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The effects of malnutrition on dogs

Updated March 23, 2017

Although many cases of malnutrition in dogs are connected to neglect or an insufficient diet, diabetes and parasites may also create malnutrition in canines. Because of this, even responsible pet owners need to be able to recognise the signs of malnutrition in their dog, as malnutrition may be symptomatic of problems much greater than dietary problems. Dogs that suffer from malnutrition should be taken to a veterinarian for screening and possible treatment for the cause of malnutrition.

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The easiest sign of malnutrition to spot in dogs is emaciation. If a dog's ribs, backbone and pelvic bones are easily visible underneath its skin because of a lack of fat and muscle tone, a dog may be suffering from malnutrition. Although the cause of this may be neglect and starvation, emaciation may be caused by digestive disorders or digestive-tract parasites that hamper a dog's ability to properly digest the nutrients in its food.

Orthopaedic Disease

Dogs that consume too much calcium and carbohydrates in their diet may begin to suffer from orthopaedic disorders caused by improper nutrition. The excess calcium in its diet causes a dog's bones to grow abnormally fast, particularly if this type of malnutrition occurs while the growth plates in its bones are still active. Dogs that suffer from malnutrition-based orthopaedic disease usually aren't starved or neglected, but are simply fed an improper diet by their owners.

Digestive Difficulties

Dogs that suffer from malnutrition may also suffer secondary dietary distress from the condition, making it even more difficult for the dog to digest food. Malnourished dogs may suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea. Treatment of malnourished dogs with these conditions should start with providing it easy-to-digest foods like porridge; animal proteins are difficult to digest and should be avoided at early stages.


Unbalanced diets may lead dogs to develop dietary imbalances that cause toxicities in their system. Dogs may suffer vitamin A toxicity if fed too much liver, while phosphorus toxicity can be caused by a deficiency in calcium in a dog's diet, weakening its bones and teeth.

Arthritis and Hair Loss

Dogs who suffer from malnutrition may also develop arthritis as a secondary ailment, although diabetes or kidney disorder may also lead to arthritis. Hair loss, or even loss of a vibrant coat, may also be linked to imbalances in a dog's diet.

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About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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