You know your dog best, and you can tell when something isn’t quite right. But how do you monitor their body condition? Being able to determine if your dog is overweight is an important part of dog ownership. Without regular checks, your dog could become overweight or obese. So, is your dog overweight?
Overweight dogs are prone to several health problems. Not only this, but weight gain and obesity can shorten your pet’s lifespan. To get the most out of you and your pup’s years together, be sure to check their weight regularly.
Signs That Your Dog is Overweight
There are several signs that indicate if your dog is a healthy weight or not. These include their Body Condition Score (BCS), how easy it is to feel their ribs, and monitoring inactivity.
Your Dog's Body is Not in Shape
One of the most reliable ways to determine your dog’s weight status is by using the Body Condition Score (BCS) system. BCS evaluations require you to look at and feel the ribs, waist, and profile of your pet. Traditionally, this system uses 5 points. However, 9-point BCS systems are also available to give a wider scope of body scores. Your dog gets a score of 1 if they are severely underweight. The ribs, backbones, and hip bones are easily seen with no overlying fat layer. Severe muscle loss is noticeable around the shoulders and the thighs. The waistline is exaggerated, and your dog has an obvious, severe tummy tuck.
Your dog has a score of 2 if they are slightly underweight. Their ribs, backbone, and hip bones can be seen, and there is minimal fat coverage over them. There may be some slight muscle loss around the shoulders and thighs and little body fat. A score of 3 is ideal. If your dog’s body condition score is a 3, their ribs can be easily felt but have a layer of overlying fat. A clear waistline can be seen but is not prominent. There is a tummy tuck, but this is minimal.
Moving past 3, dogs enter overweight territory. If your dog is slightly overweight, the ribs cannot be seen and have an obvious layer of overlying fat. The waistline is visible but unclear, and the tummy tucks slightly upwards towards the hind legs. Lastly, your dog is clinically obese with a score of 5. The ribs are very difficult to feel beneath a thick layer of overlying fat. Chunky pads of fat are palpable along the back and at the base of your dog’s tail. The waistline is not clear at all, and the tummy bulges and may sag downwards.
You Cannot Feel Their Ribs Anymore
As described in the BCS scores, severely overweight dogs’ ribs become covered by a thick layer of fat. It may be difficult to palpate your dog’s ribs, or perhaps even impossible if your dog has become clinically obese. If it is your first time feeling for your dog’s ribs, you may be unsure of what to compare the results to. If your dog is severely underweight, the ribs will protrude and feel sharp and bumpy as you feel with your hands. When your dog is slightly underweight, you will feel the ribs but also notice a slight layer of fat covering them.
Fat Pads and Belly Swings
When checking your dog’s weight, make sure to view them from different angles. From the side, a severely overweight dog’s abdomen will hang significantly lower than their chest. Their waist will not be obvious and the stomach will have a rounder appearance.
Overweight and obese dogs often become less active as they put on more weight. This is partly because overweight dogs are at a much greater risk of developing osteoarthritis. They are also two to three times more likely to develop ruptured cruciate ligaments. Overall, being overweight puts a greater strain on the dog’s joints, increasing their discomfort when they move. This causes overweight dogs to become sedentary.
How to Check a Dog's Weight
Measuring your dog’s weight is a reliable way of determining if your dog has gained weight or not. However, weighing a dog is not always straightforward. Different dog breeds have different ideal weights, and even then, your dog is an individual and their weight may differ from others of their breed if they have a different body type. The AKC provides a helpful list of the ideal weight for a wide range of dog breeds.
For Smaller Dogs
Weighing a small dog might sound easy, but for some, this simple task is not as straightforward. Getting your dog to sit still on the scales long enough to record their weight can be tricky. So, the most straightforward way to weigh a small dog is to use a bathroom scale. First, weigh yourself. Then, weigh yourself again whilst holding your dog. Subtract your own weight from the total weight of you and your dog to find your pup’s measurement. If your dog does not tolerate being held, do not force them. A struggle could hurt both you and your dog. You should also avoid weighing your dog on an elevated surface to prevent falls and injuries. To be safe, ask your vet for help with weighing your pup if you have any doubts or concerns.
For Larger Dogs
Weighing a large dog at home is straightforward if you invest in a large dog scale. You can find these online or in a large pet supply store. Prices for these scales often begin at $100, and different scales will have different weight limits. For owners who do not need to weigh their pet as often, consider asking your local vet clinic about their resources. Most veterinary clinics will allow you to weigh your pooch for free. In addition, some bus terminals will provide large weighing scales for luggage. Consider investigating this option if you live close to a bus terminal.
