Fluffy Might Be Fat

Obesity in the United States is at an all time high and it isn’t just the humans. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 55% of dog and 54% of cats in the US are obese or overweight. That makes 93 million dogs or cats that are obese or overweight.

So how can you determine if your dog is fat? Breed weight charts are little help in determining overweight in dogs, because the ideal weight for most breeds can fluctuate dramatically depending on size.

Kirby tends to stay borderline chunky even though he has such a high energy level. (The dachshund in him is known to lean toward the fat side). He has a vey slight waist and I can feel a nice layer of fat over his ribs which means I must be diligent about his calorie intake.

The Body Condition Score is a better way to get an idea if your dog has the right amount of weight for his or her body structure. It’s a visual way used to determine three things on your dog to tell if he or she is fat.

1. The Rib Cage

Make a fist and rub your finger over the back of your hand, your knuckles, and the base of your fingers where rings go. With your dog standing, slide your fingers using sufficient pressure to indent the skin without application of force over your dog's rib cage.  If your dog’s ribs feel like: 

  • The back of your hand, your dog needs to lose some fat.
  • Your knuckles, your dog may be too thin.
  • The base of your fingers, your dog is just right!

If you can easily feel the outline of each rib when applying no more than very slight pressure, your dog's weight is just right. If more than very slight pressure is necessary to feel your dog's ribs, but your dog does have a tucked-up abdomen and hourglass figure, chances are he's only mildly overweight. In overweight dogs, the ribs will be difficult to make out. If, on the other hand, your dog's ribs are clearly visible, he's most likely too thin.

2. The Tummy Tuck Up

Examine your standing dog from the side (best accomplished if you sit or kneel to be level with your dog) to determine if his belly is tucked up behind his rib cage. If your dog's abdomen dips as low to the ground as his rib cage, i.e., you see a straight line with no tuck-up present, he is likely overweight.  If his abdomen is closer to the ground than his rib cage, he is likely obese.

3. The Hourglass Figure

Look down at your dog's back area when you're both standing and see if his body narrows at the waist, creating an hourglass figure. If you do not see a clearly defined waistline when looking at your dog from above, he is likely overweight.

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A newer way of answering the fat question is the WALTHAM® S.H.A.P.E. Guide for Dogs which is a user friendly questionaire table designed to help you assess your dog's physique.

Ok, so he’s fat! Now what?

We tend to feed our dogs a lot of treats because we want to make them happy. We also use treats when training. Have I mentioned I love to create and bake new recipes and just who do you think lets me know if they are a success or failure? Kirby the taste tester!

To avoid making your dog fat from treats, you need to watch how many treats they receive each day. Feed your dog small tidbits as treats instead of big pieces.  Feed fattening treats sparingly. You know you can’t eat a nice big piece of chocolate cake every day but you can have a small treat every day.  The same common sense goes for your dog. If you know you are going to give them some treats, you should lower their daily calories from other sources such as less food at meal times.

Kirby doesn't get as many treats as you would think.  He gets some when we are training (very tiny peices) and always a few at bedtime. He always has to work for his treats doing various tricks.

The amount of food you feed your dog directly affects their weight. Even a rounded scoop makes a difference! The amount stated on most dog food bags is *PER DAY* and it’s usually a bit over what you should feed them but take into account that a dog’s individual needs may vary. A hyper dog can burn more calories while a sedentary dog just won't.

Some people like to free feed which means keeping their bowl full of food so they can eat whenever they are hungry. I prefer to feed Kirby only at meal time for two reasons – I know he is getting his food (not eaten by other pets) and I’ll know if he isn’t eating which could mean he is ill. I limit his food to 1 to 1 ½ cups per day which includes his morning meal and evening meal.

So what about your dog?  Is he fat? Is he thin? Or is he pawsitively perfect?