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Is my dog too skinny? Answering this question can not only help you decide whether you might be over or underfeeding your dog; it can also tell you whether your pet might need to be seen by the veterinarian.
Here's how to tell if a dog is too skinny, what might be causing your dog to lose weight and what being skinny means for your dog's health.
Is My Dog Too Skinny?
Many people have a hard time judging what's a healthy weight for dogs. This is likely due to the prevalence of dog obesity, which has led many dog parents to view overweight dogs as being at a normal weight, explains the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. As a result, dog parents might see dogs who are at a healthy weight as too thin, which can lead to overfeeding them.
How to Tell If a Dog Is Too Skinny
Tufts University suggests having either a vet or a certified veterinary nutritionist check your dog's body condition score. This score offers an overall assessment of a dog's body fat, similar to the body mass index for humans.
If they're at a healthy weight, your dog will have a body condition score of 4 or 5 on a scale from 1-9 (or a 3 on a scale from 1-5). Dogs with these scores appear lean, with a clearly visible waistline when viewed from above, and an abdomen that's tucked up and not even with or pooching past the rib cage. You should be able to feel their ribs beneath a thin layer of fat.
If you suspect your dog is too skinny, here are some signs you can look for, according to Rover:
- The ribs are clearly visible or feel like they lie just beneath the skin, with no fat layer in between.
- The hip bones, shoulder bones and spinal cord are easy to feel beneath the skin.
- The bones at the base of the tail are protruding.
- The curve between the ribs and hips looks extreme when viewed from above.
- The spine and ribs are plainly visible when viewed from above.
Why Is My Dog So Thin?
If you feel that your dog is too thin, you should consult your vet. They will assess your dog's body condition to either confirm your suspicions or put your mind at ease. And if your dog is underweight, it could be a sign of a larger health problem that needs to be addressed. Apart from starvation and improper care, here are the biggest reasons dogs tend to be underweight.
If your dog is too skinny, one of the first things to check is that you're feeding them properly. Be aware that not all dog foods are created equal in terms of calories and nutritional value. Depending on the manufacturer and brand, one cup of dry dog food can contain anywhere from around 200 to 600 calories, says Tufts University. So while you might think one cup a day is plenty for your pooch, it's possible their food isn't meeting their daily calorie requirement.
Some commercial dog foods also use improperly balanced and/or poor-quality ingredients that don't provide your dog with adequate nutrition. Check with your veterinarian for their recommendation on a high-quality dog food, and be sure to check the number of calories per cup to be sure you're giving your dog the correct amount for their size and activity level. Ask your vet if you're not sure how many calories your dog should be getting each day.
Underlying Health Conditions
Being underweight can also signal an underlying illness, especially if the weight loss is sudden. A number of health issues can cause weight loss in dogs, ranging from tooth pain to gastrointestinal discomfort to more serious conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease and cancer. Your vet will conduct a thorough exam, along with bloodwork and a urinalysis, in order to discover or rule out what could be responsible for your dog's weight loss.
It's fairly normal for some senior dogs to lose a little weight as they age, due to factors like reduced appetite, loss of muscle mass and digestive problems — all of which are common among aging dogs, says Pet Carrier Verdict. Talk to your vet about possibly switching your dog's food to something more age-appropriate and easier to digest. As common as some weight loss is in senior dogs, rapid or significant weight loss indicate health problems that need to be addressed.
Getting Your Dog to a Healthy Weight
If your dog has an underlying illness, proper treatment may help restore them to a healthy weight. Depending on the condition and your vet's treatment plan, this might include switching your dog's food to a therapeutic formula. Your vet will give you guidance on how much to feed your dog to help them achieve a healthy weight. For very thin dogs, vets might also provide a high-calorie options to help them gain weight more quickly.
If your dog is otherwise healthy, adjusting their daily meal plan to ensure they're getting the proper amount of calories and balanced nutrition should gradually restore them to a healthy weight.
While it might be tempting to supplement your underweight pets food, Tufts University cautions to avoid giving them table scraps, which can cause a nutritional imbalance that can actually cause them to lose weight instead of gaining it.
Being able to notice whether your dog is at an unhealthy weight will prepare you to help prevent a number of connected health problems, and will help you keep your pooch healthy and happy.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.