Weight loss problems in German shepherds are pretty usual. We get loads of questions from owners about their skinny GSDs, why it’s happening, how to help, and when it’s time to take them to the vet.
This article is your go-to guide about German shepherds and their ideal weight, how to help a GSD put on weight (but do it safely), and a whole lot more.
Table of Contents
7 Reasons Why Your German Shepherd Is Skinny
Let’s run through the main causes of a skinny German Shepherd. Whether your GSD has always been skinny or has only recently become skinny, it’s likely one of the reasons below.
1. Insufficient calories / low-quality diet
The first place to consider is their diet. A German shepherd that isn’t receiving enough calories for how active they are will eventually lose weight. So too will a GSD that is consuming low-quality food in general.
Getting the calories right!
Moderately active German shepherds need around 1250-1550 calories per day, whereas highly active German shepherds need around 1550-1750 calories per day. Highly active working GSDs may even need upwards of 2000 calories.
Either the quality of the food is fine, but the portion sizes are too small (too few calories), or the quality of the kibble is lacking. It’s commonly found that there are fewer calories and overall nutrition in low-quality kibbles than in high-quality kibbles (for the same amount of food).
2. High exercise levels
I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s such a thing as too much exercise, but if your GSD is highly active and spends many hours outside every day, it’s likely the reason for her skinny build.
Again, this ties into calorie consumption. If your GSD is super active (over 3 hours of exercise a day), she will likely need 1750-2000 calories per day.
It’s admittedly hard to gauge calories. Consider her general activity level, and if she’s obviously highly active, raise her calories a little for a few weeks and monitor her weight.
3. Health issues
In most cases, health issues are the cause of sudden weight loss. Although gradual weight loss can also be the result of health issues, it’s less common.
Health issues that affect weight can range from harmless and treatable all the way to serious, even fatal issues (rarer).
Common problems like worms and parasites (particularly in puppies) can cause weight loss. Rarer and more serious things like heart disease and cancer can also cause weight loss.
Health problems usually always come with multiple symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, dizziness, or any noticeable change from her normal self.
Genetics certainly impacts physical attributes and if your GSD is from a bloodline of particularly lean/slim German shepherds, this could be the reason. Many working GSDs have a lean/agile build.
If this is the case, then it would be evident right from puppyhood. If you were lucky enough to see the mum and other puppies in the litter, they would have all been similarly skinny.
There’s nothing wrong with their weight in cases like this, and it’s simply their natural build. Some GSDs are just smaller than others.
5. Stress and anxiety
Just as stress can have many undesirable effects on us, it can do the same with our furry friends, too, weight loss being one of them.
Many things could be causing your german shepherd to be stressed/anxious. Common reasons include spending too much time alone, not receiving enough exercise, attention, or training.
Additionally, it could be down to a change in their environment like moving homes, new neighbors, or even the addition of a household pet.
Consider your GSDs overall quality of life, basic needs and think about the possibility of them being stressed.
6. Bad eating habits
Fussy eating is something many owners have to deal with at some point. The issue is that this could be the cause of weight loss.
Once again, it comes back down to the calories in versus the calories out. For whatever reason your GSD isn’t eating, this will certainly affect their weight negatively.
I have an entire article dedicated to why your GSD might be refusing their food.
7. Dental issues
If your GSD is suffering from any kind of dental complaint, this could cause them to refuse their food and lose out on calories.
I know this falls under the same reason as above, but it’s often overlooked and fairly common. So I think it deserves its own section.
- In fact, this was actually what happened with my GSD when she was 7. After refusing her food and simultaneously losing weight, I checked her mouth to find some serious gum irritation (thankfully not gum disease). We got that resolved with the help of our veterinarian, and her appetite came back right away.
How Much Should a German Shepherd Weigh?
Before explaining the causes and solutions, it’s important to know the average weight ranges of healthy German shepherds.
● Male Adults: 65-90lbs (30kg-40kg)
● Female Adults: 45-70lbs (22-34kg)
Keep in mind that puppies can take up to 2 years before they finish putting on weight and building muscle.
Commonly Asked: Do GSDs Have Webbed Feet?
How To Tell If Your German Shepherd Is Underweight?
Aside from using the scales, one of the best ways to know if your GSD is underweight or not is to simply feel them and look at their waistline.
Run your hand along their side with light pressure. You should be able to feel their ribs a little (this is normal!). What isn’t normal is if you can feel the ribs a lot without adding pressure.
Waistline (abdominal tuck) should be noticeable but not extreme. Check out this chart from Petcarerx (source). This isn’t a German shepherd, but the same rules apply.
What To Do Next
The first port of call is to rule out health issues as there’s no use in trying tips and tricks if your GSD has an underlying condition that may only be getting worse with time.
