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What is Not Growing?

When your dog stops growing, it can be cause for concern due to the unknown factors involved. The reality is, your dog may have naturally reached its full growth potential or he may have contracted a medical condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. Some dogs may have stunted growth due to malnutrition, which can be fixed by changing his diet and ensuring he receives the appropriate amount of supplements. However, there are also other reasons which may cause your dog to stop growing. These reasons can include the following:

  • Portosystemic/liver shunt
  • Internal parasites

A portosystemic shunt may develop when there is an abnormal formation of your dog’s portal vein and liver. It is common for a liver shunt to be caused by a congenital birth defect. In other cases, it may occur from severe liver diseases such as cirrhosis. A shunt can adversely affect kidney function and may cause kidney stones to form as well.

Internal parasites feed off of your dog’s body, causing his body to have a stunted appearance. These parasites can range from roundworms to tapeworms to hookworms. Several internal parasites are common in many locations of the United States. It is important to protect your dog from these parasites to ensure your dog reaches his full growth potential.

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Why Not Growing Occurs in Dogs

There are several reasons why your dog may suddenly stop growing. Before reaching his full potential, your dog may have been exposed to elements in his environment that have caused his body to halt further development. Your dog may have reached his full growth size based on his breed, he may have developed internal parasites, or he may have developed a portosystemic shunt. In many cases, a shunt is a congenital condition. Internal worms pose a serious risk to young puppies. Internal parasites are usually feeding off of your dog’s body, causing weakness and lethargy.

Portosystemic/Liver Shunt

With a portosystemic/liver shunt, the most common sign that your dog may have this condition is his stunted growth, poor muscle development, and abnormal behavior such as head pressing or circling. You may not notice additional symptoms unless your dog’s diet consists of high protein diet; some dogs will experience symptoms of a more severe nature when the protein, toxins and nutrients normally processed by the liver bypass it and go directly into the system. Some dogs may show symptoms as puppies, while other dogs may manifest symptoms as they age. 

Internal Parasites

Hookworms can cause a delay in growth and lead to anemia. Hookworms may attach to the lining of your dog’s small intestines and feed on blood, causing anemia. Internal parasites can cause serious life-threatening risks in dogs that have a compromised immune system. 

Roundworms can stunt your dog’s growth and cause excessive gas within his body. You may notice a “pot-belly” abdomen on your dog, which is caused by the formation of roundworms. Roundworms can be transmitted from dog to dog via eggs present in feces. While it may be common for your dog to contract an internal parasite at some point in his life, it is important to regularly follow up with your veterinarian in order to ensure a more serious medical condition has not affected him. Other common internal parasites include tapeworms, giardia, and coccidia. 

Internal parasites such as heartworm pose a major life-threatening risk to dogs and are transmitted by mosquitoes. Heartworms can cause your dog to become extremely fatigued and have a poor physical appearance. His coat may look dull and he may look like his growth is stunted as well, due to the presence of the internal parasites. Heartworms are large internal parasites located in the heart. 

Whipworms are tiny worms that reside in the large intestine, causing irritation and discomfort to your dog. Whipworms may cause extreme weight loss, leading to stunted growth in your dog. Tapeworms may be transmitted via the presence of fleas. Tapeworms may result in an upset digestive tract and additional stunted growth.

What to do if your Dog is Not Growing

If your dog has stopped growing and has not reached his breed’s standard, it is time to take him to a veterinarian for a check-up. Your veterinarian will want to know your dog’s history and will want to conduct a full physical examination. It is expected that he will ask you for your pet’s recent medical history, any medications he may be on, his current diet, if you have any other pets, what he has been recently exposed to, and any symptoms you may have observed. 

For a portosystemic/liver shunt, the veterinarian may conduct a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistries, urinalysis, and bile acid test. These tests are suggested in order to evaluate any abnormal findings such as anemia, infection, and elevated bile acid. The veterinarian may order additional testing to help pinpoint a diagnosis of a portosystemic/liver shunt such as ultrasound, CT scan, portography, MRI, and laparotomy. 

Your veterinarian may suggest changing your dog’s diet in order to reduce the amount of protein entering his body.  He may administer lactulose in order to decrease the absorption of ammonia in his body. Your dog may also be prescribed antibiotics in order to alter the bacterial population in the intestines to promote healthy bacteria.  A portosystemic shunt may be able to be repaired surgically but will depend on the location. Additionally, follow up will be required on a regular basis. Your veterinarian will be able to suggest the best course of action to allow your dog to remain as healthy as possible. 

