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Can Underfeeding a Dog Cause Weight Gain



Reviewed By: Dr. Joel Robertson

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At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to think that underfeeding a dog could lead to weight gain.

However, there are some potential connections between insufficient food intake and an increase in weight that pet owners should be aware of.

In this article, we will explore the impact of underfeeding on a dog’s weight, metabolism, and overall health, as well as discuss the importance of providing a balanced and appropriate diet for your furry friend to maintain optimal well-being.

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What is Poor Nutrition in Dogs?

Can Underfeeding a Dog Cause Weight Gain

Poor nutrition in dogs refers to a situation where a dog is not receiving the necessary nutrients and vitamins it requires to maintain good health and overall well-being.

A well-balanced diet should contain all the essential nutrients that a dog needs, such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals.

When a dog lacks these nutrients, it can lead to various health problems such as gastrointestinal issues, weight gain or loss, weakened immune system, lethargy, and poor coat condition.

Poor nutrition in dogs can result from inadequate feeding of the right pet food, feeding low-quality pet food, overfeeding, or underfeeding.

It can also result from the wrong kind of food such as feeding dogs human food or dog food that is not specific to their age, breed, or health needs.

It is crucial to ensure a balanced and nutritious diet for your dog by feeding them high-quality, dog-specific, and age-appropriate pet food that can provide all the necessary nutrients they need.

Additionally, efforts must be made to prevent overfeeding or providing too many unhealthy treats and snacks which can lead to obesity and other health problems.

Proper nutrition is necessary to keep your dog healthy, happy, and energetic, enabling them to enjoy a long and fulfilling life.

Can Underfeeding a Dog Cause Weight Gain

Yes. Contrary to popular belief, underfeeding a dog can actually cause weight gain rather than weight loss.

When a dog is not getting enough food, their body goes into “starvation mode,” where it begins to conserve calories by storing them as fat.

This means that even though the dog is not eating enough, their body is still holding onto any calories it does receive in order to survive.

Additionally, underfeeding can lead to constant hunger and cravings for food, which can cause the dog to overeat whenever food is available.

This binge-eating behavior can further contribute to weight gain. It’s important to note that feeding a dog a balanced diet with the appropriate amount of calories for their age, breed, and activity level is essential for maintaining a healthy weight.

If you suspect your dog is overweight or underweight, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate feeding regimen for your pet.

They can also rule out any underlying health issues that may be contributing to your dog’s weight gain or loss.

Why Does My Dog Not Seem To Gain Weight?

There could be several reasons why your dog is not gaining weight.

One possibility is that they have a medical condition that is preventing them from properly digesting and absorbing nutrients from their food.

This could include diseases such as pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or parasites in their digestive system.

Other potential reasons could be related to their diet or feeding habits. If they are not being fed enough or are not getting a well-balanced diet, they may not be getting enough protein or essential nutrients to support healthy weight gain.

Additionally, if they are not eating regularly or are being fed table scraps instead of dog food, this could also impact their ability to gain weight.

It is important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues and to discuss the best options for helping your dog gain weight, such as switching to a high-calorie diet or adding supplements to their food.

Regular exercise can also help stimulate their appetite and promote healthy weight gain.

Why Is My Puppy So Skinny Even Though He Eats?

If you have a puppy that seems to be skinny despite eating regularly, it’s important to determine the cause of their lack of healthy weight gain.

Some common reasons for a skinny puppy include a medical condition, malnutrition, or parasites.

Malnutrition can happen if your puppy is not getting enough of the right nutrients, or if they are unable to absorb the nutrients they are taking in.

Additionally, parasites such as fleas or worms can also cause your puppy to lose weight despite eating regularly, as they can cause damage to their digestive system and prevent them from absorbing the nutrients they need.

If you feel that your dog is not at a healthy weight, it is essential to seek advice from a veterinarian. They can help determine the underlying cause of your puppy’s weight issues and work with you to develop a plan to improve their overall health.

Correcting any malnutrition or medical concerns, along with providing your pup with a balanced diet and proper exercise regimen, can ultimately help your furry friend gain weight and achieve a healthy body condition.

How Many Calories Should My Dog Eat Daily?

Generally speaking, most adult dogs require about 30 calories for every pound of body weight per day. For example, a 50-pound dog would require roughly 1,500 calories per day.

However, it’s important to note that this is only an estimate. Just like humans, each dog has their own unique caloric needs, and it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate amount of food for your furry friend.

