I think my roommate is underfeeding their puppy, what should I do?
November 13, 2011 2:19 PM   Subscribe

I believe my roommate is underfeeding their dog, but I don't know how to address it.

My roommate and I are of an age (mid-forties). We are both working on graduate degrees in the same university, and we have roughly the same life experience (neither is more or less naive than the other). But here's the problem, they recently adopted a mixed breed puppy who is adorabe and energetic and a great dog in all ways... except I firmly believe that my roommate is underfeeding the puppy.

I've brought this up to my roommate once or twice, pointing out that the dog is pretty skinny (it's about seven months old now) and constantly acts as though it is starving. I gently reminded my roommate that puppies should eat more than dogs because they are growing and need the extra energy. My roommate countered that they didn't want to overfeed the dog because they'd had it fixed and didn't want it to "get fat." I pointed out that with this dog's energtic behavior, there was little chance of that.

My roommate is not starving the dog. They walk it daily and make sure it's up to date on shots. But it's so thin! And it eats everything that falls to the floor, whether it is edible or not. I've had puppies before, I know they chew everything. This one actually will swoop down and try to eat whatever it can. I'm seriously worried that it will eventually eat something fatal because it's so hungry.

I want to feed the dog behind my roommate's back, but somehow I think that's unethical -- it's not my dog. Talking doesn't seem to be working. The dog otherwise appears to be in good health. It's energetic, barks a lot, doesn't appear to be lethargic, just thin... My roommate is obviously not starving the animal... Am I overreacting? Should I leave well enough alone? Every time I interact with the puppy, I think "you should be bigger..." and feel guilty. What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Put it out of your mind. Or move. I don't really see what good can come from any other course of action.
posted by 256 at 2:35 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

How much are they feeding it, and what are they feeding it? Most packaged foods have a feeding guidelines chart on the bag; are they within the suggested bounds? And while it's a 'mixed breed', some breeds are going to be 'skinnier' than others. For some, skinny is perfect condition (whippets, for example).

Some dogs are picky eaters, some will try to eat everything and anything they find.

I assume they take the dog to the vet, since it's been fixed... if the dog was too thin, the vet would have said something.
posted by The otter lady at 2:37 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

How much are they feeding the dog per day, and what food? How much does the dog weigh? Without knowing this it's hard to tell whether your impression is reasonable.

That said, I'd tend to side with the roommate in that underfeeding is better than overfeeding, and that dogs are healthiest if they're pretty lean. My vet has an ideal dog weight chart in her office -- unless this dog looks like the "very thin" through "emaciated" dogs on that chart (i.e. if its ribs are clearly protruding and you can easily see and feel the bones in its pelvis and spine), it's just fine.
posted by vorfeed at 2:38 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I suppose first you should determine if your impression is fact. You seem stressed out by your assumption the dog is underfed - maybe you'll feel better if you do some research and gather some facts.

How much does the dog weigh? Is that in-line for 7 month old dogs of that particular breed? I realize the dog is mixed, but you should be able to guess some of its ancestry.

Other data points to consider - has the dog gained weight since adoption? What does the dog's vet recommend as a target weight for this age? What food is your roommate feeding the dog? Is the dog being fed by the puppy guidelines on the food packaging?

One you have established the facts, then you will be better able to talk to your roommate if they are truly underfeeding the dog.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:38 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

acting like they're starving and trying to eat anything that falls on the floor doesn't seem all that unusual for a dog. I've never had a dog that got 'full' or wouldn't take food that was offered.
Are you sure the dog is underweight? Lots of people overfeed their dogs and have a warped view of how big the dog should be. My sister is a vet and is always telling my parents their dog is overweight (not massively so but they've been doing a lot of training with him and training = treats). If the dog is getting shots then I would expect the vet to have mentioned it.

How much is your roommate feeding the dog? Its harder because its a mixed breed but you should be able to find some information on how much he should be getting based on the size of the dog (its often on the food packaging)
posted by missmagenta at 2:41 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have always had cats. Then my sister adopted a dog. She got him at about 7 months, and he grew to 120 lbs. And I remain entirely shocked at how little she feeds this dog. She feeds him the right amount; the vets and trainers are all good with the amount of food he gets, and his weight is pretty stable with normal winter/summer fluctuations. But he's hungry all the time. He eats everything edible he can, and it's only that he's no longer a puppy that he doesn't eat inedible things, too.

