Symptoms of Malnutrition in Dogs

By Elizabeth Tumbarello

Malnutrition is a form of animal abuse, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States of America. Not every malnourished dog has an owner who is intentionally abusing it, though malnourishment is one of the most obvious signs of abuse. It may also occur due to a lack of education about proper canine nutrition. Speak to a veterinarian if you suspect your dog or a dog you know is malnourished.

Physical Appearance

Malnourished dogs can have a lack of  soft fur and dry skin or dandruff

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Physical appearance is one of the most obvious signs of canine malnutrition. Veterinarians use a body scoring chart to compare a dog's physical appearance to set standards. A body scoring chart rating of one indicates severe malnutrition, while a body scoring chart of two indicates possible or moderate malnutrition, as stated by the “Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians.” With a body score of one, the dog's ribs and bones are visible and prominent even from a distance. There is little to no body fat and no muscle mass. A body chart score of two indicates the ribs are visible but not prominent. The spine may be visible, though pelvic bones are usually covered with a minimal layer of fat. Muscle may be present, but minimal. Malnourished dogs may have scruffy coats, a lack of soft fur and dry skin or dandruff.

Gastrointestinal Upset

Malnourished dogs do not eat enough of the proper nutrients they need to have natural bowel movements

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Dogs who are not eating enough of the proper nutrients are prone to odoriferous gas, inconsistent bowel movements and small amounts of fecal matter, as stated by the “Clinical Veterinary Advisor.” Feces may be extremely runny or extremely hard. Pain while defecating or straining to defecate may also indicate malnutrition. Severely malnourished dogs may vomit bile, according to the “Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians.”

Energy Level

Malnourished dogs have a marked lack of energy

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Malnourished dogs have a marked lack of energy. They will not run, play or seek attention as readily as healthy dogs. Dogs suffering from insufficient nutrition may appear depressed or may develop neurotic behaviors. Animals need food to produce energy, and lack of energy coupled with other signs is indicative of malnutrition, according to “Nutrition for Veterinary Technicians.”

Susceptibility to Illness

Malnourished dogs are very susceptible to illness

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Dogs need food to develop their defenses against illness. Malnourished dogs are less likely to defend their body against illnesses that may not even affect healthy dogs. Dogs who are malnourished fall sick easier and have a hard time recovering from even minor ailments. Because there is a lack of fat cushioning the joints, malnourished dogs are at a higher risk for developing arthritis, according to the “Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians.” It should be noted that illness may be a cause for, rather than a symptom of, malnutrition.