Overfeeding your dog can lead to obesity, which can lead to a host of health problems, such as joint issues and diabetes.

On the other hand, underfeeding can also be detrimental to their health, leading to malnutrition and lethargy.

In addition to determining the appropriate number of calories for your dog, it’s also important to make sure that they are eating a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs.

This may include consulting with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to determine the best type of food and portion sizes for your dog’s individual needs.

Does My Dog’s Age Affect The Amount I Should Feed Them?

Yes, a dog’s age can affect the amount of food that they need. Young puppies require more food as they are still growing and developing.

Normally, puppies should eat about 3-4 times a day. As they grow, their food intake will naturally reduce. Adult dogs, on the other hand, require less food as they are not growing anymore.

Owners should watch their dog’s weight and adjust their portion sizes accordingly. Senior dogs may also need special diets to manage their weight and account for changes in their metabolism.

Keep in mind that each dog is different, and factors like breed, activity level, and health conditions can all affect their food requirements.

Therefore, it is important to consult with a veterinarian to design a proper feeding plan for your furry friend.

Proper nutrition is essential to ensure your dog lives a healthy and long life, so make sure you are catering to their unique needs and avoid overfeeding or underfeeding them.

How To Feed Your Dog Properly?

Feeding your dog properly is essential to keep them healthy and happy. Firstly, you need to choose the right type of food that suits their age, size, and breed.

While some dogs may need a special diet due to medical conditions, most healthy dogs can consume commercial dog food that meets their nutritional requirements.

However, it’s important to read the label and ensure that the food contains high-quality protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals.

Depending on their age and energy level, you will need to adjust the portion size and the number of meals you provide.

Young puppies need to be fed frequently, typically 3-4 times a day, while adult dogs usually require two meals a day.

Make sure your dog has easy access to clean water at all times, especially after meals. Additionally, avoid feeding your dog table scraps, as human food can upset their stomach and does not meet their dietary needs.

By ensuring your dog receives a balanced, nutritious diet, you can help keep them healthy and active for years to come.

What Happens If You Underfeed Your Puppy?

Underfeeding your puppy can have serious implications on their health. Puppies require a lot of energy to develop properly, so if you’re not giving them enough food, they may suffer from stunted growth, weakness, or even malnutrition.

You should always ensure that you’re feeding your puppy the recommended portions of food for their age, weight, and breed.

If you’re not sure how much to feed your puppy, consult your veterinarian to develop a feeding plan that meets your pup’s specific needs.

Underfeeding your puppy can also cause behavioral issues such as aggression or excessive barking, as they may become irritable and anxious due to a lack of nutrients.

Additionally, a puppy with an empty stomach may turn to eat inappropriate objects that can obstruct their intestines and lead to serious digestive problems.

Lastly, underfeeding may lead to a weakened immune system, making puppies more prone to infections and illnesses.

To ensure your puppy grows up happy and healthy, it’s essential to provide them with the right nutrition, which includes a balanced diet and sufficient amounts of water.

What To Do If You Accidentally Underfeed Your Puppy?

If you accidentally underfeed your puppy, there are steps you can take to rectify the situation. First, confirm the amount of food your puppy should be receiving per day.

Once you have this information, increase the amount of food you are feeding your puppy until you reach the correct amount per day.

This should be a gradual increase over the course of several days to avoid upsetting their digestive system. You may need to adjust the amount of food your puppy receives depending on their age, weight, and activity level.

Additionally, make sure your puppy has access to fresh water at all times. If you notice any signs of malnutrition, such as lethargy or weight loss, consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

In the future, be sure to measure your puppy’s meals to prevent underfeeding. Over time, you should be able to establish a feeding routine for your puppy that works well for you both.

Remember, consistently providing your puppy with the proper nutrition and care is essential for their growth and overall health.

How Do You Know If a Puppy Is Underfed?

There are several signs that can indicate that a puppy is underfed. Firstly, if the puppy appears thin or bony, you may need to examine its diet and consider increasing the amount of food it consumes daily.

Secondly, if the puppy refuses to eat, this may be a clear sign that it is not receiving enough food.

Additionally, if a puppy is lethargic or lacks energy, it could be due to inadequate nutrition. Weight loss is another indication that your puppy may not be receiving enough food.

If you notice any of these signs, you should consult with a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

Ensuring that your puppy has access to proper nutrition is essential in ensuring that they live a long and healthy life.

Providing your furry friend with a balanced and nutritious diet will not only help it achieve optimal health but also make your bond stronger.

