What Happens If You Underfeed Your Puppy? [Vet Advice]

puppy with a food bowl

Hey there! As a puppy owner, one of your most important responsibilities is ensuring that your furry friend is getting a nutritious diet. After all, what you feed your puppy at a young age can shape them into a healthy dog for years to come.

So, what exactly is a nutritious diet, and how much food does your puppy need? These are important questions to ask, and we’re here to help you find the answers.

Underfeeding your puppy can have serious consequences, including weight loss, malnutrition, nutritional deficiencies, changes in the coat, weakened immune system, lethargy, and gastrointestinal problems. That’s why it’s crucial to evaluate your dog’s weight, check food container labels to determine the correct amount of food, and consult with a veterinarian to ensure that your puppy is getting the right amount of nutrition.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the topic and explore what happens if you underfeed your puppy for a long time, as well as provide you with some helpful tips and tricks on how to avoid that in the future. With a little bit of knowledge and some careful observation, you can ensure that your puppy is getting the nutritious diet they need to grow into a healthy and happy dog.

So, let’s get started and learn how to provide your furry friend with the best possible nutrition!

What happens if you underfeed your puppy?

The very first few years of a puppy’s life are the most important when it comes to its growth and health. Diet plays a vital role in this.

The diet of a puppy or an adult dog depends on your pet’s age, weight, physical activity, breed, and health status.

When the diet of your pet is concerned, we should think about the nutritional value, the amount, and the schedule of the diet. Suppose you are a new pet parent; you can first contact your veterinarian about the diet of your pooch.

Then as you get used to your pet’s requirements, the guidelines in pet food can be followed.

Many puppy owners complain that they have underfed their pets for a long time by mistake. They were not aware of how much food they should have fed their puppy.

What would happen if you underfed your puppy for a long time?

1. Weight loss.

This is the main outcome of underfeeding your pet. Puppies need adequate amounts of food to grow as the growth rate of young animals are higher than adults.

Puppies underfed for a long time appear skinny; they have a low-fat level beneath their skin.

The following indications tell you that your pup is skinny.

Move your fingertips along the rib cage and hip bones. If you can feel them prominently, it indicates weight loss.

If the hip bones, shoulder blades, and ribs are visible ( without palpation), it shows that your pup is highly emaciated.

2. Nutritional deficiencies.

Proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water are the main components of a balanced diet for a dog.

Underfeeding your puppy doesn’t simply mean that you are not feeding him enough food. That includes not giving them a balanced diet.

Deficiency of any of the above-mentioned nutritional components can leads to many diseases.

If the protein intake is less, it affects muscle and bone development. When you palpate your pup’s body, you can feel bones and a wasted muscle mass.

When the protein and amino acid intake is less, the amino acids in the muscles are utilized by the body leading to weakened muscles.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are also common in pups and adult dogs. Retarted growth, bone abnormalities, loss of appetite, and poor fur coat are some symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

3. Weakened immune system.

The immune system is the major protector of the body against bacterial, viral, fungal, and other parasite diseases in pups and dogs. For the immune system to work correctly, it should be strong.

A balanced diet will improve the immune system and keep your puppy healthy. An underfed dog or a puppy with a nutritional deficiency may be more susceptible to diseases as their immune system is very weak.

They can easily catch allergies and respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.

4. Inactive and lethargic.

When your pup is underfed, he has a small number of calories in his body to spend.

Therefore, he becomes very lethargic and inactive and will not be the playmate you always wanted. He will tend to sleep a lot, lie down during the day, will not like to play with you, and they will quickly get tired after physical activity.

Puppies are very playful and are in a very joyous mood if they are healthy, but if he is underfed, their mood will be very low.

Suggested Reading: What to do if you accidentally bought adult dog food for your puppy?

What to do if you accidentally underfeed your puppy?

A common complaint of puppy owners is that they have underfed their puppies for a long time without knowing the amount of food they should be fed.

There are a few reasons for this.

 If you are using a dog food brand, it indicates the amount of food that should be fed per serving. Sometimes, pet owners miss reading this as it is indicated at different parameters.

     E.g., based on body weight,  Based on kcals, or age.

However, if you are feeding your pup with homemade food, it is hard to measure the adequate amount of food to be fed per serving. Therefore, accidentally you can underfeed your pup.

Accidentally underfeeding your pup can be of two types. Underfeeding the pup for a long time or skipping or underfeeding him a few times.

The latter is not a very critical issue as you can maintain the correct diet after you realize the mistake. However, suppose you have underfed him for a long time due to not knowing the correct amount of food to be fed.

Then, you have to first look for the symptoms mentioned above in your puppy. If he shows such symptoms, you can take your pup to the vet. He will decide what is best for the pup and how you can help your puppy to recover.

