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Skinny Great Dane: 7 Key Things You NEED To Know

Have you got a skinny great dane? Despite their size, great danes should be well-built with plenty of muscle. An underweight great dane is something to pay attention to.

It’s true that many great danes struggle with putting on enough weight. Over the years I’ve helped hundreds of dane owners solve this issue and increase their great dane’s weight naturally and safely.

I’ll also cover when this could be a sign of something worse, and when you should seek help from your veterinarian.


Are Great Danes Supposed To Be Skinny?

Great Danes can go through a bit of a lanky stage as they begin to reach adulthood. Still, they should not have noticeable rib protrusion or a strikingly narrow waist.

➡️ Their last rib may be slightly visible when standing, but you should not be able to see the outline of each rib.

Great Danes are known to have a lean yet muscular build, and it may take time for their bodies to truly fill out. So while Great Danes under 2 years of age may appear lankier than others, they still should not be noticeably skinny. 

Ultimately, Great Danes should have a lean body frame, but they should not be noticeably skinny at any point. 

How To Know If My Great Dane Is Underweight

Knowing whether or not your Great Dane is at a healthy weight can be challenging for some pet owners. The terms skinny and lean are often used interchangeably, making it difficult to determine the truth. To help you better understand your Great Dane, let’s discuss the ideal body frame of your Great Dane. 

Rib check:

Your Great Dane’s ribs can be a good indicator of whether or not they are underweight. While you may be able to see the outline of the last rib in a fit Great Dane, you should never be able to see the outline of each rib.

You should be able to feel their ribs when gliding your hand across their rib cage, but there should be a thin layer of fat, and you should not feel as if you are feeling their ribs directly. 

Waist check:

When looking at your Great Dane from above, they should have an hourglass figure. Their waist should begin to cinch inward slightly just after their rib cage but should not be a drastic slope. You also should not be able to see the outline of each rib when looking at them from above. 

Spine check:

If you can see your great dane’s spine higher than their rib cage then that’s an issue and suggests they’re rather underweight. However, seeing the spin a little near the lower back/hinde area, is quite normal to see in great danes with the correct weight. Again, nothing should be excessive though.

7 Reasons Why Great Danes Become Skinny

So what could cause your Great Dane to be underweight? Let’s dive into the 7 most common causes of a skinny Great Dane and how you can help your pup put on healthy weight going forward.

  1. Inadequate nutrition
  2. Too much exercise
  3. Intestinal parasites
  4. GI conditions
  5. Dental pain
  6. Diabetes
  7. Other medical conditions

1. Inadequate Nutrition

If you have an underweight Great Dane, it’s very possible that they are not receiving adequate nutrition. Great Danes need a large amount of food, making it easy to accidentally fall short of their daily nutritional needs. 

For example, Great Danes will need to consume a daily diet that is not only appropriate for their life stage, but for their large size. If a Great Dane does not receive puppy food in their growing stages or is not eating a diet tailored to large breed dogs, they may struggle to put on weight. 

If you are ever unsure of what diet is appropriate for your Great Dane, it’s best to speak with your vet about which diet options they suggest. You can also run any diet choices by your veterinarian, and they can give you a thumbs up if it is acceptable. 

The last factor you will need to consider is the number of calories they will need to consume each day. You can either follow the feeding guidelines that are listed on the diet’s label or ask your vet about recommended feeding amounts. 

2. Too Much Exercise

If you have a Great Dane that is extremely active, they may need to take in additional calories each day. With burning more energy each day through physical exercise, they can easily become malnourished if their diet is not keeping up. 

For example, some active dogs can require anywhere from 500-1,000 additional calories based on how active they are. An active adult Great Dane requires about 1,600 calories each day, while an inactive Great Dane only requires 1,200. 

If you have an exceptionally active Great Dane, it’s best to speak with your vet about how much this may impact their daily calorie intake.

3. Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are another possible factor behind skinny Great Danes. Intestinal parasites can invade the GI tract in our canine friends, making it more challenging for them to absorb the nutrients from their food. 

Not only can they begin to lose weight due to the inability to absorb nutrients, but also from the GI upset that often comes along with the presence of worms. Great Danes with intestinal parasites often struggle with diarrhea or vomiting, making it even harder to gain weight. 

