How to Determine if Your Dog is Putting on Winter Weight

ideal dog weightBeing a person that has never tolerated the cold well, it has always bewildered me how others with a little more “insulation” can go out in a tee-shirt and shorts when I am looking for a snowsuit and long underwear. So, trust me I can fully understand the logic that a few more pounds on your dog will help them stay warmer in the winter. However, that is not the case. It is important to maintain a healthy weight with your dog year round.  Some even say keeping your dog at the ideal weight can add as much as 1.8yrs to their life span.  That should be reason enough to pay close attention to your dog’s weight.

And just like me, some dogs are naturally active and self regulate their intake, making that ideal weight goal a cinch. Unfortunately, most dogs would choose to stay at the dinner bowl all night eating if you allowed them. So how do you monitor your dog’s weight? Before you run out and buy a doggie scale know that even vets will rely more on observation than a set number on a scale. Muscle weighs more than fat meaning two similar dogs of the same weight could have totally different “body contours.”  You need to learn how use visual and palpation to monitor your dog’s weight and you need to familiarize yourself with your dog’s breed characteristics.

When viewing your dog from the side, their tummy should tuck up from the chest to the flank.  For most breeds their ribs should not be visible, but easily felt through a thin covering of flesh as if covered by a blanket.  Some breeds such as the Whippet or Greyhound will show ribs at their ideal weight.  While some breeds may show the last few ribs when in top condition.  If your dog has a full coat year round or grows a think coat for winter, you will need to palpate them as you will not be able to see much under their coats.  A tummy that is level or worse hanging below the chest could be a sign of obesity.  It is safe to say that if your dogs ribs and spine are protruding or on a coated dog are well defined to your touch, your dog is underweight.

When viewed from the top your dog should have a visible curve in at the waist but the hipbones should not severely protrude.  As above, if your dog has a thick or long coat you will need to palpate in order to be certain your dog is at proper weight.  Most assuredly, if your dog looks like a barrel with no waist or worse a beach ball with legs, they are severely overweight. Again, if your dog’s hips protrude sharply your dog is underweight.

Other than adding life to your dog, what are the benefits of keeping their weight in check?  Obesity will cause serious health problems in dogs of all ages from unnecessary stress on bones and joints, strain on the heart as well as other organs to crowding the lungs making breathing a chore as well as running an agility course a health risk.  Before suggesting dog agility as a cure, realize, you should not expect an obese dog to take on the challenge before reaching a healthier weight.  If you ask too much of and obese dog you are risking injury to joints and ligaments as well as heart attack.  Work with your vet to get your dog’s weight closer to the ideal with diet change and appropriate exercise.

If you find your dog needs to either lose weight, the best thing to do is contact your vet or trusted breeder and work on a diet plan that will safely bring your dog to the ideal weight.  Simply cutting back on your dog’s current food intake may not be the right thing to do.  Your dog may need a higher protein or lower calorie food in order to maintain safe nutrient levels.  Play it safe and keep your dog trim and healthy so they can enjoy their time on the agility course with you.