Is My Golden Retriever Too Skinny? (Signs to Look For)


Most Golden Retrievers have a very high food drive. Unfortunately, this increased food motivation can frequently predispose a Golden Retriever to weight gain and even obesity. While much rarer, some Golden Retrievers can at times be underweight or “skinny,” and that can be equally problematic for a Golden Retriever. 

Since an underweight Golden Retriever is rarer, pet owners often wonder how they can tell when their Golden Retriever is too skinny or underweight.

Your Golden Retriever is too skinny when weight loss exceeds 10% of normal body weight. Physical signs may include the ribs, hips, shoulders, and backbone being visible and easily felt. In addition, the abdominal taper between the ribs and hip may be extreme, and there is little to no body fat.

Of course, it’s imperative to always check with your veterinarian if you suspect any weight issues.

A skinny Golden Retriever or one who is losing weight too quickly can be suffering from health issues, including parasites, diabetes, or thyroid issues. So you need a vet to determine if there are underlying health issues. 

However, understanding the signs to look for is essential in determining when to be concerned so you can seek the necessary help. 

What Is a Healthy Weight For A Golden Retriever?

To determine if your Golden Retriever is at a healthy weight, you first need to know the size standard for the breed at adulthood, as well as the average weight for your fully grown Golden Retriever.

Be mindful, however, that the weight in Golden Retrievers can vary based on gender differences and genetics, so there can be a wide range. 

As a general rule, if your Golden Retriever’s normal weight at adulthood falls within the breed standard for weight, and its weight is stable, it is at a healthy weight. Breed standards for female Golden Retrievers are between 55-65 pounds, males between 65 and 75 pounds.

As a reference tool, the breed standard for Golden Retrievers as per the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs are as follows:

GenderHeightWeight
Male23 to 24 inches (58 to 61 centimeters)65 to 75 pounds (29 to 34 kilograms)
Female21.5 to 22.5 inches (55 to 57 centimeters)55 to 65 pounds (25 to 29 kilograms)
Source

Of course, individual differences exist, and some males or females may be slightly smaller or bigger depending on genetics.

As such, you may have a female or male with a weight slightly less than the ranges noted. However, provided that is their average weight, and the weight is stable, it is okay. They might be a smaller-sized dog, which is their normal.

So, maybe the average weight for your female Golden Retriever is 53 pounds once fully grown; whereas, another owner has a female that is 63 pounds once fully grown.

Both are healthy dogs with no underlying medical issues, and both are exercised and fed appropriately. Both dogs are at their normal weights because they were born to be that way.

Similarly, why is my brother a height of 6’1 and I’m 5’10”. Genetics. 

When Should I Be Concerned About My Golden Retrievers Weightloss?

Knowing the average weight for YOUR fully grown Golden Retriever is essential; it is your dog’s baseline, and it is more important than a standard range. The baseline is one of the main criteria in determining if your Golden Retriever is becoming too skinny. 

Weight loss over 10% of your Golden Retriever’s normal body weight would be a cause for concern. Knowing the average or “normal” body weight for your Golden Retriever provides a baseline for your dog, and excessive deviations from that baseline often indicate a potential problem.

Consider a large adult female Golden Retriever with a breed standard weight of 65 pounds. If that female Golden lost 15% of its average body weight, that would equate to a near 10-pound loss and a weight of 55 pounds.

Notice that 55 pounds still falls within the breed standard or normal range for a female. However, a 15% weight loss from a dog’s normal weight would most definitely raise alarm bells and warrant a visit to the vet.

Ranges are based on averages for most dogs within a breed; whereas, knowing your dog’s normal healthy weight is specific to it as an individual.

Keep in mind that just like humans, weight can fluctuate daily and weekly.

For example, a two-pound gain or loss might not be a reason to panic, especially if your dog is eating and seems otherwise healthy. It may just be water loss or gain, bowel movement, dehydration, or other normal fluctuations.

Veterinarians Krista Williams, BSc, DVM and Ernest Ward, DVM consider a 10% or greater weight loss as clinically significant as noted in their article Abnormal Weight Loss in Dogs;

“Weight loss is considered to be clinically significant when it exceeds 10% of the normal body weight and when it is not associated with fluid loss or dehydration”. 

