Dogs kept at an ideal body weight live longer lives on average than their more overweight littermates, and typically have a delay to onset of age related diseases such as arthritis (3, 4, 6).
While the research is clear, what actually is an ideal body weight is a little less straightforward. This article will help you to determine what an ideal body weight is for your dog.
While estimates vary, it is thought at least 35% to 40% of dogs can be classified as overweight (1, 3, 7, 8, 9). This makes canine obesity one of the most prevalent preventable diseases. Learning what weight is ideal for your dog is paramount to combating this problem (10).
Dogs are one of the most diversely sized animals, with pets as small as 2 to 3 pounds and as heavy as 175 to 200 pounds being within healthy weight ranges for certain breeds.
Since there is such a vast degree of variation in actual weight, many veterinarians use a scale of one to nine to rate a dog’s body condition score (BCS) (11). Learning to use this grading system on your own will help you keep your dog within a healthy weight range throughout her life, and subsequently improve her well-being and increase lifespan.
On the scale of 1 to 9, a BCS rating of one is dangerously underweight, whereas a nine is very obese. The BCS system encourages an ideal score of 4 or 5 out of 9 (11, 12).
Many owners will struggle to recognize their own dog’s obesity because their dog doesn’t have a ‘classic’ dog shape (8, 13). Alternately, many owners are conditioned to think a slightly ‘chubby’ dog is normal or desirable (2, 3, 8, 7).
In fact, studies have demonstrated how many owners, with some estimates up to 65%, are not able to accurately and objectively determine their dog’s body condition, and will often underestimate where the dog falls on this scale (8, 13, 14).
The BCS guidelines should hold true regardless of your dog’s build, frame or age (9, 11, 12, 13).
Being able to recognize the physical characteristics consistent with a healthy weight is especially helpful in times when dogs’ metabolism may change, such as with aging, changing seasons, or with various diseases. You’ll be able to adjust dog food portions to reflect the amount of calories your dog needs.
Dog’s Ideal Weight
A dog with an ideal BCS has easily palpated ribs with minimal fat covering (5, 11, 12). The goal is not to be able to see individual ribs, but individual ribs should be discernible by touch. If a layer of fat is covering the ribs, this is an indication that your dog is too heavy.
The waist should be apparent when looking from above with the dog standing. The sides should indent behind the chest and in front of the hips. If the chest heads straight back without indenting at the waist, your pet is too heavy.
When viewed from the side, the abdomen should tuck up towards the hips, and not go straight back from the chest. This is more pronounced in deep-chested dogs such as Dobermans and less pronounced in more barrel-chested dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs.
Summary: A dog at an ideal body weight has palpable bones (but not necessarily visible) and an obvious waist. Even dogs without a classic canine shape, or dogs with a large frame should meet these criteria in order to be considered at a healthy weight, and will fall at 4 to 5 score on body condition scoring table.
Being able to recognize that your dog is overweight is the first step towards encouraging a healthier weight and a dietary change. Many people underestimate their pet’s body condition, or blame a large frame for the dog’s excess weight.
The BCS guide is the best way to recognize if a dog is obese.
An overweight dog of BCS 7 score or above will have ribs with a heavy fat covering. Each rib and the margin of the ribs are not be palpable under an excessive layer of fat.
A dog with a BCS 6 score will have noticeable fat deposits over the lumbar and tail base. These will sometimes be mistaken for lumps or masses, but are symmetrical.
When viewed from above, the waist is absent and body extends straight from the chest to hips without indentation, or in severely obese patients actually rounds outwards.
When viewed from the side, an overweight BCS dog will have no tuck upward from the chest to the hips and will extend straight back. In severely overweight dogs the abdomen may even sag downwards.
Dogs with a BCS of 7 to 9 scores are estimated to be 35% to 50% overweight, and are at an increased risk for a whole slew of health issues due to an excess of body fat.
If you have trouble feeling bones under a layer of fat, your dog is likely overweight. Even dogs with a large frame, or heavily muscled dogs should have palpable boney prominences when at an ideal body condition.
Summary: Use the BCS table. Dogs with BCS 6 to 9 score and loss of the indentation at the waist are too heavy and likely need to shed some weight.
It is pretty unusual to see underweight dogs whose weight issues aren’t related to some underlying disease, such as cancer or neglect. With our advancements in canine nutrition, most commercial dog foods are able to deliver the nutrients and calories needed to maintain a healthy weight.
That being said, BCS scores of 1 to 3, which are considered underweight, can be identified by prominent visible ribs, lumbar vertebra and pelvic bones which will feel sharp when palpated.
In these cases, there is a very obvious waist and very little discernible body fat. In severely underweight dogs there may be loss of muscle mass as well.
Fat is necessary for many body functions and a severely underweight body condition can be detrimental to the dog’s health, and sometimes even fatal.
Summary: Use the BCS table. Dogs with BCS 1 to 3 are considered underweight and will require dietary adjustment, with increase in calories.
Take Home Message
Learning to recognize how to rate your dog’s body condition appropriately based on clues from a physical exam will help you keep your dog as healthy as possible. Bones should be palpable, but not necessarily visibly obvious. The waist should tuck inwards and upwards from the margin of the chest.