How To Stay Away From Under-feeding Your Puppy In The Future?

To prevent this in the future, you need to ensure that you are feeding your puppy the right amount of food and the proper kind of food.

Firstly, take your puppy to a veterinarian to weigh and assess its nutritional requirements. This can help in determining the amount of food your puppy needs daily to remain healthy.

Ensure that the food you provide is quality and a healthy option for your puppy’s development, such as balanced puppy food that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.

Check the label for the recommended daily calorie intake and use this as a guide to provide the right amount of food for your puppy.

It is essential to provide small meals, three to four times a day, rather than one or two large meals.

This allows the puppy to digest the food better, prevents hunger pangs, and encourages good eating habits.

Avoid feeding your puppy table scraps or high-fat food, which can cause stomach upsets or obesity. Lastly, actively monitor your puppy’s health and weight to ensure that it’s growing at the right rate.

With these tips, you can ensure that your puppy has a healthy diet, grows well, and stays away from underfeeding.

4 Non-Diet (Medical) Reasons Your Dog Might be Gaining Weight

Weight gain in dogs can sometimes be attributed to factors beyond their diet. It is crucial for pet owners to be aware of these potential causes to ensure the well-being of their furry companions.

1. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a common hormonal disorder in dogs, characterized by an underactive thyroid gland that does not produce enough thyroid hormone.

This deficiency can lead to a slow metabolism, resulting in weight gain, lethargy, and other symptoms. If you suspect your dog may have hypothyroidism, consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment options.

2. Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition where the dog’s body produces excessive amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone.

This overproduction can cause various symptoms, including weight gain, increased appetite, and a pot-bellied appearance. A veterinarian can diagnose Cushing’s disease through blood tests and imaging studies, and recommend appropriate treatment options to manage the condition.

3. Medications

Certain medications prescribed for dogs, such as steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs, can cause weight gain as a side effect.

If your dog is on medication and experiencing unexplained weight gain, consult with your veterinarian to discuss possible alternatives or adjustments to the dosage that can help minimize this side effect while still effectively treating the underlying condition.

4. Lack of Exercise

While not a medical issue per se, inadequate exercise can significantly contribute to a dog’s weight gain. Dogs require regular physical activity to stay healthy, maintain muscle mass, and burn off excess calories.

Ensure your dog gets enough exercise based on their breed, age, and size, and consult with a veterinarian if you have concerns about

Symptoms of Poor Nutrition in Dogs

Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining the health and overall well-being of your canine companion. However, it can sometimes be challenging to determine if your dog is receiving adequate nutrition from their diet.

1. Dull, Dry Coat and Skin Issues

One of the first signs of poor nutrition in dogs is a dull, dry coat and skin problems such as itching, flaking, or excessive shedding. A balanced diet rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals is crucial for maintaining healthy skin and a shiny coat.

2. Low Energy Levels or Lethargy

If your dog is consistently lacking energy or seems lethargic, it could be an indication of insufficient nutrition. Proper nutrition provides the energy and nutrients that dogs need to stay active and engaged in daily activities. If your dog’s diet lacks essential nutrients, they may become tired, weak, or less interested in playtime.

3. Digestive Issues

Poor nutrition can lead to various digestive issues in dogs, including diarrhea, constipation, gas, or vomiting. An unbalanced diet lacking fiber, probiotics, or essential nutrients can disrupt your dog’s gastrointestinal system and cause digestive discomfort.

4. Poor Weight Management

Symptoms of poor nutrition can also manifest as difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Underweight dogs may have visible ribs and hip bones, while overweight dogs may experience difficulty moving and be more prone to obesity-related health issues. A balanced diet with appropriate caloric intake is essential for proper weight management.

5. Weak Immune System

A weakened immune system can also be a sign of poor nutrition in dogs. Dogs with inadequate nutrition may be more susceptible to infections, take longer to recover from illness or injury, and show signs of a compromised immune system, such as frequent colds or allergies.

Causes of Poor Nutrition in Dogs

Here are some common causes of poor nutrition in dogs:

1. Low-Quality Dog Food

One of the primary causes of poor nutrition in dogs is feeding them low-quality dog food. Cheaper, lower-quality foods often contain fillers, artificial additives, and insufficient amounts of essential nutrients that dogs need for optimal health.

