog is eating regularly. 

  • Diseases 

Cancers like lymphoma and leukemia can lead to weight loss, as well as conditions like diabetes, but other symptoms will often accompany weight loss. 

  • Medication 

Weight loss can be a side effect of some treatments and medications. These side effects will be listed in the leaflet inside the medication package, and you can ask your veterinarian about possible side effects of vaccines when administered. 

How to Treat an Underweight Dog

The first step to treat a lack of weight in your dog involves looking inward. Focus your attention on factors such as the possibility that your dog’s diet is insufficient, you are underfeeding them, or that they may be stressed. You can contribute to fixing this.

Encouraging your dog to eat can combat the issue, especially if your dog is picky with their food. Tempting your furry companion to eat regularly with a balanced diet is vital for their overall health. You can do this by: 

  • Changing feeding patterns 

To help your dog to recover their appetite, you can try feeding them several times a day. This can be useful to test if you’re just underfeeding them. If your pet doesn’t have a history of obesity, you can leave food out for them throughout the day so that they can grab a bite whenever they feel like it. 

  • Increasing calories 

A typical indicator of an inadequate diet is knowing that your dog eats their food regularly, but they are still losing weight. This could be because the food you’re offering your dog isn’t sufficient enough in calories that they need to ingest. Try switching the brand of food, and make sure that you’re aware of your dog’s daily calorie requirements to help you select the right food for them that’s sufficient in nutrients to meet their needs. 

  • Making food tempting 

If you simply have a case of a picky eater on your hands, you can mix in a few delicious treats, or even try warming up their food.  

  • Providing supplements 

You can also slip vitamins or supplements into your dog’s food or give them the supplement directly. 

When to Visit a Veterinarian

If you’ve tried all of the above and your dog is still losing weight, a trip to the vet is in order. Your veterinarian will help you get to the bottom of what’s causing your dog to be underweight by carrying out a physical examination and running various diagnostic tests. Treatment of the underlying cause identified from these tests will help to bring back your dog’s appetite or allow them to absorb nutrients properly. 

For example, if your dog is suffering from tapeworm, the treatment will allow them to absorb nutrients properly again as it gets rid of the parasite. After the treatment is done and your four-legged friend is tapeworm-free, they will start to gain weight again. 

Final Thoughts

While some conditions like cancers can be alarming, it’s important to remember that there is a wide variety of possible reasons your dog could be underweight. Since stress can cause weight loss, you must remain calm to save your dog from any additional anxiety. If your furry companion is displaying other worrying symptoms other than rapid weight loss, it’s imperative that you contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to get a diagnosis.

If your dog is given treatment after their diagnosis, it may be wise to monitor their weight to ensure that the treatment is working as it should and that your beloved family pet is back to their usual self as soon as possible. Therefore, if you don’t have scales at home to do this, it may be a wise investment. If your pup’s weight doesn’t improve after the treatment has finished, you should inform your vet as further diagnostic tests or another treatment plan may be needed.