It looks to a non-dog owner like they're starving him, based on the volume of food he gets. He acts like he's being starved. But he's really not.
posted by jeather at 2:44 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

If the dog is getting regular shots, I assume it's also getting regular checkups. Any time we take our dogs in, they're weighed, and the vet tells us if we need to feed more or less. Our dogs actually have come in underweight and we were *so* embarrassed and upset. Trust me, being told you're undernourishing your dog is a terrible feeling. I'm sure that if you've brought it up with your roommate, it's been in turn brought up with the vet. You don't adopt a dog if you don't want to keep it healthy and happy.

That said, whether they're underweight, overweight, or just right, our dogs act as though they have never seen food before whenever any food comes onto the scene. It's totally embarrassing. But dogs have evolved with humans to scavenge off our scraps, so it makes total sense that they'd naturally be aggressive about moving in to grab what we don't want.
posted by troublesome at 2:55 PM on November 13, 2011

I feed my dog what the dog food bag recommends for his size, which is about 1 cup of food a day. No matter what the situation, he always acts like he's starving, even when he didn't finish his meal. Last time we took him to the vet, it turned out that he had actually gained three pounds, (went from 16 to 19 pounds) though he's still as scrawny as all get-out. Unless the dog is showing ribs or acting lethargic, I would not be too concerned.
posted by Gilbert at 2:58 PM on November 13, 2011

From the OP:
My roommate feeds the puppy half a cup, as in a standard cooking-type measuring cup, of food in the morning and half a cup of food in the evening. We don't know the breed(s) of the dog because it is a rescue dog, but it appears to be some kind of Shepard mix. I honestly believe the dog would be bigger if it were being fed properly.

I've had dogs all of my life, including puppies, of all shapes and sizes so this is not a case of a non-dog owner not knowing what they're doing. This, I believe, is my roommate's third attempt at dog ownership. My roommate is generally a cat person. They have generally hear that animals "get fat" after being fixed.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:06 PM on November 13, 2011

I've had strangers chase me down the street yelling at me because my dogs are "too thin" and being starved. My vet and my trainer tell me that my dogs are in fantastic shape with good muscle and very high energy. Most people dramatically overfeed their dogs. Most dogs act like they're starving and will eat anything and everything. That is a training issue, not a hunger issue. Growing puppies will hoover up any and all food but overfeeding at this stage can actually cause problems down the line because they grow faster than joints and ligaments can support them. Slow, steady growth is much better for them. A sudden growth spurt can cause a lanky dog who is already all legs to look even more out of balance. You're not wrong to care, but I wouldn't be quick to jump to accusations.
posted by hindmost at 3:08 PM on November 13, 2011

And it eats everything that falls to the floor, whether it is edible or not. . . . This one actually will swoop down and try to eat whatever it can.

This is pretty typical dog-behavior, even for a well-fed dog. Things like stealing food off the table or begging for food are also pretty common in well-fed dogs (though they are often a sign of poor training).
posted by insectosaurus at 3:12 PM on November 13, 2011

If the dog is getting to the vet regularly, and doesn't look bone-thin, I wouldn't worry about it. If the puppy is generally in good health and energetic, that means the puppy is in good health.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:19 PM on November 13, 2011

Hmmm - half a cup of dog biscuits in the morning and 200g of meat/dog food is what I give my lean (10kg) whippet/dingo crosses each day. It sounds to me like your flatmate needs to add a bit to the dog's diet.
posted by honey-barbara at 3:21 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

My roommate feeds the puppy half a cup, as in a standard cooking-type measuring cup, of food in the morning and half a cup of food in the evening.
That is exactly how much I feed my energetic 19# terrier dachshund mix. It really seems like a tiny amount of food, but he's never short on energy. He still acts like he's being starved, though, but as insectasaurus notes, that's probably a training issue.
posted by Gilbert at 3:21 PM on November 13, 2011

Granted, there are going to be diet modifications per dog, but half a cup twice a day does not sound like quite enough food for a shepherd mix, but IANAV nor do I have that kind of dog. I do not think the behavior of the dog is much indication and as it seems otherwise healthy aside from the thinness, I'm guessing no red flags are being raised during vet checkups.

However, what you can do about it is, is basically nothing. It's not your dog. The more you interfere, the more defensive your roommate is going to get, which likely isn't going to help the dog. Short of a somewhat passive-aggressive, "hey, is that enough food for Paws? The bag says he should be getting x amount x times daily," or a completely passive-aggressive secretive feeding the dog, who will then gain weight, and compromise the relationship between you and your roommate... you are between a rock and a hard place. Until you have solid evidence of the dog being mistreated I would stay out of it.
posted by sm1tten at 3:22 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, it sounds like the dog is getting a cup a day. If the food bag has guidelines, it should be easy to check if the dog is being underfed. My 8-year-old 70 pound dog gets three cups a day, and my 2-year-old 50 pound dog gets about 2 and 1/4 cups a day. The younger dog is actually a teeny bit overweight (can't feel her ribs without pressing) and could lose a few pounds, but it's been a slow process shedding them.