As for intestinal parasites, it is likely that your dog will become infected with a type of parasite during some time in his life. There are many different parasites that are easy to transmit through various means. Your dog will need to have a fecal examination done by your veterinarian. It is highly recommended that you bring a sample of your dog’s fecal matter to help expedite your dog’s diagnosis. An annual wellness check up is always recommended as prevention of parasites will be part of the health regimen.

Prevention of Not Growing

In order to prevent infection by internal parasites, it is important to routinely take your dog to the veterinarian so your dog can be treated immediately if a parasitic infection is discovered.. Internal parasites exist to continuously feed on your dog’s body, decreasing his quality of life. 

Since portosystemic shunts are usually a congenital condition, there may not be much you can do to prevent it from occurring. However, part of pet ownership is maintaining a suitable diet, watching for signs of ill health, and supporting an active lifestyle. Certain breeds are susceptible to portosystemic shunts such as Yorkshire Terriers, Old English Sheepdogs, and Cairn Terriers.

Cost of Not Growing

Treatment for your dog not growing depends on the medical condition your dog is experiencing. For instance, eradicating intestinal parasites can range anywhere from $200 to $500. On average, the cost for diagnosing and moving forward with surgically treating your dog with a portosystemic shunt ligation is $3000.

Not Growing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

8 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Frequent Urination
Extreme Thirst
stunted growth
Very hungry
Poor Muscle Tone

Medication Used


My dog Basil has been a medical mystery for some time to us and currently my vet.
We got him from a local family at 8 weeks. He had just been weaned off breast milk. At about 2 months we began to notice his growth was odd. He would grow in one area of his body at a time (exp. just his legs, then his head, then his torso etc.). We've had puppies before and it seems there is such a small amount of time they really are a puppy so this stood out. We didn't take any action then. Over time Basil developed excessive thirst and urination. His appetite seemed never-ending. He ate his food in record time and no matter the amount fed he wouldn't put on any more weight. At 6 months we really became worried. I reached out to the lady who sold him to us and it turns out she had kept a puppy from the same litter herself. I asked her to weigh him. He was 12 lbs. and at the time Basil was only 4.5. We brought him in to the vet and had multiple tests done. A complete blood-work workup, fecal test, urine analysis and a followup Bile acid test. His blood-work came back relatively normal, his fecal showed no signs of any parasites, his urine test detected a small amount of red blood cells and his bile acid showed a resting level of 53 and a post level of 52. She added on a random cortisol to rule out Addison's disease and that too came back normal.
Our next step was to do an ultrasound to see if a liver shunt could be detected. Not only could they not detect a shunt, but his liver was normal sized. They also found that one of his adrenal glands was smaller than the other and his prostate was above average in size. Diabetes and Hyperthyroidism have also been ruled out based on his initial blood-work and urine analysis. We are at a loss with what could be the issue and Basil continues to not grow. His teeth have come in pretty well and relatively on time although they seem too big for his head.

Any advice or theories would be so greatly appreciated.

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Great dane lab mix
5 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


My puppy was a rescue from the animal shelter. She is almost 6 months old and she is a Great Dane lab mix. The shelter found her and called the owners and they didn’t want her back but they confirmed that her breed was Great Dane lab mix, but for being 5 months (almost 6) she only weighs 21 pounds, which is significantly less than what they should be for that age. She has had all her shots, the vet says she is in perfect health but I’m still concerned.

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Chocolate Lab mix
8 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Ribs showing but acts like she's fine
Has no lethargic behavior
Drinking plenty of water
No issues eating

I just got a dog recently she's a chocolate lab mix she seems small for her age. She's around 8 months old and when I got her she did have a flea problem but no walking in circles. She eats fine and acts like a puppy I'm just worried she might have had a malnutrition problem she does have ribs showing but the lady I got her off of said that was normal

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
You should visit a Veterinarian for an examination to check Calli over to determine if she is the right height, weight, good body condition score etc… for her age; without examining her I cannot comment. Some dogs are smaller for their age and may be due to various different factors, not always due to malnutrition; but your Veterinarian will be able to tell you more after an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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