- If the weight loss has happened suddenly for no obvious reason, it is advised to see a vet.
Additionally, if the weight loss is accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or any kind of unusual behavior, again, it’s worth seeing a vet.
5 Ways To Help a Skinny German Shepherd Gain Weight
The following tips and tricks have served me well in beating fussy eating and adding calories to my pooches meals.
Important note: If you suspect your GSD is losing weight for an alternative reason like stress or dental issues, the best solution would be to address those issues instead of adjusting their diet. Always consider the cause first.
5 ways to combat fussy eating / add extra calories
- Add a small amount of wet dog food to their dry kibble
- Add natural meat broth to their kibble
- Increase existing portion size assuming their kibble is high quality and digesting well
- Avoid giving too many treats throughout the day
- Consider switching kibble brands or diet
1. Add wet dog food
My all-time favorite way to stop fussy eating while adding a boost of nutrition and calories is to mix in a small amount of wet dog food to their kibble. This is a known and safe method that veterinarians recommend to help with weight gain.
Wet dog food is incredibly rich, but it’s closer to its natural state, there are fewer preservatives, a higher protein and fat content, palatable, tasty, and dense in calories. It’s so much better than dry food.
Mix in some wet dog food (preferably the same brand), and your GSD will likely benefit from this greatly. Just ensure you keep an eye on exactly how much you are adding and monitor your GSD’s weight over the course of 2-3 weeks.
P.S If you feel your GSD will become dependent on this, then don’t add it every meal. Add it once a day or every other day.
2. Add meat broth to kibble
If you don’t want to try the wet dog food option, the next best thing to make their regular meals more palatable and tasty is to add plain meat broth.
This will enhance the flavor and beat most cases of fussy eating.
Just ensure the meat broth you use is a healthy option without a high salt content or artificial flavorings or additives.
3. Increase portion size
Assuming you are already using a high-quality kibble and your GSD is getting on well with it (no digestive issues or diarrhea), then it could be a simple matter of increasing the portion size.
Be sure to check the back of the bag and work out how many calories you are adding.
It’s important not to go overboard when adding calories, so a good starting point would be to add an extra 200 calories per day. This is a noticeable difference for a dog, so you should see some changes in weight over 2-3 weeks.
4. Avoid giving too many treats
Although we are trying to add calories and encourage weight gain, treats are not the solution to this.
It’s easy to make this mistake, but try to remember that treats are designed to be given infrequently and used on special occasions only (like training).
Treats could actually be something that suppresses your GSD’s appetite causing fussy eating. And treats do not contain the complete nutrition that’s necessary for good health and growth.
5. Consider changing kibbles/diet
If you feel that the food you are currently giving isn’t of a good enough quality, then it’s worth trying a change. Especially if your GSD is refusing the food anyway.
Opt for well-known and respected brands like Orijen, Acana, Wellness, and Taste of The Wild. These brands focus on high-quality ingredients that are fresh and close to their natural state.
Brands like these also prioritize protein and fat over carbohydrates, which is an instant sign of higher quality. It’s important to avoid high-carb foods are they often lack overall nutrition. Inferior brands are known to use carbs to bulk out their food while keeping prices cheap.
In addition to this, canines, in general, are better adapted to eating a wild diet. Wild diets are high in protein and fat while low on carbs. This results in better digestion and absorption of the food they are eating.
Just remember to change foods gradually over the course of 7-10 days, phasing out the old and incorporating more of the new. This should prevent stomach upset.
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Should I be able to feel my German shepherd’s ribs?
Yes, with light pressure you should be able to slightly feel a German shepherd’s ribs with your hand. However, if the ribs are noticeably sticking out, this may indicate a weight issue.
Why has my German shepherd lost their appetite?
Loss of appetite in German shepherds can be caused by low-quality food, stress, anxiety, receiving too many treats, insufficient exercise, lack of feeding routine, and health or dental issues.
Do German shepherds have sensitive stomachs?
Compared to other breeds, German shepherds do have slightly sensitive stomachs. While not all GSDs have issues with digestion, many of them do. This can affect their appetite and overall weight.
What’s the correct weight of a German shepherd?
Adult males should weigh between 65-90lbs (30kg-40kg) and adult females: 45-70lbs (22-34kg). Keep in mind puppies may take at least 2 years to finish gaining weight.
When to see a vet about a skinny German shepherd?
As with all issues potentially related to health, it’s better to seek professional help right away. Especially if your German shepherd has additional symptoms like lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, or unusual behavior.
Are German shepherds supposed to be skinny?
German shepherds should not be “skinny”, they should be kept lean with a healthy amount of muscle mass falling within the breed weight range. Still, it’s healthier for a GSD to be slightly underweight than overweight.