Sounds like the daily ration your roommate is doling out could be on the skimpy side, but you've never stated the current weight of the dog so it's hard to tell.

I would consider it unethical to feed the dog behind your roommate's back, but if it doesn't make your roommate too cranky maybe you could do some training sessions with the dog and give nice big portions of treats for good behavior. Here's a dog calorie counter to help you see if you can add the needed calories to the dog's diet that way.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:25 PM on November 13, 2011

What hindmost said is exactly right. The vast majority of pet dogs are overweight, a dog at a healthy lean weight will have the last ribs visible if it has a thinnish coat, and the rest of the ribs will feel like your knuckles do when you make a fist (your hand should bump over them). You should also easily feel 3-5 knobs of spine in the lower back. I have agility dogs, my dogs are at a perfect 4.5/9 on the body condition scale, (I work for a vet and part of my job is advising people about their pets' body condition), and people who don't know better always think my dogs are too thin (they are not). People are so used to seeing overweight dogs that they tend to have a poor concept of what a healthy weight looks like (it's a LOT leaner than you'd think).

Dogs who are kept lean live longer and are healthier in general (this has been formally studied). And puppies, especially large breed puppies, should grow slowly and be kept very lean, it is far better for their joints. Failing outright malnutrition, the dog will grow to the size its genetics say it will, how quickly it gets there depends on how it is fed, and it is much better for a dog to grow slowly. I like my puppies to look pretty spidery and scrawny until they are well over two, overfed puppies tend to look magnificent and mature earlier - but slow-growing and lean puppies will tend to be sounder and healthier as adults. Keeping puppies and dogs lean is the best way to maximize their chances of orthopedic and general health.

Finally, dogs are "opportunistic feeders", this means that most dogs act as if they are starving hungry at all times, and most dogs will eat whatever food is available to them, whenever it is available (this is one of the many reasons why free feeding is a bad idea, but I digress). This is a holdover from our dogs' wild ancestors: if you do not know where your next meal is coming from, you eat as much as you can, and you always eat when there is food.

Does this mean your roommate is NOT underfeeding their dog? No, but keep in mind that how much they feed should not be based on the dog's size, and definitely not on what the food bag says, it should be based on the dog's body condition. The number of times I have to explain to people that yes, whatever I may be suggesting you feed the dog doesn't seem like much (IF YOU ARE A FULL-GROWN ADULT PERSON, and not a 30-40 pound dog), but if the dog is overweight on what you are feeding them, they need to eat less. My very active (and intact) 19 pound dogs eat the same amount as my less-active (and neutered) 26 pound dog, because that is the amount they need to stay at the correct body condition for their activity level and metabolism. I also adjust their food accordingly as needed, based again on their body condition. My dogs are VERY active, and they all still eat half or less of what the recommended feeding amount is on their food.
posted by biscotti at 3:27 PM on November 13, 2011 [13 favorites]

Half a cup of food in the morning and half a cup in the evening could be a little on the low side -- it depends on what kind of food the dog is getting and its current size/weight. But if the pup is going to the vet (and it must be if it's been fixed recently), and the vet isn't concerned, you should probably stay out of it.

Anecdotally, when my labs were puppies/young dogs, I would also be told that my dogs were underweight by people in the dog park. I thought they looked perfect. I would ask the vet during appointments if he thought they were underweight and he said they were on the low side and could stand to gain a pound or two, but better a couple pounds low than a couple pounds high. When I look at photos of my dogs as puppies, I'm a bit shocked because they do look quite thin. But I've always fed them (well, just the one now, the other had to be put down when he was about five) consistently the same amount every morning and every evening and she eventually filled out around two or three years of age. Puppies grow fast and can look pretty skinny if they are kept on the lean side.

The lab I still have is 12-and-a-half and in excellent health -- and my vet attributes it to her being kept lean. And for a point of reference, she eats one cup of food in the morning and again in the evening and is approximately 48 pounds (she's small for her breed).
posted by Felicity Rilke at 3:29 PM on November 13, 2011

Most dogs act like they're starving and will eat anything and everything.

I do this and believe me, I get enough food.

