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Do Bad People Raise Thin Dogs?

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“I had no idea my dog didn’t weigh enough. Am I a bad person?” She wants to know if bad people raise thin dogs and is asking me??? Oh boy.

This is the note I received from a very loving, caring, dog mom a few months ago. Let’s call the dog mom “Wanda” for sake of anonymity. Wanda has a few dogs and she engages in many activities with them, has a pet sitter when she is away, someone to take them out when she works, and considers her dogs to be members of the family.

So why didn’t her dogs weigh enough? In fact, why did it come to Wanda’s attention only when the dogs’ veterinarian chose to say something to her? It was only then that Wanda realized her dogs were too skinny.

Underweight dogs are as much of an epidemic as overweight dogs, but the media and writers, in general, share more about portly pooches than we do thin ones.  Trust me, I know: I wrote about overweight dogs just this week. So why the lack of attention for what is clearly a problem?

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Taboo Topic

When we think of underweight dogs, we generally consider malnourished dogs that are saved by good Samaritans and either adopted or taken to a shelter. Consider the case of miracle dog, Patrick, whose abusive owner starved him oh so close to death, but his will to live and a team of caring people intervened.

Do you like someone telling you that you packed on a few pounds and it shows? The truth hurts and the same goes for our canine family members. “Your dog could afford to lose some weight” or “your dog is chubby” are comments none of us want to hear. I imagine it isn’t comfortable for a veterinarian to tell a client that their dog needs to lose weight. What if that client decides to cease coming to the practice? What if the client gets insulted? But what if the client listens and heeds the advice?

Underweight dogs of the world in loving homes need that same dedication and advice from those in the know. Right now, I personally know of a few dogs that are underweight. This is not my opinion, but rather, in following the “how do I know if my dog is the ideal weight” scale.

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How to Determine a Dog’s Ideal Body Weight

The folks at Dog Food Advisor have a wonderful article on how to determine a dog’s ideal body weight. Rather than re-hash the entire article check it out and keep this key point in mind:

The very best way to determine your dog’s ideal weight is to use the exact same method used by veterinarians… the Purina Body Condition System—see below.

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Most notably, do this for your dog on a regular basis. You’ll want to visually inspect your dog and then palpate, or touch, him or her.

According to the Body Condition System, your dog will be one of the following:

  • Too thin
  • Ideal
  • Too heavy

You know those charts seen in human doctors’ offices that tell you what your ideal weight should be? The weights are different according to your bone structure and height, and often times, according to your age group. For a dog, however, you can get a general sense of their ideal weight using the Body Condition System.

What if a Dog Is Too Thin?

This is as much of a problem as a dog who is overweight. A malnourished dog is lacking the nutrients he or she needs to survive and thrive. If ribs are visible or bones are protruding from hips or ribs, this is a problem. A bloated abdomen and bleeding gums are also key signs of malnourishment.

We’ll spare the visuals of dogs that have been starved and/or malnourished, but the diagrams below are a pretty good assessment of what to look for, again according to the Body Condition System.

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Are You a Bad Person?

If after reading this article, you assess your own dog(s) and find that there is an underweight issue, don’t beat yourself up. Maybe someone was afraid to say something to you; after all, it’s not fun to hear your dog is chubby and it can’t be heartwarming to hear your dog is too thin.

Taking weight off needs to be gradual, and putting weight on a dog has a set of guidelines, too.

Here’s an excellent article on caring for an emaciated dog from our friends at petMD.

Assuming (and hoping) your dog is not emaciated, here’s an excellent article from our friends at petMD on how much food in terms of calories your dog needs.

So while the Internet is resplendent with articles on overweight dogs, take a moment to think of all the dogs who aren’t eating enough. Maybe one of them is your dog. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian before making any dietary changes or adjustments, and even better, seek the assistance of a veterinary nutritionist.

Too thin is just as bad as overweight: For people and for pets.

Question: Are you aware of the underweight pet epidemic and has this issue ever crossed your mind?

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16 Comments

  1. Interesting post. On occasion our dogs have been too thin and on occasion too fat. When you have active athletic dogs, keeping them at the correct weight can be a real challenge. We are constantly reevaluating the amount of food we give them. I suspect some people may just feed one amount without considering exercise or lack of exercise. A good reminder to reassess.

