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Why Is My Great Dane So Skinny: Diagnosis & Solutions

Why Is My Great Dane So Skinny

No doubt, every pet owner has worried about their dog’s weight at one time or another. Of course, you probably usually think of the need to prevent your dog from becoming overweight.

However, many dogs struggle to gain or maintain weight. Certain breeds such as Pit Bulls and Great Danes are prone to being too skinny through multiple stages of their lives.

Have you ever asked your veterinarian, “Why is my Great Dane so skinny?” Great Danes frequently look abnormally thin during growth and when they become seniors. Reasons vary from rapid growth and metabolism to disease and muscle atrophy.

The trick is to determine if your Dane is a healthy weight despite looking skinny to the casual observer. A few ways you can figure out if your Great Dane is too thin is by knowing caloric requirements and performing health screenings.

How to Tell if a Dog Is Too Skinny

When outsiders give you and your dog pitying looks or if someone expresses concern about your Great Dane’s weight, you must wonder if there is an objective way to assess whether your dog is too thin. Two scoring systems exist.

Although there are subjective components to body scoring, it provides the most straightforward means to analyze weight fluctuations. Weight charts are not effective to assess whether your Great Dane’s weight is appropriate because dogs vary too greatly in bone substance and musculature.

With all body scoring assessments, you will look at your dog from both above and the side.

When you gaze down at your dog, you are looking for a waistline and seeing how the neck flows into the back.

Your Great Dane should have an hourglass shape, meaning the body narrows at the waist between the ribs and the hips.

The spine should not be visible in the neck or thoracic area (the vertebrae above the chest). However, in several breeds, including the Great Dane, the spine is visible behind the ribcage.

Your dog’s neck should flow into the shoulders with no rolls, although you will see the pronounced hump of the shoulders.

From the side, your dog’s ribs should not be visible. That being said, Great Danes have a strong sighthound background which gives many of them an exceptionally lean appearance. It is not uncommon for females and adolescent puppies, especially, to appear a little “ribby.”

The hip bones also should not be prominent. A Dane is a breed that has a pronounced abdominal uptuck, referring to the rise of the dog’s belly from just behind the ribcage to the hips.

In this video, you see a prominent abdominal tuck even though the dog is running. This Great Dane is a rather small female. Many people might classify this Dane as skinny, but she appears to have an ideal body score. She has minimal fat padding but has no prominent ribs, hip bones, or spine.

One-to-Nine Scoring System

According to VCAhospitals, The first category has additional precision because there are so many categories.

  • BCS 1 – severe if you ever see this in your pet; an emaciated dog with ribs and spine that are easily discernible from a distance; hip bones very prominent; muscle atrophy is evident; seen in cachexia from a disease process or end stages of starvation
  • BCS 2 – extremely thin but muscle wasting is minimal as opposed to dogs that receive a body score #1; pelvis, ribs, and spine are readily apparent with no fat padding
  • BCS 3 – underweight; ribs faintly visible and readily felt (palpable); hip bones may stand out more than they should; top of the spine is visible
  • BCS 4 – slightly underweight, although some clinicians classify it as ideal (subjectivity); ribs are easily palpable with just a thin layer of fat; abdominal tuck is more exaggerated in breeds that do not typically have one
  • BCS 5 – ideal; ribs palpable with effort under a thin layer of fat; clear waist; abdominal tuck
  • BCS 6 – slightly overweight; fat covering over the ribs is in slight excess, making it more difficult to palpate them; although less evident than body scores #4 and #5, a waist and abdominal tuck are still present
  • BCS 7 – heavy or overweight; ribs barely palpable; fat deposits along the lower back and at the base of the tail; waist is barely visible and there may not be much abdominal tuck; belly may sag
  • BCS 8 – obese; you must prod deeply to feel the ribs; fat deposits are extensive along the back, creating rolls at the base of the tail; no waist nor abdominal tuck; abdominal distension is common
  • BCS 9 – extremely obese; fat deposits extend from the neck down the spine to the base of the tail; fat is also prominent on the chest; the back is broad and there is neither an abdominal tuck nor a waist; abdominal distension is present

One-to-Five Scoring

Body scoring on the five-point system is the same as the nine-point scoring. It merely contracts the categories, not allowing for the precision or subtleties of the additional classifications.