However, once a Golden Retriever becomes an adult weighing them is not often easy or feasible, or we may be ill-equipped to do so. This is why it is essential to be aware of some of the physical signs of a skinny or underweight dog – it provides another tool as part of the weight management process.

What Are the Physical Signs My Golden Retriever May Be Too Thin? 

Often the first indications we have that our Golden Retriever is too skinny are the physical signs. Often these become the first indications that there is a problem, and we need to contact our veterinarian.

Physical signs of an underweight or “skinny” Golden Retriever, include:

  • Ribs and backbones visible from a distance.
  • Very little or no body fat.
  • Ribs may be visible and easily felt.
  • The curve from waist to hips is excessive and very obvious.
This poor guy is grossly underweight (too skinny) and malnourished. Notice the protruding hip, back, and rib bones, and excessive abdominal taper.

Keep in mind that a Golden Retrievers long coat may make the physical signs a bit more challenging to see easily. A very pronounced taper from waist to hip is one way to tell, and using your hands to feel for protruding ribs, shoulders, and backbones is also helpful.

If you’re concerned about your Golden Retrievers being too skinny, call your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian may ask that you bring your dog in for an examination. Identifying an issue early on ensures you can work with your veterinarian to develop a structured plan to address the problem. 

What Are the Possible Causes of a Skinny Golden Retriever? 

Your Golden Retriever’s intake of calories must meet its daily energy expenditure to maintain its weight. Calories in must equal calories out.

Provided there are no underlying health issues (as determined by a qualified veterinarian), and no dehydration or fluid loss, the most likely causes of a skinny Golden Retriever is a calorie intake that is too low or a change in the dog’s environment and stress levels. 

Your Golden Retriever will lose weight if:

  • Its energy expenditure from daily physical exercise exceeds the intake of calories over a prolonged period.
  • Calorie intake is below the level needed to maintain weight, i.e., the dog is underfed.
  • The food is of poor quality.
  • The dog is a finicky eater or fed table scraps, i.e., diet may be inadequate.
  • A change in environment or stress levels resulting in a loss of appetite or reduced physical activity, e.g., a pet companion passes away.

Regarding the last point, I wrote an article on common reasons a Golden Retriever might be suddenly lazy or lethargic, and it can be found here: A Lazy Golden Retriever? (Do They Exist and Possible Causes). Please take a few minutes to read it as it identifies some reasons why a Golden Retriever may suddenly become less active.

On the brighter side, provided any of the above is the cause, then the outlook is excellent. 

“Changes in diet, environment, or stress levels, including the addition of new pets, may lead to weight loss that is rarely permanent or significant.

Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, and Ernest Ward, DVM

What Can I Do to Fatten up My Golden Retriever?

As a first step, a visit to your veterinarian is essential. Your vet will need to rule out any underlying medical problems that may be causing or contributing to the weight loss and determine the best course of treatment moving forward.

Provided there are no underlying physical or medical causes; you may be required to do one or more of the following to help your Golden Retriever gain some weight:

  • Change the brand of dog food to a more nutrient-dense one. 
  • Increase the amount of food at one or more meals.
  • Decrease the amount of physical exercise.
  • Address stress levels or a change in the environment.

The key takeaway is that you should work in consultation with your veterinarian to rule out medical issues and ensure appropriate dietary changes. Then, monitoring and follow-up with your vet until the weight issues are resolved may be required. 

What Can I Do To Keep My Golden Retriever at a Healthy Weight? 

The most effective ways to ensure your Golden Retriever maintains a healthy weight is to:

  • Feed it healthy, high-quality food.
  • Provide the appropriate amount of food for its normal body weight and activity level.
  • Ensure your dog gets adequate physical activity – not too much and not too little. 
  • Don’t feed table scraps or overfeed snacks, which can cause picky eating.

Most Golden Retrievers are food-driven and enjoy eating. Therefore, if you need to increase the amount of food, it is usually well received by your dog. After all, what Golden doesn’t like to eat more.

As well, Goldens are highly active dogs so getting them to exercise is typically not a problem. An inactive dog is usually a byproduct of an inactive owner. It’s rare for a Golden to be overexercised. 

Keeping your Golden Retriever at a healthy weight is not all that different from us humans if you think about it. A healthy, well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and keeping our intake of calories the same as our expenditure is pretty much all it takes for us.

Apply that same formula to your Golden Retriever and adjust as necessary, and there should be few issues.

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