How to Know if Your Dog is a Healthy Weight

We all want the very best for our four-legged companions, but sometimes, the temptation to shower them with treats can lead to weight gain, health problems, and a shortened life expectancy. Even if you manage to hold back on overfilling their bowls or treating them to table scraps, a downward spiral into obesity can still happen if they’re not getting the exercise they need. Given that the knock-on effect of obesity can take two years off a dog’s life (and lead to such joys as a fatty liver, reduced stamina, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, joint problems and more besides), it’s vital to pay attention to your pet’s weight to avoid unwanted health complications (and costly medical bills).

If you’re worried your pet is packing on the pounds (or, conversely, you’re concerned they’re getting a little too skinny for comfort), it’s important to establish just how severe the problem is… although sometimes, that can be easier said than done.

Overweight, Underweight, or Heathy?

Before making any kind of dietary or lifestyle changes, the first step towards getting your pet into optimal shape is working out just how overweight or underweight they really are… if, indeed, they are at all. Some breeds tend by nature to be heavy-set and bulky; while they may look heftier than average, they could well be within the perfect weight range for their type. Similarly, other breeds tend towards the extremely slender; prominent ribs on dogs like whippets and lurchers are often perfectly normal, rather than anything to spark concern. While there’s a surfeit of information out there to help you establish whether your pet is a healthy weight or not, some of it is more useful than others.

Testing the Tests

Do a quick internet search around the topic of “healthy weight for dogs”, and I guarantee you’ll find countless sites all offering their own charts and graphs explaining how to check and measure just how fit or fat your pet really is. While handy in their own way, the key problem of such charts is their “grey” areas. Pop “Male Labrador Retriever” into the search engine over at the American Kennel Club, for example, and you’ll be returned a “perfect” weight of 65-80 lb. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on math, but 15 lbs seems to be a fairly significant difference. Things get even trickier if you’re dealing with a mixed breed dog, with no clear reference point available to give you an indication of optimal weight.

Fortunately, there’s a painless alternative to such charts that will quickly and easily tell you if your pet is in good shape, regardless of their health, age, gender or breed. Even better, it’s a method that’s been tried and test by vets for years, given it the kind of credibility that other tests can sometimes lack.

The Body Condition System

The Body Condition System uses a combination of visual inspection and touch to determine whether your pet is in peak condition or not. Best of all, it only takes a minute to do.

  • Rib Check: Using both hands (with one on either side of your dog’s body), gently run your palms along your pet’s ribcage to gauge how it feels.
  • Profile Check: While your dog is in a standing position, get down on to their same level and check their profile from a side angle.
  • Overhead Check: While your dog is still in a standing position, give them a once over from an overhead angle.

Once you’ve completed your inspections, compare what you’ve seen/ felt to the below.

  • Thin – Your dog is thin if: their ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones are easy to palpate and see, even from a distance. They have no visible or palatable body fat and either obvious signs of muscle wastage or some degree of muscle loss, and a very discernible narrowing of the waist with a very pronounced abdominal tuck.
  • Underweight – Your dog is underweight if: their ribs are visible and easily palpated. Their backbone and hip bones have no fat coverage and are just visible. They have a pointed abdominal tuck and prominent narrowing of the waist.
  • The Ideal Weight – Your dog is an ideal weight if: their ribs can be felt (although they may not always be visible) and have only a minimal amount of fat coverage. Their waist is clear from the overhead check, with a visible abdominal tuck.
  • Slightly Overweight – Your dog is slightly overweight if: their ribs are palatable but have a slight excess fat covering and cannot be seen. Their waist is visible from an overhead check but is not clear. They may have a very slight abdominal tuck.
  • Overweight – Your dog is overweight if: they have a marked coverage of fat over their ribs, which are palatable only if significant pressure is applied. There are noticeable fat deposits along their lumbar region and tail. The waistline will either be absent or will be unclear.
  • Obese – Your dog is obese if: their ribs are very hard to feel and have a thick coverage of fat. They have heavy fat deposits along their spine and at the base of their tail. They will have no discernible waist or abdominal tuck. Their belly may sag downwards.
  • Clinically Obese – Your dog is clinically obese if: their ribs are impossible to feel and have a very heavy coating of overlying fat. Heavy fat deposits can be felt or seen along the spine, legs, base of tail and thorax. The waistline is completely absent and their abdominals are noticeably distended.

The Solution

If your pet is only slightly overweight, a few changes to their diet and a couple more daily treks around the park should have them fighting fit in no time. For more seriously overweight or underweight dogs, it’s vital to speak to your vet before introducing any major dietary changes: not only can they help rule out any underlying health issues, they’ll also be able to advise on the safest and healthiest way to get your pet back into peak condition.


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