Signs of Malnutrition in Dogs

Authored by Rachel Stine in Dogs 
Published on 11-21-2009

According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an animal is abused in America every ten seconds. One of the most common signs of abuse – and one of the easiest to spot – is malnourishment. Although not a failsafe way to detect cruelty, malnourishment is a serious condition that is almost always reason to call the police.

Emaciation – the most blatant sign of neglect. An emaciated animal has protruding ribs or hip bones. They may also limp instead of walk, or act as though sitting on their haunches pains them. Any dogs in this condition should be immediately reported to your local police department. Reporting animal abuse to authorities is a community’s collective responsibility, so do not wait – this animal needs you to be a hero for them now. If you are uncomfortable with having your identity known, try finding an anonymous tip hotline connected to your local precinct. Animal control may also have anonymous reporting resources available.

Ribs – how much is too much? It should be noted that there is a significant difference between seeing a thinner breed’s ribs and seeing an emaciated dog. The latter is what we usually think of when we hear the word “starving”. To see if an animal is of a healthy weight, slide your hands down their stomach, with one palm on either side. You should be able to faintly feel the through thin layers of muscle and fat. However, feeling every contour of the bones because of the absence of muscle mass is cause for concern.

Energy level. Lethargy is another, more subtle suggestion that a dog may not be receiving the nutrients it needs. Animals eat food to produce energy, so any lack of it could be a sign of an underlying problem.

When malnourishment is a symptom – understanding worms and terminal illness. Major illnesses are not a strictly human phenomena. Nonhuman animals can also become terminally ill with conditions such as stomach cancer, which can cause continued vomitting. For pet guardians, watching a dog or cat succumb to illness can be extremely emotional. Before assuming that an animal is malnourished because of abuse, you may want to speak to the owner and inquire about the dog’s health. It is also possible that the dog has acquired worms, or parasites that can cause weight loss and stunted growth. To prevent this, have your canine companions dewormed as puppies.

If you suspect a dog is malnourished, call a veterinarian. It should also be noted that only licensed veterinarians can accurately diagnose canine health problems. While “home remedies” and “alternative medicines” may work for humans, dogs rely solely on their owners to recognize a health condition. They can’t tell you how severe their symptoms are, so don’t wait it out – take a dog with any suspected health problems to a vet immediately. They will be able to properly treat the animal.

Malnourishment is a serious condition that can result in death. Knowing the symptoms of it are the first steps to ensuring the safety of your animals and animals in your neighborhood.


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