That is a training issue, not a hunger issue.

posted by grouse at 3:37 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

My sister is a vet and is always telling my parents their dog is overweight

... what I meant to add to that is that he looks OK/normal to me. I've always had multiple dogs but I'm not a vet or breeder/trainer. Based on the body condition scales I'd say most dogs that I see would be a 6-7. Just because you've owned dogs in the past doesn't mean your qualified to say the dog is underfed. He's healthy, energetic and has been seen by a vet on multiple occasions. As has been mentioned, being weighed is a fairly routine part of getting shots and they would almost certainly have weighed him before he was 'fixed' as well as being examined. If he was underweight it would have been mentioned.
posted by missmagenta at 3:52 PM on November 13, 2011

I don't know whether your roommate's dog is being underfed, but I do want to say you should keep trusting the instinct that says not to feed him behind your roommate's back. If you start secretly feeding him, and he noticeably puts on weight, your roommate might further reduce what he feeds the puppy, and then if you are away or when you no longer live together, the poor thing will be getting even less than he does now.
posted by lollusc at 4:07 PM on November 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

More anecdotal evidence - my dog eats that exact same amount in the summer. She gets an extra quarter cup in the winter. She has stayed between 44-46 lbs her entire life, and is about a 4.5 on the chart linked above (which is neat, and you might want to check it). She's also in almost perfect health (she may or may not have a touch of arthritis) and going on 13 years old. I don't know if that has to do with how much she eats or not. But it is basically impossible to overfeed my dog, as she'll just stop eating if she's full, and she has self-regulated her entire life to the equivalent of roughly a cup a day.

This also does not in any way stop her lunging for the tiniest crumb or item I've dropped. Dogs do get heavier after being fixed, and this is unhealthy for them. If the vet doesn't have any concerns, I would stop worrying. But definitely don't feed it behind your roommate's back. I would be furious if someone screwed up my picky dog's food schedule and possibly started causing her health problems because they felt their judgment was better than mine and my vet's.
posted by wending my way at 4:10 PM on November 13, 2011

I have a question about the dog charts y'all are putting up in answer to the OP's question. The OP says the dog is a puppy of seven months, and these charts are for adult dogs... does that make a difference?
posted by patheral at 4:41 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my experience animals that have experienced deprivation, such as rescue dogs and cats, will always eat as if they are starving and eat everything all at once. The only animals I know who would walk away from food were raised by breeders and had never known hunger.
posted by srboisvert at 5:03 PM on November 13, 2011

Also, what kind of Shepherd? German or Australian? They can be differently sized.
posted by b33j at 6:33 PM on November 13, 2011

Just want to say that some dogs will eat absolutely anything regardless of how much they are being fed (especially Labs). we had a very visibly overweight Lab that would scramble like a lunatic for anything food-like or possibly food-like that fell on the floor or was within reach on the counter.

Another question though, if the dog is up on its shots presumably it's been to the vet and the vet would probably notice if it's overweight, right?
posted by bearette at 6:48 PM on November 13, 2011

Doh! I meant, presumably the vet would notice that it's UNDERweight.
posted by bearette at 6:49 PM on November 13, 2011

We have taken care of quite a few guide dogs who are in the middle of their training. They are mostly labs, so they are pretty big dogs. The most that any one dog has been fed is 2 cups in the morning, and 2 cups for supper. Some have attacked anything that falls on the floor, some could care less. Some attack their supper bowl, and some have a liesurely repas. So, just saying that all dogs are different, just like real people.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:07 PM on November 13, 2011

patheral, in general I would say that a lot of adolescent dogs look even skinnier than the "ideal weight" dog pictured. Much like newborn foals, growing puppies can be all awkward, knobby limbs without the muscle mass to balance it out. Think of junior high boys who are all gawky and comprised mainly of elbows, knees, and an Adam's apple. If you look at bigger pictures of the body condition scales, moderate weight is quite lean and a dog scoring as "thin" looks slightly skeletal from above. I would venture that most people looking only at the pictures would consider the "stout" dog to be the ideal weight.
posted by hindmost at 9:59 PM on November 13, 2011

Can you take a few pictures of it, weigh it, and ask a vet friend?

A relative of mine was underfeeding the cat because she had weight and control issues herself and didn't want the cats to "get fat."
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:05 AM on November 14, 2011

I have a 6 month old Husky/Sheppard mix and she gets 3/4 c. In the morning, 1/2c at noon (which she may or may not finish, depends on dog park trips, running etc) and 3/4c in the evening. She is within normal limits but eating 1/2c more than the dog food bag recommends per my vets suggestion. Sheppard puppies do *a lot* of growing in the first year so they need extra good quality food. My little gal was 7 lbs when we got her and now she's 35lbs and very musclular. You might want to talk to your roommate again. If I wasn't on my phone I'd link a picture of my pooch for comparison.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 8:56 AM on November 14, 2011

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