  • BCS 1 – very thin to emaciated
  • BCS 2 – underweight
  • BCS 3 – ideal
  • BCS 4- overweight
  • BCS 5 – obese

What does it mean when your Great Dane puppy is skinny?

Great Dane puppies are frequently thin, adding to their gangly appearance. They grow in height much quicker than they do in bulk. Moreover, it is difficult to keep up with the metabolic needs of a tremendous growth spurt.

Therefore, it is common for you and your friends to become concerned about why your Great Dane is so skinny a pup.

Puppies usually look the picture of health with gleaming coats, bright eyes, and tremendous energy levels. However, you often can see their ribs and spines and will notice the boniness of their hips and shoulders.

Females have less bone and muscular development than males and may appear slender their entire lives. Males and females alike may have faintly visible ribs and a prominent abdominal tuck throughout their lives.

A skinny Great Dane puppy is not necessarily a bad thing. Overweight giant-sized growing dogs are prone to many orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia and osteochondrosis (OCD, cartilage abnormalities).

The major concerns with thin Dane pups are to make sure they are getting enough calories and not suffering from disorders that cause weight loss in young dogs. Great Dane pups need 50 to 75 calories per pound every day or five to eight cups of kibble.

Fresh food requirements work out to 6% to 10% of their body weight daily. When you have a sixty-pound puppy, this might mean four to six pounds of food a day.

You also need to feed your young dog three to six meals a day until the age of six to eight months.

Increasing food amounts to keep up with your dog’s metabolic requirements during adolescence can be particularly challenging. Close and ongoing contact with a nutritionist may help keep you on track, but your Great Dane is bound to look a little too skinny while she is growing up.

It is not enough to simply satisfy the caloric needs of your Great Dane. Giant-sized puppies need a specific nutritional balance, especially between calcium and phosphorus level.

Poor dietary habits can cause weight loss and dysfunctional bone development in Danes. Great Danes are not as susceptible to pancreatic enzyme insufficiency as other breeds, but they can become infested with worms.

A chronic struggle with parasites can lead to diarrhea, weight loss, and a failure to thrive. Any pup that looks too thin and also unthrifty should have a fecal examination and a wellness check complete with bloodwork if relevant.

Why is my Great Dane so skinny?

When your adult Great Dane looks too thin, your veterinarian will conduct diagnostic tests to rule several conditions in or out.

Heart Disease

One of the little-known reasons for weight loss in dogs is advanced heart disease. Great Danes are susceptible to dilatative cardiomyopathy which makes them cough and struggle for breath.

A disease that affects the muscles of the heart, Great Danes can lose weight in a matter of weeks.

Sometimes the weight loss goes unnoticed because of fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites).

However, many dogs with heart disease do not eat very well, especially if they go into congestive heart failure.


Your Great Dane may stop eating if he has cancer, but many dogs lose weight through cachexia. Cachexia is the loss of body mass (usually muscle) through chronic disease processes and is not unique to cancer patients. Great Danes are particularly vulnerable to bone cancer.

Kidney Disease

Since Great Danes have an average life expectancy of six to eight years, they may show signs of kidney failure as early as five years old. Dogs do not tolerate kidney disease as well as cats. Toxins in the blood not cleared by the kidneys cause anorexia, but your Dane will also suffer from cachexia.

Senior Dogs

Older dogs can stop eating from arthritis and the corresponding discomfort. They also tend to lose muscle mass (sarcopenia), appearing thinner over time.

Helping Your Great Dane Gain Weight

Depending on the cause of weight loss in your dog, you can try several measures under the direction of your veterinarian.

  • Intravenous fluids to flush toxins
  • Pain management
  • Mobility exercises
  • Appetite stimulants
  • Adjust diet – higher-quality proteins so as not to feed cancers, for example