Is My Labrador Too Thin?

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When a Lab looks much leaner than their pals at the dog park, their owner might worry “is my Labrador too thin?”

Labradors’ overall body condition is a better indicator of whether they’re in healthy shape than their weight.

If they have visible ribs or vertebrae, it’s possible they are too thin. A veterinarian is best placed to make this judgement, and identify the reason why.

Is My Labrador Too Thin?

Overall, Labradors are better known for overeating and being prone to obesity, than being too thin.

But not all Labs are insatiable, and not all weight loss in dogs is solely the result of undereating.

In this article, we look at the lower threshold of the healthy weight range for Labs, and how to tell if your dog is getting close to it, or below it.

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Let’s start by looking at the normal Labrador physique, so that it’s possible to recognize when a Lab is underweight in comparison.

Are Labs Naturally Skinny?

The shape of a Labrador Retriever is iconic and easily called to mind for most of us.

That they all mostly fit the same template is due to a clear description of the ideal Labrador conformation set out in their breed standard.

The standard is littered with adjectives like “strong”, “developed” and “powerful”.

It also requires Labs to have a moderately wide chest, and be short coupled (which means the distance from their ribs to their pelvis is relatively short, compared to dogs on average).

These features have the combined effect of making the Labrador look more naturally heavy and bulky, than thin and gangly.

But undoubtedly, if you’re lucky enough to meet a lot of Labs, you’re likely to meet some which look very slender, and others which look very chunky.

This is partly due to natural variation in size, and lifestyle factors.

But there’s another important reason why a lot of Labs in the U.S. look slim and racy, whilst a smaller proportion look broader and more heavy set.

Different Labrador Shapes: American vs English

Breeding choices and different opinions about how the ideal Labrador looks on either side of the Atlantic has led to two distinct types of Lab – English and American.

They both belong to the same breed, but English Labs tend to be broader, stockier, and more heavy set.

Whilst American Labs tend to be taller, longer, and slimmer looking.

In the U.S. most Labs, predictably, belong to the American type. A smaller proportion belong to the English type.

So the general perception of Labrador body shape in the U.S. is slimmer than Lab owners in the UK are used to.

But what’s the ideal weight range for either type?

What Is The Ideal Weight For A Labrador?

The American Kennel Club describes the ideal weight of Labs in working condition as

  • approximately 65 to 80 lbs for males
  • and approximately 55 to 70 lbs for females.

The Kennel Club in the UK doesn’t specify an ideal weight for English type Labs.

But around 70 to 80 lbs for a male and 60 to 70 lbs for a female is typical.

For both types, you can see that there’s a significant difference in size between the largest and smallest individuals in each sex class.

And it’s possible to have healthy individuals which fall outside of the average range too.

Which is why relying on numbers on a scale isn’t the best way to determine if your Labrador is at their ideal weight.

How Else Can I Tell If My Labrador Is Too Thin?

This is where overall body condition comes in.

Vets assess body condition partly by observing a dog’s outline from the side, and from above.

Labradors at a healthy weight have a discernible waist from above, and from the side their belly is tucked up slightly higher than their chest.

Vets also examine body condition by touch – applying pressure over the ribs to assess how much fat is covering them, for example.

Dogs in healthy condition have ribs which can be easily felt under a thin layer of fat.

How Can I Tell If My Lab Is Underweight?

Overall body condition is a better way of identifying whether your dog is at a healthy weight than putting them on the scales alone, because it works regardless of what sex your Lab is, how tall they are, and whether they are big or small in stature generally.

Unfortunately, us dog owners aren’t instinctively very accurate at assessing our dogs’ body condition.

Even using a body condition score chart, we tend to underestimate their size.

Or in other words, we’re more likely to think they’re healthy when in fact they’re overweight. And we tend to think they’re underweight when they’re actually in optimum condition.

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In fact, only half of us ever get it right!

However, if you can see any of these changes in your dog it is possible that they are underweight:

  • Visible ribs, vertebrae or pelvic bones.
  • Or being able to feel any of those bones immediately under the skin with no fat covering them at all.
  • Loss of muscle mass.
  • The underline of their body (the shape of their ribs and belly sideways on) following an S-like curve. In ideal condition, the underline of adult Labradors slopes up towards the hindquarters, but in a straight line.

If any of these apply to your Lab, we recommend asking a vet to check them over.

Even without any of these features, always report any unexplained weight loss to your dog’s vet too.

There are several possible causes of emaciation (being underweight) in dogs, and it’s important for a vet to decide which one applies, and how to manage the weight loss.

Causes Of Weight Loss In Dogs

There are several reasons a Labrador can get too thin.

One is not eating enough calories to replace all the energy they burn in a day.

Other reasons include

  • parasitic infection such as leashmaniasis and parvovirus
  • cancer
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • and hereditary muscle wasting conditions such as muscular dystrophy, and myopathy.

And as you can easily imagine, none of these are treated as simply as by giving the dog more calories in their diet!

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Labradors don’t reach their adult weight until they’re about a year old, and it’s not uncommon for them to go through a skinny teenage phase whilst they’re still growing.

However, being too skinny during their growing months can also have a damaging effect on things like bone development.

So it’s really important that a vet determines whether your Lab is too thin, and whether they need help gaining weight.

How Can I Fatten Up My Labrador?

Once any underlying causes of being too thin have been resolved, your vet may recommend adjusting a dog’s diet to help them gain weight.

Sometimes the simplest way of doing this is by overfeeding their usual diet a little every day, until they reach a healthy body condition.

But your vet might also recommend switching to a more energy rich diet.

What’s important is to be led by your vet.

Making sudden changes to a dog’s diet without veterinary expertise can cause digestive upset and diarrhea – which may make weight loss worse!

Is My Labrador Too Thin – Summary

The chances are that you’re here because you’re concerned that your Lab might be underweight, and you want to make an informed assessment of their condition.

It’s great that you’re doing that!

All Labs should have an owner that pays attention to their welfare so closely, and cares about them so much.

But if you’re worried about your dog, only allow a veterinarian to put your mind at ease.

The truth is that a lot of dogs we perceive as being underweight are actually in a healthy condition.

A vet will be able to determine whether they are really too skinny, and if so why, and how to safely fatten them up.

References & Further Reading

Official Standard for the Labrador Retriever. American Kennel Club. 1994.

Labrador Retriever Breed Standard. Kennel Club. Accessed October 2020.

Bergman et al. Dystrophin-Deficient Muscular Dystrophy in a Labrador Retriever. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. 2002.

Dos Santos. Associations among immunological, parasitological and clinical parameters in canine visceral leishmaniasis. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 2008.

Hawthorne et al. Body-Weight Changes during Growth in Puppies of Different Breeds. The Journal of Nutrition. 2004.

Jeena. Diagnosis and clinico-therapeutic studies on canine hepatic dysfunction. G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology. 2017.

Nwoha. Parvoviral enteritis in a dog: Case report and review of the literature. Continental Journal of Veterinary Science. 2011.

Raffan et al. A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs. Cell Metabolism. 2016.

Snead et al. Clinical Phenotype of X‐Linked Myotubular Myopathy in Labrador Retriever Puppies. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 2015.

Yam et al. Inaccurate Assessment of Canine Body Condition Score, Bodyweight, and Pet Food Labels: A Potential Cause of Inaccurate Feeding. Veterinary Sciences. 2017.

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website

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