It is estimated that 56% of dogs are either overweight or obese, making obesity the most common preventable disease in dogs. Despite this, most pet owners may not think of obesity when they think of preventable diseases. They may also not even know their pet is overweight. Being able to discern how much your dog should weigh is vitally important as a dog owner. This is because obesity can lead to an increased risk of illnesses like arthritis, liver disease, bladder and urinary disease, cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes, and possibly cancer. Obesity can even decrease a dog's lifespan by 2.5 years!
How Much Should My Dog Weigh?
The American Kennel Club actually has an extensive table of ideal weights based on a dog's breed. This can provide a general guideline for owners of pure bred dogs, however, your dog's ideal weight is most influenced by its size and not its breed. And if your dog is a mixed breed, their ideal weight may not be the same as the ideal weight of their predominant breeds. Whether your dog is a pure breed dog recognized by the AKC or they are a mixed breed, though, most veterinary professionals agree that using something called the Body Condition Score is the most accurate way to determine if a dog is overweight, underweight, or an ideal weight.
What Is A Body Condition Score?
The Body Condition Score (BCS) is a grading system used to assess a dog's body condition. instead of looking at just the weight or body mass index, like in people, this scoring system uses physical characteristics to assess a dog's body condition. It uses a scoring system of usually 1-5, although some may use a scale of 1-9, with the low end being underweight, the high end being overweight, and the middle of the scale being an ideal weight. Using a BCS scale of 5, the qualities that differentiate each grade are as follows:
1 – Very Thin: A dog with a BCS of 1/5 has very little fat on them. They have very prominent ribs, hip bones, and vertebrae.
2 – Underweight: Dogs with a BCS of 2/5 will still have little fat on them, with the ribs still being visible. However, they may have more fat over their hips and spine, making these bony prominences less visible.
3 – Ideal: A dog with a BCS of 3/5 is an ideal body weight. They will not have any visible ribs, hip bones, or vertebrae. However, the ribs should be easily felt when you pet your dog and run your hand over them. When you look at them from above, they should have a clear waist behind the ribs where their silhouette narrows before widening again at the hips.
4 – Overweight: Dogs with a BCS of 4/5 will have more fat over their ribs and hips and it will be slightly more difficult to feel the ribs. You may have to press down some when running your hands over them in order to feel them. You will see some loss of the waist indentation behind the ribs when looking at them from above.
5 – Obese: A dog with a BCS of 5/5 will have a substantial layer of fat over their ribs, making them exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to feel. Additionally, they may have more fat over their hips and by the base of their tail and they may also have more fat over their elbows and knees. When looking at them from above, you will not see any waist indentation and they will have a straight silhouette from the ribs to the hips and hind end.
A BCS scoring system that grades on a 1-9 scale will have more subtle characteristics that differentiate the different grades. For most pet owners, the 1-5 scaling system is easier to use and is still a fairly accurate way to determine your dog's body condition.
It's important to note that different breeds have different body conformations. This is why dogs can look so different from breed to breed. Dogs like greyhounds, whippets, and Italian greyhounds have a slighter build than stockier breeds like mastiffs and bulldogs. Additionally, some breeds are more deep chested than others. Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, and greyhounds will all have deeper chests than breeds like mastiffs and bulldogs, meaning they will naturally have more of an abdominal tuck. So a greyhound with a BCS of 3/5 may have a more prominent waistline than a mastiff with a BCS of 3/5 but they can still both be an ideal body condition.
What Can I Do If My Dog Is Overweight or Obese?
So you've determined your dog's BCS and you've determined that they are either overweight or maybe even obese. What can you do about it? The easiest place to start is to cut back on their daily food allotment and try to slowly reduce their daily caloric intake. It is important to aim for slow, gradual weight loss as sudden extreme weight loss can have serious medical consequences. If your dog is very food motivated and you're worried about not feeding them as much, you can replace 15% of their daily dog food intake with high fiber, low in calorie dog safe foods, such as green beans or carrots.
Additionally, be mindful of treats and table scraps that are fed throughout the day in addition to their dog food portions as these extras can add up. Since treats are such an important part of training and bonding, you can still give treats as long as you factor that in to your dog's total daily intake. For example, take 10-20 pieces of kibble out of their normal-sized meal and save that to use as treats throughout the day so you don't increase their total intake.
There are also prescription diets and over-the-counter diets that can help depending on your dog's specific needs. Commercial dog foods marketed as 'light', 'lite', or 'low-calorie' will have the biggest reduction in calories compared to a standard product, as regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO). Other terms pet food manufactures may use to denote a reduced calorie or fat content can be 'less/reduced calorie', 'lean/low fat', or 'less/reduced calorie' but the calorie reduction may not be as big as those labeled 'light', 'lite', or 'low-calorie'. For dogs that are obese or have developed weight-related health problems, your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet in order to more closely control and monitor their weight loss. Your veterinarian can calculate an ideal caloric intake based specifically on your dog's daily energy requirements in order to achieve safe, slow weight loss.
Exercise is another crucial component to weight loss and improving your dog's health, however it must be undertaken gradually and with care in dogs that are overweight and obese. Many overweight and obese dogs have weight-related health issues that may be undetected by their owners, especially motility issues such as arthritis or early joint instability. If these dogs increase their activity levels too suddenly, they may risk injuries. The best approach is to gradually increase activity levels from their current routine. This may mean walking for just an extra five minutes at first or gradually working up to an extra lap around the block. Other forms of exercise, such as swimming, can also be great for weight loss, but always make sure to check with your veterinarian to see what is safe and appropriate for your dog.
Knowing how much your dog should weigh can be tricky to determine. If you aren't sure if your dog is an ideal body condition or you fear you're feeding your dog too much or too little, talk to your veterinarian.
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