Walk Before You RunTo 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 MethodFirst 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. 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.
Stand Back and LookBe 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.
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 TestOK, 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 ThumbWhen 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 ScoringIf 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 ProfessionalDon’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. So how do you get a pet to lose weight?
- Calorie count the dog’s kibble and control his portion size
- Increase the dog’s activity level
- Provide extra mental stimulation to keep the dog’s mind off his hunger