My Dog Has Been Losing Weight

Most dog owners spend a significant amount of time worrying about ways to prevent their dogs from gaining weight. The opposite problem is rarely the case. When a dog does appear to be losing weight inexplicably, it is always cause for concern.

The first step toward a resolution is to go over your dog's eating and exercise schedule. Question all members of the family about their responsibilities related to the dog's care and feeding. Go as far as making a chart that quantifies amounts of food offered and actually consumed, and duration of and exertion during the various walks the dog is taken on. Not until the logic of this part of your dog's daily routine has been established should you move on to further investigation.

What to Look For

Weight loss is weight loss. When it represents a threat to your dog's health, however, it is much more of a concern. Of course, any time significant weight loss is mentioned, a thorough physical exam is called for.

For your current purposes, though, let's focus on your dog's immediate issues. Start evaluating your dog as a whole. Analyze his levels of energy and enthusiasm. Check his fur to see if it is sparse, coarse, or dull. Look for any loss of muscle mass. If you observe such a loss, see if it occurred in a symmetric fashion or if it is limited to certain parts of his anatomy. Check for evidence of protruding bones, especially the ridges of his skull, his shoulder blades, spinal vertebrae, ribs, and hips.

What to Do

Now go through the following questions to figure out what to do next:

  • Has your dog been ill recently? Chronic illness, especially organ system failure of the pancreas, kidney, or liver can result in long term nausea and vomiting, often leading to dramatic weight loss. If any of these conditions affect your dog, weight loss is to be expected, but not irreversible if the prognosis for the disease is optimistic.
  • Is your dog's coat sparse, coarse, or dull? If so, it could be due to the same cause as the weight loss. If your dog's appetite has remained healthy throughout the weight loss, intestinal parasites may be the problem. Warn your family members to practice strict personal hygiene and submit a fecal sample from your dog to your veterinarian.
  • Is your dog currently taking any medication? Either the illness your dog is being treated for or the medication he is taking for it could be a factor in his weight loss. If your veterinarian approves, try reducing or even eliminating your dog's chronic medication to see if that helps him regain his appetite and the weight he has lost.
  • Has your dog recently suffered from any form of head trauma? If so, there is the possibility of a concussion, as well as the dizziness and nausea that go with it. These symptoms could very well result in noticeable weight loss over a relatively short period of time. Seek your vet's help for a neurology consult.