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By: Kayla Kowalski, Certified Canine Nutritionist

The balance of body condition

Have you recently pet your pup and wondered if they’re feeling a little too skinny or bony? That fluffy or dense coat can be deceiving! Just as with weight gain in dogs, weight loss can occur gradually and we may not immediately notice if our dog is looking a little too lean.

Keeping your pup at an ideal body weight is important for maintaining energy levels, hormone function, and overall health and well-being. If your dog is underweight, they may lose a bit of the spring in their step. In more severe situations, weight loss may cause disturbances in their metabolism and impair their quality of life.

Now, we tend to be more accustomed to looking at chunky labradors or plump pugs, but how do you know if your pup leans on the opposite end of the spectrum? The best way is to look at their body outline and feel along their sides. As a general rule, your dog's ribs should be easily felt, but not seen.

How to tell if a dog is underweight

The “knuckle test”

Run your fingers lightly over your knuckles as you make a fist. If this feels similar to your dog’s ribs, it is likely that they are too thin. We are aiming for the ribs to feel similar to our knuckles when our hand is held flat.

Dogs should have a nice taper to their waist when looking down at them from above. If the curve from ribs to waist to hips appears sunken or angular, this can also be a sign that your dog is underweight. When you’re looking at your dog from the side, a protruding lower back or pelvic bone can also be an indicator of low body weight.

Why is my dog underweight?

Finding that ideal balance in your dog’s weight can be tricky! If your dog has never been food motivated, they could just be a picky eater. 

Potential health conditions can also cause noticeable weight loss, despite normal energy intake. These conditions may include:

  • Parasites
  • Reduced digestion or absorption of nutrients
  • Kidney disease
  • Advanced heart disease
  • Metabolic disease (such as diabetes)
  • Thyroid disease
  • Dental disease 
  • Cancer

If you are worried, it is always a good idea to consult your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health conditions. Weight loss in older dogs, or any sudden drop seen on the scales should always be evaluated.

Stress is often overlooked and can play a big part in your dog’s appetite. Dogs are highly perceptive and easily anxious which can contribute to loss of appetite and instead fill their stomach with a churning unease. Your pup may not have a hair-pulling nine-to-five job, but even simple changes to the household can be enough to deter them from their food.

Both quality and quantity of food are important in a dog’s diet, and weight loss can occur if either is lacking. The nutritional contents of one type of dog food to another is equivalent to comparing steak and veggies to a Big Mac and fries!

How to help your dog gain weight

How to help your dog gain weight

When helping your dog gain weight the overall goal is for it to be slow and sustainable. It is important to increase your dog’s caloric intake gradually, while also keeping track of their weight using weekly checks. 

I recommend feeding your dog slightly larger meals to increase their overall calorie intake. Feeding them more healthy treats throughout the day can also be a good way to increase their calories. Adding lots of energy and nutrient-dense foods such as fish oils and eggs is a healthy and natural way to bump up the calories.

Upgrading your dog’s diet

A properly balanced raw diet is a great way to help your dog gain weight. When feeding a raw diet, it is important to ensure that their diet is balanced to your pet’s needs. I offer custom raw diet guides to help provide an easy way to ensure that your dog is getting all of the nutrients they need! If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of storing and preparing raw food, or if your pup is particularly picky, a balanced, cooked diet is your next best choice.

If you are only able to feed a high-quality kibble, I recommend topping their kibble with raw or lightly cooked foods and supplements for extra protein and calories. It is also important to rehydrate their dry food to help aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Using a bone broth to do so, such as Native Pet’s bone broth, adds a lot more nutritional value than water alone–as well as an appetizing taste!

Upgrading your dog’s diet

I recommend topping kibble with high-quality protein sources. Some examples include:

Then, you can add fruits and vegetables for even more health benefits.

Finally, adding nutrient dense supplements is a great way to improve your pet’s overall health. 

Let's not “waist” time!

Next time you're giving your pooch a good pet, pay attention to their contour and give the “knuckle test” a go. Regularly checking your pup’s body condition at home and adjusting their diet as needed can catch any weight changes early, while they’re easier to address.

I’m a Certified Canine Nutritionist (CertCN) who has helped over 3,500 pet parents optimize their pet’s diet. If you’re interested in finding out how a custom diet guide can help you and your dog, go to kaylakowalski.com.


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