If your Great Dane is showing any signs of having intestinal parasites, it’s best to visit your vet for a routine fecal exam.

This can diagnose the specific parasite they are struggling with and can offer medication to banish these critters for good. 

4. GI Conditions

GI conditions of any kind can make it tough for a Great Dane to lose weight, or can even lead to weight loss over time. Chronic GI conditions often lead to inflammation within the GI tract, making it hard for them to absorb the nutrients from their food. 

Not only can GI conditions of any kind make it tough for them to absorb essential nutrients, but symptoms from their GI condition can also make it tough to gain weight.

Great Danes with GI conditions may struggle with appetite changes, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and more. These things make it tough to keep a Dane at a desirable weight. 

5. Dental Pain

Dental pain can be unbearable for our Great Dane friends. Dogs are unable to tell us when their teeth begin to hurt, meaning their dental infections and discomfort often progress to excruciating levels before we are able to notice. 

When a Dane has dental pain, they may struggle with eating due to how painful chewing can be. This can lead to weight loss over time if their dental pain lingers without intervention. 

A Great Dane with dental pain may experience anorexia, foul breath, blood in their water bowl, blood on their toys, facial swelling, facial sensitivity, and even crying out when their face is touched. If your Great Dane experiences any of these behaviors, it’s time to visit your veterinarian. 

6. Diabetes

Diabetes can cause unexplained weight loss in our beloved Great Danes. Diabetes can make it challenging for the body to gain nourishment from the cells, causing the body to pull energy from the fat and muscle.

When diabetes progresses to pulling energy from the Dane’s fat and muscle source, this can soon lead to noticeable weight loss. A Great Dane with diabetes may also experience increased thirst, increased urination, accidents around the house, vomiting, chronic skin infections, chronic UTIs, and other changes in behavior. 

Diabetes is a serious condition in our furry friends, so it’s important to seek veterinary advice if you notice any of the mentioned symptoms in your canine friend. 

7. Other Medical Complications

There are many other medical conditions that can cause either weight loss or inability to gain weight in Great Danes. Ranging from autoimmune diseases to cancer, weight loss is a common first sign of many developing illnesses. 

Due to this, it’s always best to speak with your vet when your Great Dane is struggling with maintaining a healthy weight. Routine diagnostics can rule out any underlying causes and can help your vet determine the best plan of action going forward. 

Helping Your Great Dane Gain Weight

There are various ways to go about increasing your great danes weight. But first, it’s crucial you rule out health issues, so that will ultimately mean speaking to your vet before trying anything.

Assuming your great dane is otherwise healthy though, here are some of the likely things your vet will suggest:

  • Increase portion size by 10-15% for a couple of weeks (assuming they get on with their food)
  • Ensure you aren’t overdoing their exercise
  • Try adding a little wet dog food to their kibble (adds calories and protein)
  • Adjust their food to a higher protein and fat content (higher in calories and more appropriate)
  • Ensure you rule out food refusal or food burying

When trying to increase your dog’s weight, it’s important to try just one thing, and stick with that for at least 2 or 3 weeks to measure their weight. Weight fluctuates on a daily basis so it’s not worth worrying too much about daily measurements.

Stick to one thing for a few weeks so you can really measure the progress properly.

When To See The Vet For A Skinny Great Dane

So when should you seek veterinary advice for your skinny Great Dane? The simple answer to this question is always, especially if they’re losing weight continuously on a daily basis.

While your Great Dane may simply require a change of diet or increase in food intake, you just never know if an underlying cause is to blame. 

Not only can an underlying illness be the cause of your dog’s inability to put on weight, but your vet can also offer you a safe weight gain plan going forward.

Whether your dog’s weight loss is serious or benign, veterinary guidance will always help. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many reasons why your Great Dane may be so skinny. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can better stay on top of your Great Dane’s health going forward!

Check out more Great Dane articles on The Puppy Mag!


Before making any decisions that could affect the health and/or safety of your dog, you should always consult a trained veterinarian in your local area. Even though this content may have been written/reviewed by a trained veterinarian, our advice to you is to always consult your own local veterinarian in person. Please read our full dislcaimer if you have any questions.