2. Inadequate Feeding Guidelines

Another cause of poor nutrition is not following appropriate feeding guidelines based on your dog’s age, weight, activity level, and specific dietary needs. Overfeeding or underfeeding your dog can lead to an imbalance of nutrients and contribute to health issues such as obesity or malnourishment.

3. Insufficient Variety of Nutrients

Feeding your dog the same type of food continuously without providing a variety of nutrients can also lead to poor nutrition. Dogs require a balanced diet containing proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to maintain good health. Sticking to a single type of food might not meet all their nutritional requirements.

4. Homemade Diets Without Proper Guidance

While preparing homemade meals for your dog can be a healthy alternative to commercial dog food, it can also lead to poor nutrition if not done correctly. Pet owners who do not consult with a veterinarian or canine nutrition expert when creating homemade diets may inadvertently provide an unbalanced meal plan lacking essential nutrients.

5. Underlying Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders, dental issues, or metabolic diseases, can interfere with a dog’s ability to absorb or utilize nutrients properly. These underlying health problems can contribute to poor nutrition, even if the dog is fed an otherwise balanced diet.

Diagnosis of Poor Nutrition in Dogs

Diagnosing poor nutrition in dogs typically involves a thorough evaluation of the dog’s diet, physical condition, and medical history. Here are some steps that veterinarians may take to diagnose poor nutrition in dogs:

1. Comprehensive Physical Examination

A veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive physical examination to assess your dog’s overall health and look for signs of malnutrition or nutritional imbalances, such as a dull coat, skin issues, visible ribs, or other weight-related concerns.

2. Detailed Dietary History

The vet will ask you about your dog’s diet, including the type and brand of dog food, feeding frequency, portion sizes, and any supplements or treats given. This information helps the veterinarian determine if the diet could be contributing to the dog’s poor nutrition.

3. Blood Tests

Blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panel, can help identify nutrient deficiencies, infections, or other underlying health issues that may be causing poor nutrition. These tests provide valuable information about your dog’s overall health and metabolic function.

4. Fecal Examination

A fecal examination can help detect parasites or other gastrointestinal issues that may contribute to poor nutrition by affecting your dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from their diet.

5. Urinalysis

Urinalysis is another diagnostic test that can provide insights into your dog’s overall health and help identify potential issues related to nutrition, such as kidney function or mineral imbalances.

6. Additional Diagnostic Tests

Depending on the findings from the initial examination and tests, the veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, ultrasound, or endoscopy, to further investigate potential causes of poor nutrition in your dog.

Recovery of Poor Nutrition in Dogs

Here are some steps you can take to help your dog recover from poor nutrition:

1. Consult with a Veterinarian

Work closely with your veterinarian to create a tailored nutrition plan for your dog, based on their age, weight, activity level, and specific dietary needs. Your vet may recommend a high-quality commercial dog food or provide guidance on creating a balanced homemade diet.

2. Adjust Feeding Guidelines

Ensure you are following the appropriate feeding guidelines for your dog’s specific needs. This may involve adjusting portion sizes, meal frequency, or the type of food provided. Your veterinarian can help determine the best feeding schedule for your dog.

3. Provide Nutritional Supplements

If your dog is deficient in certain nutrients, your veterinarian may recommend adding nutritional supplements to their diet. Always consult with your vet before giving any supplements to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your dog’s unique needs.

4. Monitor Weight and Body Condition

Regularly monitor your dog’s weight and body condition to track their progress and ensure they are recovering from poor nutrition. Adjust their diet and feeding guidelines as needed to maintain a healthy weight and body condition.

5. Regular Vet Check-ups

Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s recovery and overall health. Your vet may perform follow-up blood tests or other diagnostic tests to ensure your dog’s nutritional needs are being met and any underlying health issues are being addressed.

6. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

In addition to proper nutrition, ensure your dog is receiving adequate exercise and mental stimulation to support their overall well-being. Regular physical activity and mental enrichment can help maintain a healthy weight and improve your dog’s quality of life.

6 Tips to Help Your Dog Gain Weight

Here are six tips to help your dog gain weight while maintaining their overall health and well-being:

1. Consult with a Veterinarian

Before making any changes to your dog’s diet or routine, consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of their low weight and ensure you’re taking the appropriate steps to help them gain weight safely.

2. Choose High-Quality, Calorie-Dense Food

Switch to a high-quality, calorie-dense dog food that provides adequate protein, fat, and essential nutrients. Look for foods specifically designed for weight gain or formulated for active dogs, as these often contain higher calorie content to support healthy weight gain.

