Is My Dog Fat?


Most dog owners answer the question “Is my dog fat?” with a resounding “no.” But this is not the truth.

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A study conducted by Pfizer Animal Health found that while veterinarians consider 47% of their canine patients overweight or obese, a mere 17% of dog owners believe their canine companions are too heavy. Why the enormous discrepancy?

Overweight in Dogs: An Epidemic

Part of the reason so many dog owners fail to realize that their canine friend is too fat is that overweight in dogs is so incredibly common. While nearly half of all dogs are overweight, the percentages are even higher among certain breeds (e.g., Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Pugs, Beagles, Shetland Sheepdogs) and in certain subgroups (e.g., pampered urban dogs).

If most of the dogs you see are overweight, you may conclude that your dog’s excess weight is perfectly normal. In fact, overweight in dogs is so common that it’s not unusual for someone with a normal-weight dog to be told that their dog is too thin by concerned friends, relatives, and even strangers!

Research indicates that owners of overweight large breed dogs are more likely to think that their dog is a normal weight than owners of overweight smaller breeds.

You will find that owners of overweight Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, 43% of their owners believed that their dog’s weight was normal and not even remotely overweight.

By contrast, only a third of small breed dog owners described their overweight canine companion’s weight as normal. Even so, it is clear that a significant percentage of people have difficulty identifying overweight in dogs.

Is My Dog Fat: How to Tell

Breed weight charts are little help in determining overweight in dogs, because the ideal weight for most breeds can fluctuate dramatically depending on size. So, how can you tell if your dog is fat?Breed weight charts are little help in determining overweight in dogs, because the ideal weight for most breeds can fluctuate dramatically depending on size. So, how can you tell if your dog is fat?

Is My Dog Fat Test #1 – The Rib Cage

With your dog standing, slide your fingers over your dog’s rib cage. If you can easily feel the outline of each rib when applying no more than very slight pressure (defined as sufficient pressure to indent the skin without application of force), your dog’s weight is just right.

In overweight dogs, the ribs will be difficult to make out. If, on the other hand, your dog’s ribs are clearly visible, he’s most likely too thin.

Is My Dog Fat Test #2 – The Hourglass

Look down at your dog’s back area when you’re both standing and see if his body narrows at the waist, creating an hourglass figure. If you do not see a clearly defined waistline when looking at your dog from above, he is likely overweight.

Is My Dog Fat Test #3 – The Tuck-Up

Examine your standing dog from the side (best accomplished if you sit or kneel to be level with your dog) to determine if her belly is tucked up behind her rib cage. If your dog’s abdomen dips as low to the ground as her rib cage, i.e., you see a straight line with no tuck-up present, she is likely overweight.

If her abdomen is closer to the ground than her rib cage, she is likely obese.

If more than very slight pressure is necessary to feel your dog’s ribs, but your dog does have a tucked-up abdomen and hourglass figure, chances are she’s only mildly overweight.

While obesity tests based on visual examination and palpation have some limitations, research indicates that they correlate strongly with more precise methods of measuring body fat levels such as DXA scans (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry).

Other signs that your dog is overweight could come in the form of joint problems, decreased exercise or heat tolerance, and health issues such as diabetes.

The S.H.A.P.E System

In a study conducted by the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Liverpool, a new 7-point algorithm system known as S.H.A.P.E (Size, Health And Physical Evaluation) proved to be easy to administer by lay people and very accurate in determining underweight and overweight in dogs.

The S.H.A.P.E system uses diagnostic techniques similar to the ones I’ve outlined above, but guides the examiner through a series of questions in a sequential manner.

Each question directs you to perform an examination designed to measure the presence of body fat, the result of which determines the next question to be answered and examination to be performed. Eventually a body condition category ranging from A (Extremely Thin/Severely Underweight) to G (Obese/Severely Overweight) is selected based on the answers provided.

S.H.A.P.E was designed specifically to make identifying overweight in dogs easy for the average dog owner.

The system begins by asking if you can feel your dog’s rib cage when running your fingers over his ribs against the direction of the coat without applying any pressure at all. If the answer is “yes,” your dog is too thin, and the next set of questions is designed to determine by how much. If the answer is “no,” your dog is just right, overweight, or obese, and the next questions will determine which.

No matter which diagnostic method you use, if your dog is overweight, you need to take action. Being overweight not only diminishes your dog’s quality of life, but deducts nearly two healthy years from your dog’s lifespan, while increasing the risk of diseases ranging from arthritis and diabetes to heart disease and certain cancers.

No matter which diagnostic method you use, if your dog is overweight, you need to take action. Being overweight not only diminishes your dog’s quality of life, but deducts nearly two healthy years from your dog’s lifespan, while increasing the risk of diseases ranging from arthritis and diabetes to heart disease and certain cancers.


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