Dog Days

Dog Days at Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue

27 March 2011

My Dog is not Fat!

First, let me introduce myself.  I have been promising Sarah I would post here for several months and am now just getting started.  I was raised on a farm with working border collies, Australian shepherds and a host of other animals including horses, goats, cats, and rabbits.  I have been involved with dog rescue (mostly border collies) for many years and teaching companion dog obedience classes since 2004.  My goal is to help people understand and communicate better with their dogs in order to help keep happy dogs in happy homes.  Now, on to today's post!

My Dog is not Fat! 

Or is she?  Pet obesity is a rapidly growing problem in the US.  In fact, many people don’t realize their dog is overweight and vets often don’t bring the issue up until a dog is obese.  This is unfortunate since recognizing the problem early definitely helps.  Catching Fluffy when she has just a couple of pounds to lose is a lot easier than trying to make her the doggy-version of a “Biggest Loser” contestant.

How do you recognize when your dog is overweight?  Especially if you have a long coated or fluffy pooch, this can be a challenge.  Over and over again, I hear people say, “My dog’s not fat!  She’s fluffy!” or some variation on this theme.  While I realize no one wants to hear that their dog is overweight, there is an objective way of assessing your pet’s “body condition score”.  Scientists use a five point scale where 1 is an emaciated animal while a body condition score of 5 is obese (some references use a 9 point scale which more precise).  This basic scale can be found on the back of the bag of many brands of dog food.  Here is a link to a commonly used body condition scoring chart:  Your goal is a body condition score of 3 on the five point scale.  (On a 9 point scale, a score of 4-5 is ideal.) 

At a body condition score of 3, your dog’s ribs should be easy to feel but not visible.  Also, she should have a defined waist when viewed from above as well as from the side.  If you have a hard time feeling your dog’s ribs, she does not have a well defined waist when viewed from the side or top, or she has paddings of fat along the back and at the base of the tail, you will want to get some weight off of her.  I always handle my dogs to make sure I am assessing their body condition objectively before I make a decision about their weight.

Remember that “just a couple of pounds” can be a big deal for a small dog.  Pip Squeak should ideally weigh 25 pounds but at 27 pounds – just two pounds overweight – she is carrying an extra 8% of her ideal body weight.  That is equivalent to a 150 pound person carrying an extra 12 pounds.  If I let her pork up to 30 pounds (which can happen surprisingly quickly!) she is carrying an extra 20% of her ideal weight.  This is equivalent to a 150 pound person carrying an extra 30 pounds.  This excess weight takes a toll on your dog.  Excess weight puts stress on your dog’s joints increasing her risk of joint injury while worsening symptoms of osteoarthritis and hip displasia.  It also puts stress on the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys while causing respiratory problems in hot weather and increasing the risk of diabetes.

In my next post, I will discuss steps you can take to help your dog lose weight and maintain a healthy body condition.

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