How do you know if a puppy is underfed?

If your puppy is underfed, he will show the symptoms mentioned above. We will briefly go through some other indictions of the underfed puppies

1. Body condition.

Underfed puppies have poor body conditions. You can examine the body condition by palpating your pup’s body and feeling different bones.

Place your thumbs on the backbone of your pup and slowly spread your fingers across his ribcage. If your pet is well-fed and healthy, you can feel a thin layer of fat and feel the ribs, but the ribs are not visible.

If your pup is underfed, you can only feel a very thin layer of fat. The ribcage can be easily palpated, and in severe cases, ribs are visible.

Pelvic bones and the backbone can be palpated similarly, and you should be able to feel a thin layer of fat, and the bones can be felt if the pup is healthy.

There is a significant weight loss in underfed puppies. During the first few months of the pup’s life, they grow very quickly; if your pup is not gaining weight, it can indicate underfeeding.

2. Likely to get diseases.

We now know that a balanced diet is required to maintain a strong immune system. When your puppy is underfed, he will be easily prone to diseases. They can be bacterial, viral, fungal, or other pathogen-based diseases.

3. Changes in the fur coat.

Fur is made from keratin, a type of protein in the body. An underfed puppy can have a protein deficiency. This will lead to an unkempt fur coat, loss of fur, change of coat color, and a dry fur coat. The smooth, shiny appearance of the fur coat will be lost.

4. Lethargy.

Your pup will show symptoms of lethargy and inactivity if he is undernourished. He will sleep a lot or would not prefer any physical activity.

5. Gastrointestinal problems.

A healthy balanced diet is required to maintain the normal motility patterns of the digestive tract. Underfeeding your pet can lead to constipation or diarrhea.

How to stay away from under-feeding your puppy in the future?

If you are new to puppy caring, you might have many problems regarding your pet’s diet. However, if you have accidentally underfed your pet for a long time, you might be worried about your pup’s health.

Let’s discuss some tips you can easily follow to maintain the diet of your pup.

1. Take veterinary advice.

Before planning your new puppy’s diet, it is always good to contact your vet and take his advice.

You can ask them about the type of diet suitable for puppies, what changes should be made with age, the amount of food, and the duration between two meals.

This will help you to get a clear idea about the requirements of your pet. With time you will get used to this routine, and it will help you to provide a constant meal for your pet.

2. Check the label.

Suppose you are an experienced pet parent; you are comfortable measuring the correct amount of food for your pet.

Every dog food product comes with its own set of instructions stating the nutritional value of the food and the amount of food to be given per serving.

However, different products use different parameters to measure the amount of food. Carefully follow these labels and identify the category your pet falls into.

You can always take advice from your vet or another pet owner regarding the amount to be fed.

3. Evaluate your puppy’s weight.

Pups tend to grow and gain weight very quickly. To check whether he is gaining weight according to his age, you can weigh him once a week. If he is gaining weight appropriately, it is an indication that he is properly fed.

The diet of your puppy should be changed according to his age, weight, and physical activity. Measuring weight regularly can help you to identify the requirements of such changes.

You can contact your veterinarian if your puppy is not gaining enough weight.

Things to be aware of.

1. The Body condition score of dogs.

A body condition score is an arithmetic value given to your pet by evaluating his body condition. It is the same as the body mass index (BMI) of humans. 2 types of scales can be used for dogs.

1-5 scale or 1-9 scale. On both scales, 1 indicates your pet is very thin, and the highest value indicates that he is obese.

2. What causes malnutrition in dogs other than underfeeding?

An undernourished dog or pup indicates a lack of food and other disease conditions.

  • Malnutritional food items.

Sometimes, even though you feed your pup adequate food, he might be underweight. This can be due to some ingredients in his food.

Some food items can impair the digestive process, leading to the malabsorption of ingested food, loss of weight, and other nutritional deficiencies.

Soy, corn, wheat and wheat flour, food additives, and excess salt are such ingredients. Check for these ingredients in the pet food you purchase from stores.

  • Parasites.

Parasites in the digestive tract or other organ systems can cause malnourishment in your pups.

Roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms are a few parasites that infect the digestive tract of pups, and they can migrate to the bloodstream and other organ systems.

These parasites absorb the nutrients from the pet’s digestive tract, reducing the number of nutrients left for the pup.

Weight loss, unkempt fur coat, diarrhea, pot-bellied appearance, and anemia are a few symptoms of parasitic infections in pups

Deworming the pup routinely will keep him healthy.

  • Gastrointestinal tumors.

Tumors can be present in the intestines or other parts of the digestive tract. This can only be diagnosed by your veterinarian.


The article briefs about underfed puppies and their symptoms and how to prevent underfeeding them in the future.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *