Signs You’re Underfeeding Your Puppy

You thought you were feeding your puppy just the right amount of food, but they’re so active that you just aren’t sure if it suffices. How do you know if your puppy is being underfed or fed just enough?

Here are some signs that you’re underfeeding your puppy:

  • You can easily feel the dog’s ribs
  • Their body has a very pronounced slope
  • They always want food
  • They have skin and/or coat problems
  • They’re smaller than they should be
  • They lack energy for their age

In today’s informative post, we’ll further examine the signs that your puppy is being underfed. We’ll also help you discern between a puppy that’s truly hungry or just greedy and what happens if your puppy isn’t properly fed for long enough, so keep reading!

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5 Signs Your Puppy Is Being Underfed

1. You Can Easily Feel the Dog’s Ribs

As we talked about in our post about overfeeding your dog, it’s not like you have a medical-grade scale available at home like what you’d see at your vet’s office.

skinny dog standing on the field
Skinny underfed dog. Notice the ribs sticking out and where the flank and upper thighs (at the back meet).

That said, your puppy’s stature will indicate that you’re not feeding the dog enough.

Puppies don’t pack on a lot of weight yet, but you shouldn’t be able to feel their ribs when just casually petting your pup.

If you can see the outline of your dog’s ribs, that’s an even more serious situation, as your puppy is seriously not eating enough.

2. Their Body Has a Very Pronounced Slope

While the shape of a dog’s body does vary by breed, you have a good idea of what body shape your puppy should have based on that breed.

If you notice any exaggerated or pronounced slopes, especially around the dog’s midsection or waist, that’s a clear sign they’re not getting enough to eat. This slope might not be that distinct in puppyhood but will become more and more noticeable as your dog matures. Eventually, it will be impossible to miss.

A dog is supposed to have a gradual waist slope unless we’re talking about breeds like Greyhounds with their streamlined shapes.

3. They Always Seem Hungry

Does your dog gobble down whatever food you put in front of them as they might never see a meal again? Do they always pop up during your family mealtimes whining, begging, and wagging their tail?

It doesn’t matter if you feed your puppy in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, or during the afternoon, mealtime to them is anytime.

While on its own, this does not necessarily mean that you’re underfeeding your puppy, you have to take it in conjunction with the other signs we’ve outlined.

4. They Have Skin and/or Coat Problems

A dog that’s not eating enough is likely experiencing malnutrition.

Nutritional deficiencies make it hard for a puppy to grow a healthy coat. Theirs might look patchy with bald spots or thin areas.

Your dog’s skin won’t be as healthy as it can be, either.

5. They’re Smaller Than They Should Be

Puppies can seemingly sprout up overnight. They’re like weeds in that regard. Yours though is different. Unlike other dogs you’ve had, your puppy is an exceptionally slow grower.

Food provides calories, and calories are energy. Your dog needs a lot of calories in its early days to support its growth. If you’re underfeeding your puppy, it can’t grow to its full potential.

This stunted growth can follow them around for life unless it’s rectified! Your dog will always look like the runt of the litter.

6. They Lack Energy for Their Age

Puppies are supposed to be full of boundless energy. You’re supposed to wonder when they ever sleep because your puppy is constantly in go mode.

All dogs need to relax from time to time, but if yours is more lethargic than they are animated, that’s worth paying attention to.

Again, calories are energy, and your dog is being starved of energy, so it can only expend what little energy it has.

Is Your Puppy Hungry or Greedy?

Then again, perhaps you’re not underfeeding your puppy and they’re truly just greedy.

They’re young enough that you can nip this behavior in the bud before it gets too invasive, so you’d like to if you can. How can you tell if your puppy is genuinely hungry or just greedy?

Are you feeding your puppy at least three meals a day? That’s how much a puppy should eat within the first three months if they’re a bigger dog, and possibly up to four meals.

Smaller dogs such as toy puppies need between four and six meals a day. If you aren’t feeding them that much, then they’re not greedy, they’re hungry!

What if you got your puppy’s feeding schedule down but they’re still always popping up when food is in the house ready to be eaten?

It’s not necessarily that your new four-legged friend is greedy. The dog could just be food-obsessed. You’re right in that now is the ideal time to stop unwanted behavior in your puppy before it becomes ingrained in them.

When your pup begins begging at your family mealtimes, ignore them or firmly tell them no. No matter how much your puppy cries or whines, don’t give in. Instruct the rest of your family not to do so either.

If your puppy gets fed table food when you can’t take it anymore, then you’re teaching them that whining and being annoying work.

Now, your puppy will begin ramping up that behavior, even more, to elicit a strong reaction out of you and get those sweet, sweet table scraps.

My Puppy Eats Less Than The Recommended Amount – Now What?

Your puppy doesn’t act like it’s starving all the time, but the dog definitely doesn’t eat as much as you think it should. Should you be concerned?

