When it comes to your pet’s weight, are you an ostrich or an eagle? When your pet carries too many ‘layers of love’, he’s at increased risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. As a loving pet parent, you want your best buddy around for a long time and if reducing his waistline is what’s needed, then you’ll want to put him on a diet. But there’s a problem…which is that not everyone recognizes when their pet is overly ample in the tummy department. For those wondering if their pet shapes up or not, this article gives practical suggestions to assess your pet pal’s body shape and recognize if action is needed.

Walk Before You Run

To get your pet in tip-top shape, first, you have to recognize there’s a problem. The ‘ostriches’ amongst us, stick our heads in the sand and don’t see what’s in front of our eyes. Whereas the ‘eagles’ actively look for signs their dog or cat is too ‘cuddly’ and could do with a diet. So how do you do this?

Weighing the Pet: A Flawed Method

First out, let’s talk about weight…literally. Consider this scenario and spot the flaw: Amy is a typical waggy Labrador with a love of food. But her owner has a nagging concern that Amy is overweight and pops her on the scales. Amy weighs in at 30kg.

How to Recognize your Pet is Overweight| PetPace

How to Recognize your Pet is Overweight | PetPace

Checking online, the recommended weight for a female Lab is 25 – 32 kg. With Amy comfortably within this range her owner breathes a sigh of relief and to celebrate gives the dog a biscuit. The error here is relying on a weight chart. Tables of average weights are OK as far as they go, but you need to consider your dog as an individual. As it happens Amy was the runt of the litter and grew into an unusually petite adult. Given her light bone structure and short stance, a healthy weight for her is a maximum of 25kg, which means at 30kg she’s 20% overweight and heading for being clinically obese. It works the other way round too. Imagine a large male Lab weighing in at 25kg; he would underweight because for his body size 37 kg would be closer to the mark. The take-home message being:

  • Interpret weight charts with caution
  • Body weight is better used for monitoring weight trends, such as loss or gain.

OK, so if the weighing scales can trick you, how do you gauge your pet’s body condition? Here’s how.

Stand Back and Look

Be an eagle! Stand back and look. Simple as that. It is a truth that regardless of breed most dogs fit within the simple rule of having a waistline…it’s just some breeds are more exaggerated and tucked up than others. Simply stand back and look at the dog sideways on, then stand above the dog (on the stairs with the dog below) and look from above.

What shape is the dog’s body?

  • Trace an imaginary line along the underside of the dog. That line should tip upwards along his belly. If the line is flat, bows, or tips down, then the dog is sturdy or overweight.
  • From above, does the dog have a nipped in waistline? He should be narrow in front of his hips than the chest. Again, parallel or outwardly bulging lines indicate an overweight dog.

So a Labrador with a rectangular body shape where his belly line is parallel to his top line and he has no waist when viewed from above is overweight. Amy’s mum could have told immediately her dog had a problem with this simple rule.

Can you see ribs?

In short-coated breeds, another stand-back-and-look test is spotting landmarks such as ribs. For example, for a slim dog at his ideal weight, you should see a hint of his ribs as undulating shadows on his chest, (but without standing out starkly). If the ribs are AWOL then you run another check, such as the fingertip test, because there’s a distinct possibility of being overweight.

Fingertip Test

OK, so your dog is exceptionally hairy and his silhouette is veiled in luxurious curls. Fair enough. It’s time to use your fingertips and sense of touch. Here you learn to gauge if your pet is overweight by feeling for certain bony landmarks. Depending on how hard you need to press to find these landmarks, this tells you how much fat cover is present. Too much fat cover and your pet are overweight…simple.

A Rule of Thumb

When a dog is a healthy weight you should be able to feel his ribs with minimum pressure. Likewise, when running your hand over his spine, you should feel the bump of hard vertebrae under your fingertips but your fingers sinking into a soft cushion of fat. Still not clear? Try this simple trick. Hold one hand out flat with the fingers together. Close your eyes and run the fingertips of the other hand over your closed fingers. Feel that bump-bump-bump with the lightest pressure…well, that’s the pressure you apply when feeling for his ribs.

Body Scoring

If you want to get more technical you can assign a mark out of five to the fat cover. For example

  • 1 / 5 Emaciated. Bones sticking through the skin
  • 2/5 Thin. Ribs and backbone obvious, with an exaggerated waistline
  • 3/5 Ideal: Ribs felt easy, good waistline from the side and above
  • 4/5 Overweight: Ribs felt with pressure, indistinct waistline
  • 5/5 Obese. Ribs difficult to feel, rotund belly, no waistline.

Ask a Professional

Don’t forget your vet clinic as a valuable resource. Many offices run doggy weight watchers, where you get guidance and moral support to shed those extra pooch pounds. Often these services are free of charge, because of the bonding you then have to the practice.

Eek! My Dog is Overweight: What Now?

If you have a moment of revelation that your dog is overweight, it’s very much worth slimming down your best buddy. Just like us, an overweight pet eats too many calories for the amount of energy burned. They have a daily net gain of calories which is stored as fat. It’s a simple enough equation: Calories in must be less than calories out in order to lose weight.

How to Recognize your Pet is Overweight| PetPace

How to Recognize your Pet is Overweight | PetPace

So how do you get a pet to lose weight?

  1. Calorie count the dog’s kibble and control his portion size
  2. Increase the dog’s activity level
  3. Provide extra mental stimulation to keep the dog’s mind off his hunger

Do all of these and you’re onto a winner.

Calorie Counting

Cut out treats and decrease the daily meal size is an OK starting point. But the results can be disappointing. Instead, it’s best to go for a low-calorie diet food and carefully control portion size. That doggy weight watcher’s clinic is a good resource for recommending diets

Increased Activity

First, check in with the vet to find out what level of exercise is suitable for your dog. For the very overweight, hydrotherapy is a good starting option. This non-weight bearing exercise means is gentle on the joints but a fierce calorie burner. If the dog is unfit, then start gently with several short walks a day, rather than one big one. Simple things like walking the dog up a hill instead of on the flat can make a surprising difference To monitor how much exercise the dog gets and therefore work out a plan, a PetPace collar is invaluable. This provides a record of his activity levels and calories burned, to work out the balance of calories in vs. calories out.

Mental Stimulation

Some dogs are comfort eaters and bored dogs will eat as a hobby. To remedy this give him a distraction such as obedience training for a few minutes, several times a day, to kick-start those mental facilities. Also uses puzzle feeders, where he solves a puzzle to get his kibble or scatter his kibble in the grass so he spends time sniffing it. Anyhow, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The first thing to do is recognize your pet has a problem, because only by doing that can you get the dog’s weight under control. So don’t be an ostrich, instead, take control of your dog’s healthy by watching his weight like an eagle.

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