It’s the time of year where a lot of dog owners are heading to the groomer and getting the old “Spring Shave Down” done on their pooches. Around this time every year I get asked this question quite a bit more than normal: “Do you think my dog is fat?” I think it’s because once all the hair is gone and an owner gets a glimpse of their pup’s true figure underneath, they’re not sure if it looked the same as last year, if it’s larger, or just right.
 
In fact, judging weight is one of those things that has become so subjective that it’s difficult to know where your dog stands in the range from underweight to overweight unless they are very far on one end of the scale or the other.
 
Good thing there are charts out there called “Body Condition Charts” that describe the different levels along this scale, as well as describe what to look for. Remember that this will vary among breeds, and there are always special cases where the rules may not apply the same way (ie. some Italian Greyhounds can be so slim that they always look malnourished, despite having a large and hearty appetite and feeding schedule.
 
Nonetheless, the chart is a very good standard guide to start from. Why does it even matter? Well, it comes down to health and longevity. Overweight dogs tend to experience a much higher rate of these kinds of issues:
 
 

  • – Exercise intolerance, decreased stamina.
  • – Respiratory compromise (breathing difficulty)
  • – Heat intolerance.
  • – Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • – Diabetes or insulin resistance.
  • – Liver disease or dysfunction.
  • – Osteoarthritis (lameness – that weight is hard on the joints!)
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    On the other hand, a dog that is underweight can be more confusing. If they are severely underweight then they will have to deal with a lack of energy, most likely a lot of gastrointestinal issues, as well as a much higher susceptibility to illness all around. Moderately, or slightly malnourished dogs may have more issues with the TYPE of food they’re being fed, rather than the AMOUNT of food they’re being fed (lacking all the essential nutritional elements).
     
     
     
    So, what is body condition scoring?
     
    Body condition scoring was developed as a way to standardize the assessment of whether animals are underweight or overweight. It is based on a scale running from 1-9 where 1 is an emaciated animal and 9 is grossly obese. The place on the scale on which the animal falls is determined by assessing several criteria. These are:
     
     

  • – How easily felt the ribs are
  • – How obvious the waist and abdominal tuck are
  • – How much excess fat is beneath the skin
  • – How much muscle mass is present
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    Why is body condition scoring useful?
     
    Body condition scoring allows vets and animal owners to easily share this information with one another. It has been shown that the body condition score is related to the percentage above which dogs are overweight and consequently can be used to suggest a target weight for dieting overweight dogs. Since even within individual breeds there are a range of shapes and sizes that dogs come in, body condition score allows target weights to be tailor made rather than just suggesting the breed average. There are a number of diseases that dogs can get where the risk or severity is worsened if the animal is obese. Body condition scoring can be used to define those animals at risk.
     
     
     
    So where does weighing fit in with body condition scoring?
     
    While body condition scoring is excellent for assessing broadly whether a dog is the correct weight or not it is not as fine grained a measure as weighing your dog is. Many dog foods specify guideline amounts to feed based on weight. However, some of the veterinary prescription diets base the recommendations for amounts fed on both the weight and body condition, so these two measures can be used in conjunction.
     
    Weighing is also useful whilst your dog is on a diet since this allows allows a precise measure of the progress made whilst on the diet. Rate of weight loss recommendations are based on percentage body weight lost per week so having a record of bodyweight is important.
     
     
     
    How often should I condition score my dog?
     
    In situations where your dog is having their weight checked regularly, it is useful to condition score your dog at the same time that they are weighed. Having the weight and the condition score side by side allows adjustment of diet and target weight so that they continue to be appropriate for your dog.
     
     
     
    Take a peek at the chart below to get a visual idea of what you are looking for an give it a try at home today!
     
     

     
     
     
    1. Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all bony prominences evident from a distance. No discernible body fat. Obvious loss of muscle mass.
     
    2. Ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones easily visible. No palpable fat. Some evidence of other bony prominence. Minimal loss of muscle mass.
     
    3. Ribs easily palpated and may be visible with no palpable fat. Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones becoming prominent. Obvious waist.
     
    4. Ribs easily palpable, with minimal fat covering. Waist easily noted, viewed from above. Abdominal tuck evident.
     
    5. Ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above. Abdomen tucked up when viewed.
     
    6. Ribs palpable with slight excess fat covering. Waist is discernible viewed from above but is not prominent. Abdominal tuck apparent.
     
    7. Ribs palpable with difficulty; heavy fat cover. Noticeable fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent or barely visible. Abdominal tuck may be present.
     
    8. Ribs not palpable under very heavy fat cover, or palpable only with significant pressure. Heavy fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent. No abdominal tuck. Obvious abdominal distension may be present.
     
    9. Massive fat deposits over thorax, spine and base of tail. Waist and abdominal tuck absent. Fat deposits on neck and limbs. Obvious abdominal distention.