We talk a lot about your dog’s body condition around here, but we probably don’t emphasize why it matters as much as we should. Today, we’re fixing that.*
*This article primarily focuses on dogs with overweight body conditions because only about 1% of dogs in America are underweight. However, we will include some tips for helping underweight dogs gain weight at the bottom of this article!
Why a Healthy Body Condition Score Matters for Your Dog
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, excess weight can put dogs at risk for osteoarthritis, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, cranial cruciate ligament injury, kidney disease, many forms of cancer, chronic inflammation, orthopedic disease, skin disorders, reduced life expectancy, diminished quality of life, and the need for significantly earlier treatment of conditions.
With all that said, it’s easy to conclude that maintaining a healthy weight is incredibly important for a dog’s health. So every dog owner should know exactly where their dog falls on the scale, right? Unfortunately, there’s a huge disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to overweight dogs: According to our survey, 95% of dog owners thought that their overweight or obese dog was a normal body condition, and 42% don’t know what a healthy weight was for their pet.
We’d hope that awareness about the risks of pet obesity has grown since we did that survey back in 2014 (when the percentage of overweight and obese dogs was about 52%), but it looks like the numbers – and the dogs that those numbers represent – are continuing to inflate year after year.
In APOP's 2018 clinical survey, 56% of dogs and 60% of cats were classified as clinically overweight (body condition score (BCS) 6-7) or obese (BCS 8-9) by their veterinary healthcare professional [compared to 54% of dogs and 59% of cats in 2016]. That equals an estimated 50.2 million dogs and 56.5 million cats are too heavy, based on 2018 pet population projections provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
We’re not ones to fat shame, but we will be your dog’s #1 cheerleader when it comes to helping him live his healthiest, best version of himself.
So. First things first. Let’s talk about your dog’s body condition score.
How Do I Find My Dog’s Body Condition Score?
If it’s been a while since you’ve visited your veterinarian (ahem, preventative care is key!), start with a quick and easy at-home check of your dog’s body condition score. Do this monthly so you’ll be able to notice changes with your dog over time. Here’s how:
- Ribs – Kneel behind your dog and run your hands over his ribcage. Can you feel his ribs easily?
- Waistline – From behind, gently run your hands down your dog’s waistline, from his ribcage to his hipbones. Is his waistline tucking in like the shape of an hourglass?
- Belly – In the same position, run your hands along his belly, from his ribcage back up toward his hipbones. Is his tummy tucking up?
By checking your dog’s body condition score each month, you can determine if your dog is underweight, overweight, or ideal, as well as notice any changes with his weight over time. Where does your dog fall on the scale?
How to Help an Overweight Dog Lose Weight
Just like with humans, it can be difficult to help your overweight dog shed the pounds. But with a multi-pronged approach and the motivation to help your dog live happy and healthy, it can be done!
- Step 1: Make a game plan for weight loss. Now that you know your dog’s body condition score, take a step back and assess the whole picture of your dog’s weight: how often do you feed him? Does he get table scraps? Are you measuring his food or simply filling up the bowl? Then make a plan to reinforce healthy habits like exercise and how you’re doing to deal with a begging dog. (Click that link for ideas!)
- Step 2: Determine exactly how many calories your dog actually needs. A healthy weight starts with the right food and the right amount. With a personalized blend of food from Just Right, we run the math to determine your dog’s ideal daily calorie count, not just a general range. Plus, as his weight changes, his nutritional plan can change right along with him.
- Step 3: Identify the best exercise for your dog. Every dog is unique, so every dog will have different exercises that are best for them depending on breed size, age, fitness level, and fun! Follow the link to determine which exercises you should build into your dog's weight loss plan.
- Step 4: Re-learn how to feed your dog (yes, really). Whether it’s breaking his daily food up into smaller meals or getting a handle on who’s giving the dog treats, even small changes can make a big difference.
- Step 5: Use food as a reward instead of treats. Instead of adding extra heft to your dog’s waistline with treats for good behavior, try taking kibble from his bowl as a reward instead. Plus, exercise doesn’t always have to be physical – check out some of our favorite brain games to play with your dog that’ll increase quality time spent together between long walks.
How to Help an Underweight Dog Gain Weight
While excessive weight gain is a much greater problem for pets, an underweight body condition can still be an issue to a dog’s health. If it’s a matter of your dog being disinterested in food, there could be a variety of explanations: he could be stressed and adjusting to a new environment, he's a picky eater, or he might be sick or depressed. Talking to your veterinarian can help you get to the root of the problem and develop a tailored plan for helping your dog gain weight. Typically, dogs will eat when they’re hungry, and there are plenty of tips for picky eaters. However, if your dog is eating but isn’t gaining weight, talk to your veterinarian immediately.
On the Road to Your Dog’s Ideal Body Condition
It might be a journey to get your dog to his ideal body condition, but it's not one that you have to take alone. Talk to your veterinarian. Heck, you can even talk to Ashley, Just Right's resident Pet Expert who’s walked plenty of dog owners through what personalized nutrition could mean for their dog’s goals. With the right game plan and with nutrition that’s tailored for helping your dog maintain his ideal body condition, you’re well on your way toward helping him live his happiest, healthiest life.