Not necessarily, no. That said, we’d still advise you to bring your dog to the vet’s office just to be on the safe side.

Explain that you’re feeding your puppy X amount, but the dog only seems interested in eating so much of their food. Mention that this is consistent, just about every day.

Your vet will test your dog for medical conditions, illness, or signs of injury that might reduce the pup’s appetite.

If your dog gets a clean bill of health from your vet, then continue to monitor food consumption. Many times, puppy food packages overestimate what you should feed your dog.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the pup to eat less, especially if it’s not negatively impacting their weight or any other aspect of their health!

skinny German Shepherd sitting
Skinny German Shepherd sitting.

The Long-Term Effects of Underfeeding Your Puppy

Look, if your puppy is going through a picky phase where none of the food you offer pleases them, that’s one thing.

However, for your puppy to endure extended stretches without eating is going to negatively impact both short-term and long-term health in the following ways.

Stunted Growth

A starving dog can fail to develop proper skeletal structure and teeth. The dog, as we mentioned before, will also not grow to its full size.

We should note that it takes prolonged, severe starvation for this to occur. If your puppy is eating at least a little bit throughout the day, then they’re mildly starving but probably not enough to stunt its growth.


Malnourishment or malnutrition prevents a dog from absorbing enough minerals and nutrients. Eating processed food that’s nutritionally poor can lead to malnutrition, as can underfeeding your puppy.

According to pet resource Canna-Pet, the symptoms of malnourishment in dogs can be as follows:

  • Weakened immunity
  • Poor coat health (more on this to come!)
  • Consistently bad breath
  • Digestive issues when fed
  • Skin irritation and redness
  • Significant weight loss


There’s a step below even malnourishment in canines, and it’s emaciation.

You most often see homeless or abandoned animals suffering from emaciation, but a severely underfed puppy could as well.

A 2013 publication in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association states that a canine is emaciated if their overall body weight is 30 percent under what their ideal body weight is for their age.

All the effects of malnutrition are likely to be even more pronounced in an emaciated dog.

Fur Loss

A puppy is still growing into its coat, but its fur should feel soft, luscious, and utterly pettable.

If your puppy’s coat feels brittle and dry, it’s due to a lack of minerals and vitamins needed to support a healthy coat.

The amount of fur your dog has can also begin to decrease. Your puppy will shed more and could develop bald patches or thin areas, as we discussed before.


If your puppy is underweight enough that they’ve developed rickets, then you know they are in the emaciated territory.

Rickets affects young animals such as puppies and is caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus.

Although it’s considered rare, the effects of rickets can be quite pronounced, softening and deforming your puppy’s bones.

Improving your dog’s diet can cure rickets, but the sooner, the better. 


Wait, what is obesity doing on this list, you’re probably wondering?

An underfed puppy that someday gets a better deal in life and is fed a more regular diet is very at-risk of becoming obese. The dog won’t know when to stop eating and will go from having a skinny, bony frame to being so overweight that you can’t even feel the dog’s ribs anymore.

Obesity opens up your dog to a series of potentially fatal health issues, as we wrote about in our post about overfeeding your dog.

What To Do If You’ve Been Underfeeding Your Puppy

Many dog owners never mean to underfeed their puppies. They simply don’t realize that a young, growing dog needs to eat far more than a mature, adult pup.

Now that you can identify that you’re making a mistake, the next step is correction.

Take your puppy to the vet and tell the vet everything. Your vet will recommend what kind of food your puppy needs at this stage in their life to help them put their weight back on.

You’ll probably have to come back in a month or two so your vet can gauge if your puppy is gaining enough weight.

Although conditions such as malnutrition and rickets are terrifying and sad, these conditions are also correctable if you fix your dog’s diet.

That’s not to say that irreversible damage can’t happen from underfeeding a dog, but a lot of times, your puppy can grow up to be a healthy, happy dog someday.

How Do You Know How Much to Feed Your Puppy?

Figuring out how much to feed your puppy needn’t be a struggle. Just follow these handy steps.

Step 1 – Determine Their Projected Adult Weight

How much is your puppy’s breed supposed to weigh in adulthood? That’s the first piece of information you need to know.

Step 2 – Follow the Puppy Feeding Chart

In our article about overfeeding your dog, we put together a very useful puppy feeding chart that breaks down what your dog should eat by how old they are. The recommended servings are in cups.

Step 3 – Confirm with Your Vet

Before you begin feeding your puppy their projected diet, contact your vet just to be doubly sure that you’re planning on offering the dog the proper amount of food.


An underfed puppy is at risk of becoming malnourished and even emaciated. It can be hard to tell how much to feed a puppy considering their food needs continually change as they grow, but it’s necessary for helping your dog grow up healthy and strong. 

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