    1. That is my concern and I really hadn’t thought much about thin dogs and the underweight epidemic until recently. You make a superb point: Athletic dogs have to have the right weight for their specific functions and needs. For general pet parents who don’t have athletic dogs, I fear many think they are doing good by their dogs. In reality, a thin dog is a problem, too. Thanks for your feedback.

  2. There is really a need for more vets and people in the know to focus on underweight dogs, as there is a need for immediate action. Too often, the focus is on overweight dogs and not enough attention is given to the dog who is underweight. If a dog doesn’t have a disease or parasites, then obviously the owner isn’t feeding his or her dog enough food. As a result, the dog isn’t getting enough nutrients.

    Many owners who think that just because they feed their dogs the food doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give their pets treats. Of course, they should and those treats can be nutritious treats which is all the better! I know a few owners who try and save money by underfeeding their dog. If that is the reason the dog is underweight, they shouldn’t have a pet. Many health issues occur because of malnutrition. Provide your dog with a healthy and happy life.

    Thanks for such a timely article.

    1. You are very welcome, Lynnette. It is true that if enough nutrients are not given, a host of issues can arise. Treats in moderation are also okay for dogs, too. Thanks for your input!

  3. This is an issue for sure. I think in the dog community, it’s easier to confront the owner of an overweight dogs. You can be a little joke-y, maybe make a reference to your own need to loose a couple of pounds. But to the owner of an underweight dog, mention of it seems like a suggestion that they are purposefully neglecting their dog. I keep my dogs thin for competition and have VERY rarely had anyone approach me. Even when we adopted our newest dog and he was fairly underweight coming from the shelter and needed to put on about 6 pounds, no one mentioned it.

    I also find it easier to say “Hey, Rex would have an easier time getting over the high jump if he lost a couple of pounds.” than to say “Are you feeding Rex enough, he seems thin.” Both come with a tone of accusation but the second says “You AREN’Tfeeding enough!” and the first is that they just love too much, care too much and need to say no a little more often.

    1. Very good feedback, Jenna. Do you have any advice for how pet parents could (or even if they should) approach someone whose dog is “too thin?” Or do you think that is something that should be off limits?

    1. You are breaking down stereotypes and educating people, Katie. I hope you realize the impact of your writing, and I for one applaud you!

  4. Being a ‘SlimDoggy’ we try to maintain balance. We’ve only had to deal with an underweight dog twice and both times it was with brand new rescues who had been malnourished and mistreated. WE quickly got them on a good, healthy diet. Having Labs, our problem is usually the opposite as these guys will eat anything. Thanks for bringing attention to the other side of the story.

  5. I wouldn’t call them a bad person unless they are intentionally doing it and causing harm to their pets. Being around them everyday, it makes it difficult to notice the subtle changes in a dogs weight, and unless you have a scale that your dog will fit on, it will probably go unnoticed until the vet says something.

    People just need to remember to check every so often, and ask the vet when they go in for a checkup about the animals current weight, and the previous weight which the vet should have in their files. People also need to look at it from their pets point of view. When a person adds or loses a pound or two, it’s not that big of a deal, but when it happens to a dog, it has a much greater impact on their health.

    1. Very true, Chad. I replied to the reader that no, she isn’t a bad person, and she is now the inspiration for this post. A few pounds to us might be a nuisance, but to a dog they can be a killer. Thanks for your feedback.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. According to the photos, Lola is ‘thin’. But is she too thin? Should we feed her more? Not according to our vet. You can easily feel her ribs and she does have a very accentuated curve from her ribs to her waist, but I think some of this could be her body type. It’s probably a very thin line with us, being that she is not a huge dog (35 lbs). But you have me thinking, lol… Thanks!

  7. Well, short of the truly emaciated dogs on the internet and one who was ill, I can tell you that I have never seen a dog who was too thin. Ever. Not one.

  8. Great post!
    You’re right – I hear about and notice overweight dogs way more than underweight ones. When we adopted Alma, she was underweight, so we gradually increased it so she was healthier, but other than some incredibly sad rescue cases, I don’t recall a specific time seeing an underweight dog that was so thin I wanted to intervene with the owner. Then again, there are lots of long-haired double-coated dogs in our neck of the woods, so it’s much more difficult to tell the difference between healthy and underweight just by looking. You can certainly still tell overweight, though.

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