You'd be forgiven for thinking squirrels are public enemy number one, but it is in fact obesity. Having a fat dog is more common than you'd think, with vets confirming that 51% of them are overweight or obese in the UK. Carrying excess weight negatively impacts our dog's lifespan as well as making them more prone to developing diseases. For instance, overweight dogs are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, cancer, and suffering from heart disease.
Today we're exploring how to use a dog weight chart to identify if your dog is the ideal weight. Or if not, how you can help your dog enjoy a healthy, long adventurous life.
Why is the number of fat dogs on the rise?
1. Fat dogs are the norm
Just as we've seen a rise in human obesity, our dogs have followed suit. Unfortunately, and worryingly for our pet's health, this has resulted in it being somewhat normalised, and has made it harder for owners to know what a healthy dog weight really looks like.
2. Many of us don't admit our dogs are overweight
A second factor that's driving obesity is our sheer refusal to admit to there being a problem. We love our dogs and would do anything for them, which is why it can be difficult for us to accept that your dog is obese or overweight. The PFMA found that just 8% of pet owners admitted their pets needed to lose some weight, which sits in stark contrast with the 51% of dogs that vets think are overweight or obese.
3. Overfeeding, excessive 'treating', and not following feeding guidelines
Dog treats or food tends to be seen as a way to show our love or affection, especially to our foodie fur babies. We've become a nation of free feeders and overgenerous treaters, which is having a disastrous impact on our pets' wellbeing, not to mention their waistlines. As well as feeding dog food and dog treats, more than 1 in 5 of us admit to feeding table scraps. Human foods can be full of salts, sugars, or harmful ingredients for our pooches, and can lead to pancreatitis in dogs.
4. Lack of exercise
Like us, our doggies aren't getting enough exercise. The PDSA reports that more than a million dogs are not getting a daily walk. Not only does this have an impact on our dog's weight, but on their mental wellbeing too.
Risks associated with having a fat dog
Being overweight or obese has potentially severe risks for our pups. Not only does obesity reduce their quality of life, but it increases the risk of certain diseases. The most prevalent being arthritis, breathing difficulties, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. For all these reasons obesity can sadly reduce dogs' lifespans by up to 2.5 years. Something we know sends a shiver down any pet parent's spine.
How to know if your dog is the ideal weight?
The best way to identify if you have a fat dog or if they are at their ideal weight is by doing a Body Condition Score or using a Dog Weight Chart.
This score better takes into account variations between different breeds, life stages, and gender. Rather than just setting an 'average weight' to aim for in kgs.
Dog Weight Chart
We've produced this slightly simplified body condition score chart so you can easily use it at home.
To perform, simply perch your dog on a raised surface (safely) or wherever they’re comfortable, then run your fingertips along with them. You've got to properly coppa feel, just visually looking at them isn't enough, especially if you have a real floofster on your hands. Whilst doing so check how they compare to the descriptions on the chart above, looking out for if you easily feel their ribs, spine, and shoulder bones, or if there’s a layer of fat in the way.
Why don't you give one a try right now?
Now, let's look at the results...
If you could very easily feel and see your dogs ribs, spine and hip bones, with no fat or muscle, your dog is likely to be very thin. Some breeds are typically lean machines, like Greyhounds, but we'd recommend speaking to your vet. Being underweight can be caused by underlying medical conditions, so you'll want to rule those out before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
If your dog's ribs, spine, and hip bones were easy to distinguish, their waist rose above their ribs and there was very little fat covering, they are likely a little underweight. Again we've recommend checking with the vet, just to rule out any medical conditions before making any changes.
Wahoo!! You smashed it. If you could easily feel their bones, see their waist tuck in with a small amount of fat your dog is in its prime.
To keep them this way, you'll want to carefully manage their weight. Our top tips for doing this include weighing out their food, regularly performing a BCS, and watching out for not feeding too many treats.
If you struggled to feel any of their bones, and their ribs mould into their waist with little distinction, your dog might be overweight. Check out our tips below for what to do/not do if your dog is overweight.
If it was extremely difficult to feel any of their bones due to a thick layer of fat getting in the way, you could feel their waist fall below their hips and pads of fat, your dog is likely to be obese. Check in with your vet for advice and a full check-up. They'll work with you to create a healthy and personalised weight loss plan to get them back to their prime. Check out some of our weight loss tips below.
How to help your dog lose weight
There's no overnight fix for reducing your dog's weight. It will take time and patience to lose the weight safely, starting off with a visit to your vet to develop the plan. They'll likely set an initial target weight to reach, and guidance on how to get there. A safe weight loss is 1% per week, so it can be a lengthy process, but you've got this!
Some of the tips the vet might recommend include:
- Measuring out all their meals - with proper scales for accuracy, not just a scoop.
- Making sure water is always available at mealtimes
- Checking your dog's food feeding guidelines. We provide info on our packaging with a guide on how much to feed, as well as our nifty feeding calculator here.
- Reduce or cutting out treats. Treats are a supplement, so not essential for our pup's overall nutrition.
- Opting for low calorie dog treats instead. Did you know some dental chews have over 75 kcals per bone?? That's why we designed our Gnashers to be low cal and fat with only 7 kcals per bone!
- Avoid feeding any human foods. These are often much more calorific then pet-specific foods. E.g one cookie for a medium-sized dog, is the equivalent of you eating two of them.
- Up the activity! Start off gently, working up to more intense or longer sessions.
What not to do if your dog is overweight
Never put your dog on a crash or abrupt diet by drastically reducing their portion of food or skipping meals entirely. The maximum you should ever reduce your dog's proportion of food by is 20%. Anymore could cause additional issues.
Does low fat dog food help dogs lose weight?
On first appearance it might sound like common sense to feed your dog a low fat dog food if they're looking to lose weight. However low fat dog food doesn't necessarily mean it's any lower in calories, as calories can come from other food groups like carbohydrates. Therefore it's more important to look at the overall calorie content of the food you're feeding, rather than just at the fat content if you are looking to change foods.
Are certain breeds more prone to weight gain?
Yes. A recent study by the RVC has found that there are certain breeds that are more prone to weight gain. These included Pugs, Beagles, Golden Retrievers, and English Springer Spaniels. So if you're an owner of any of these breeds, you'll need to keep an even beadier eye on their weight.
Whilst you're here, why not read...
- Dentastix; are they good or bad for my dog?
- Probiotics for dogs
- How much exercise does a dog need every day?