3. Increase Feeding Frequency

Instead of providing two large meals per day, consider offering smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This can help your dog consume more calories without feeling overwhelmed or overly full.

4. Add Nutritious, High-Calorie Treats

Incorporate nutritious, high-calorie treats into your dog’s diet to supplement their regular meals. Options such as peanut butter, cooked eggs, or plain chicken can provide additional calories and nutrients to help your dog gain weight. Be mindful of portion sizes and ensure treats do not exceed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.

5. Provide Nutritional Supplements

Consult with your veterinarian to determine if any nutritional supplements, such as high-calorie gels or powders, may be beneficial for your dog’s weight gain journey. These supplements can help provide additional calories and nutrients without significantly increasing the volume of food consumed.

6. Gradually Increase Exercise

While it may seem counterintuitive, moderate exercise can help stimulate your dog’s appetite and encourage muscle development, contributing to healthy weight gain. Gradually increase your dog’s exercise routine, focusing on low-impact activities such as walking or swimming that promote muscle growth without causing excessive strain.


Q: Can underfeeding a dog cause weight gain?

A: Yes, it is possible for underfeeding a dog to cause weight gain. When a dog is not getting the right amount of food, their body may slow down their metabolism and store more fat to conserve energy. This often results in weight gain, especially if the dog is not getting enough exercise.

Q: How can I help my dog lose weight?

A: To help your dog lose weight, you should talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to adjust its diet and exercise routine. They may recommend high-quality, low-calorie dog food and a specific amount of food to give your dog based on their activity level and health. You should also make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and limit treats and table scraps.

Q: Can overfeeding my dog lead to obesity?

A: Yes, overfeeding your dog can lead to obesity. Dogs and cats that eat more calories than they burn off are at risk for weight gain and obesity. This can cause serious health problems such as joint pain, heart disease, and diabetes. It’s important to measure the amount of food you give your dog and make sure they are getting the right amount based on their size and activity level.

Q: Can puppies become overweight?

A: Yes, puppies can become overweight if they are fed too much food or not getting enough exercise. Puppies need a healthy diet to grow properly, but it’s important to make sure you’re not overfeeding them.

Q: Should I take my dog to the veterinarian if they are gaining weight?

A: Yes, you should take your dog to the veterinarian if they are gaining weight. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog’s overall health and rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing weight gain. They can also help you come up with a plan to help your dog lose weight in a healthy way.

Q: How much food should I give my dog?

A: The amount of food your dog needs depends on their size, activity level, and age. You should talk to your veterinarian to determine the right amount of food to feed your dog. Generally, it’s recommended to feed your dog the right amount of high-quality kibble and limit treats and table scraps.

Q: Can feeding my dog too much food cause health problems?

A: Yes, feeding your dog too much food can cause health problems such as obesity, joint pain, diabetes, and overall poor canine health. It’s important to make sure you are feeding your dog the right amount of calories and not overfeeding them. Talk to your veterinarian for guidance on how much food to give your dog.

Q: Can nutritional deficiencies cause weight gain in dogs?

A: Nutritional deficiencies in dogs can cause them to gain weight. If your dog is not getting the right amount of essential fatty acids or other nutrients, their body may slow down its metabolism and store more fat. This can lead to weight gain and other health problems. Make sure your dog is getting a healthy diet with all the essential nutrients they need.

Q: Is it possible for my dog to lose weight if they have been overweight for a while?

A: Yes, it is possible for your dog to lose weight even if they have been overweight for a while. However, it’s important to do so in a healthy way. Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to help your dog lose weight through diet and exercise. They may recommend high-quality, low-calorie dog food and a specific exercise routine to help your dog achieve a healthy weight.

Q: Can parasites cause weight gain in dogs?

A: No, parasites generally do not cause weight gain in dogs. In fact, parasitic infections such as tapeworms can actually cause weight loss. If you suspect your dog has a parasitic infection, you should take them to the veterinarian for treatment.

In Conclusion

Although underfeeding a dog might not directly cause weight gain, it can lead to a slower metabolism, muscle loss, and other health issues that could indirectly contribute to weight fluctuations.

Proper nutrition is vital for maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being in dogs.

Consult with a veterinarian and follow their recommendations on feeding guidelines based on your dog’s age, size, activity level, and health status.

By providing a balanced and appropriate diet, you can support your dog’s health and prevent potential issues related to underfeeding or overfeeding.

Please take the time and leave a comment below if this article helped you, or you have any additional questions.

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