The Harmful Effects of Being Overweight
In the USA, approximately 25 to 30% of the dog population is obese. A further 40 to 45% of dogs are overweight. This means that a significant number of dogs struggle with the harmful effects of obesity. Obesity increases the risk of surgical complications. Firstly, intubation can be complicated by excessive fat in the oropharyngeal region. Secondly, surgical access is more difficult, which prolongs the amount of time a dog has to spend under anesthesia. This in turn increases risk and lengthens recovery time.
Although obese dogs are not at risk of coronary artery disease like people are, obesity still comes with heart problems. In fact, one study cites that hypertension is seen in 23% to 45% of obese dogs. Furthermore, the heart rates of obese dogs are significantly higher. Overweight dogs also present with preclinical left myocardial systolic and diastolic changes. These three complications increase the risk of other heart problems.
With the increased strain that is put on the joints, obese dogs are also at a greater risk of ligament tears and other injuries. In fact, obese dogs are two to three times more likely to suffer from cruciate ligament ruptures. A ruptured cruciate ligament is extremely painful, causing lameness in the hind legs, knee joint pain, difficulty rising and walking, and clicking sounds.
About Overweight Dogs
Have any more questions or concerns about overweight dogs? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for more details. If in doubt about your pet’s weight, always ask your vet for advice.
Sticking to a program to reduce your dog’s weight is highly recommended. Theoretically, it might seem simple enough to reduce your dog’s weight: give fewer calories and more exercise to facilitate weight loss. Unfortunately, it is not always as simple as that. An obese dog cannot go straight into vigorous exercise to lose weight, nor can they move straight onto a low-fat diet. Instead, your plan of action should be to facilitate gradual change to allow your dog’s body to adjust safely.
For healthy adult dogs, most vets recommend weighing at least once a year. This is often done during your dog’s annual check-up at the vet. By weighing your adult dog once a year, you can get a general overview of their body condition and health status. However, dogs under one year of age and dogs with medical conditions require more frequent weight checks. For example, newborn puppies should be weighed once a day to monitor their growth. Older puppies may be weighed weekly. By keeping a close eye on your pup’s weight, you can spot trends and match activity levels to any weight changes that might occur. Dogs with medical conditions may be weighed with each check-in with your vet. This is to monitor their recovery and to look for any signs of negative reactions to medication or illness.
Your vet is best equipped to discuss the best diet for overweight dogs. Your vet must first determine the cause of your dog’s body condition – is a medical problem causing them to gain weight? Are there any treats that should be removed from your dog’s diet? If the cause is diet and exercise alone, your vet may recommend a diet that is lower in fat, and recommend an exercise program to go alongside it.
When transitioning your dog onto a new diet, always do so gradually. You should allow at least one week to make the changes. To minimize any digestive problems, mix your dog’s new diet with their old one in gradually increasing proportions. You may start by feeding your dog a quarter of their new diet mixed in with three-quarters of their old diet for one or two days. Then, increase this to half-and-half for a further two days. Lastly, introduce three-quarters of the new food, allowing just one-quarter of the old food for the final two or three days. This allows your dog’s stomach to adjust to the change in diet.
Perhaps the most common cause of weight gain and obesity in our pets is the imbalance between food intake and energy expenditure. Simply put, many dogs become overweight because they eat too much and exercise too little. Also, some dog breeds have the disposition to become obese. These include Basset Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Beagles, and Labrador Retrievers. In other cases, however, underlying medical problems can contribute to obesity in dogs. For example, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can cause dogs to gain weight faster.
Your obese or overweight dog is at greater risk of injuries when exercising. Because of this, you must not rush your dog into exercise right away. The first plan of action should be to gradually increase the length and intensity of your dog’s walk. You should aim to break a slight sweat as your walks become more intense. Most importantly, monitor your dog’s condition closely when walking – watch for any signs of injury, heatstroke, and general distress. Stop exercise immediately upon noticing any worrying signs.
Obesity is one of the most common preventable diseases in dogs. As responsible dog owners, it is up to us to manage our pets’ weights. Be sure to check your pup’s weight regularly if you have any concerns. Also, consult with your vet if your dog gains weight for no obvious reason. Several health problems can cause your pooch to gain weight, even when fed a low-fat diet.