Symptoms of Malnutrition

When you think of malnutrition you probably wouldn’t even begin to think about dogs that are in safe loving homes!  The truth is that malnourished dogs aren’t always neglected dogs on the streets or dogs in bad homes.  Not every malnourished dog has an owner who is intentionally not feeding it the proper nutrients.  Malnourishment can occur due to the dog’s owner not being properly educated about proper canine nutrition.  According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States of America malnutrition is a form of animal abuse.  If you suspect your dog or a dog that belongs to somebody else is malnourished, you should contact your veterinarian.


It is important to ask yourself if you are feeding your dog correctly and would you know it if your dog was suffering from malnutrition?  All dog owners should be educated about symptoms of malnutrition and how to prevent it.  Being educated and knowing how to prevent it are steps toward having a healthy, happy dog.

An improper balance of necessary nutrients in your dog’s diet is usually the cause of malnutrition.  Your dog can’t get the most out of his food if he doesn’t have these necessary nutrients.  Do not feed your dog table scraps and do not feed him too many treats to help prevent malnutrition.  Feeding your dog table scraps and too many treats will make your dog less interested in healthy food thereby depleting necessary nutrients that he gets from his dog food.

It is important to feed your dog a dog food that has a proper balance of all the different nutritional needs of your dog.  The dog food that you choose to feed your dog should have quality ingredients and few fillers like grains.  If the dog food you are feeding your dog doesn’t contain the necessary nutrients, your dog can eat the proper amount or even excessive amounts and still be malnourished.  Stay away from cheap store brand foods and choose a trusted brand of dog food.

If your dog is emaciated or extremely thin, then there is a good chance that he is suffering from malnutrition.  If your dog is so thin that you can easily see his ribs and backbone under his skin then he is not getting the proper nutrition.  This kind of malnutrition is usually but not always seen in starving or abandoned dogs.

A digestive problem is a less obvious sign of malnutrition.  If your dog is having trouble digesting his food properly it might be a sign that he isn’t getting the right combination of nutrients and minerals.  Symptoms would include a strong and frequent passing of gas, inconsistent bowel movements, overly runny or hard feces, or pain while defecating.  Severely malnourished dogs may also vomit bile.

Malnourished dogs have less energy and will not run, play or seek attention like healthy dogs.  They may seem like they are depressed or they may develop neurotic behaviors.  Food is needed to produce energy, and the lack of energy along with other signs is characteristic of malnutrition.

Susceptibility to illness is another sign of malnutrition.  Dogs that are malnourished are less likely to be able to defend their body against illnesses.  They are more prone to sickness and have a hard time getting well even from a minor sickness.  Malnourished dogs are also at a higher risk for developing arthritis because there is a lack of fat cushioning the joints.

Hair loss is another symptom of malnutrition.  Malnourished dogs may have scruffy coats, a lack of soft fur and dry skin or dandruff.

Other symptoms are poor eyesight and weak bones and teeth.  All of the mentioned symptoms are symptoms of malnutrition but they could also be symptoms of other health problems.  If your dog has any of these symptoms for more than a day, you should see a vet to make sure your dog doesn’t have any other health problems.

Supplementing your dog’s usual food with fresh food once in awhile is a good idea.  This will help with your dog’s digestion.  You can supplement some with some fresh foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, pumpkin, carrots, strawberries and apples.  There are many other foods that you can supplement with!  You should feed your dog a good dog food and supplement it with other fresh foods to help fight malnutrition.  You should always watch out for symptoms or other problems and see your vet immediately if symptoms don’t go away.  Your dog has only you to take care of him, so make sure you keep a watchful eye on him!

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