Obesity spares no one, not even man’s best friend. Our tendency to turn them as docile lapdogs has created a growing concern among pet lovers and veterinarians alike. Yes, more than half of all hounds in American homes are now overweight, in pretty much the same way that 75% of men and 60% of women in the US are either overweight or obese. With a gain in weight comes a commensurate increase in the risk for metabolic abnormalities, heart problems, and many more. Faulty dog feeding practices and lack of exercise both contribute to canine obesity. But even before you push the panic button, you’d have to know how to tell if your beloved canine pal is indeed overweight or not.
Tipping the Scale
Like any other anthropometric measurement, taking the weight of your dog is one of the most objective ways you can determine whether it is overweight or not. Unfortunately, for this to work, you’ve got to have at least a bathroom weighing scale at home. You will also need to obtain the appropriate height for weight for age chart of the specific breed of your dog. This is because different breeds will have different weight ranges that are considered to be normal at any given age. This is also correlated with its height. You can ask your veterinarian for a copy of such a chart or you can download one online.
What you’ll do is to put your dog on the weighing scale and read the measurement. Alternatively, you can carry your dog and step on the weighing scale yourself. Read your weight while carrying your dog. Now put your dog down and measure your own weight (without your dog). Subtract this from the first measurement (you + dog) to get your dog’s weight. Compare this with the chart that you have.
If the weight of your dog is 5 to 19 percent higher than the upper limit of its ideal weight, then you can safely assume that your pet is overweight. However, if the weight reading shows at 20% increase from the ideal, then your dog is facing a more serious problem – obesity. For example, if your dog should weigh anywhere between 15 to 16 lbs yet you measured it as 17 lbs, then this is considered as overweight (17 lbs is 8% above the upper limit which is 16 lbs). If your dog weighs 19.2 lbs, then it is already considered obese.
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Where are the Ribs?
If you don’t have a weighing scale at home, then you can perform the knuckle test. It’s a relatively simple test to determine whether your dog has normal weight, is underweight, or is overweight. Close your hand rather loosely like making a loose fist.
Gently run the fingers of your other hand over the back of your closed fist. This is the feeling of the rib cage of a dog that is overweight – you can barely feel the bones. Now run your fingers again over the knuckles of the closed fist. This is how the ribs of a dog that is underweight will feel like – there clearly isn’t any padding at all. Lastly, try running the fingers of your other hand over the back of the fingers of the closed fist near the knuckles. This is how the ribs of a dog with normal weight will feel like – you feel the bone, a bit of fat, and the muscle.
Taking note of these ‘observations’, try running your fingers on your dog’s ribcage and determine which of the following consistencies you have felt – back of the hand, back of the fingers, or the knuckles. This will give you an idea whether your dog is overweight, normal weight, or underweight, respectively.
Can’t Determine the Classic Dog Body Shape
All dogs should have easily discernible waist in addition to an identifiable chest and abdomen. We’re not saying they should have the classic whistle-bait Coca-Cola body, but they should have definable body shape. It is quite easy to see if your dog has the classic body shape that is characteristic of its breed.
Stand directly over your dog and look for the shape of its abdomen. Ideally you should not see a protruding tummy or an unusually distended abdomen. If you do, then your dog really has weight issues. What you would want to see is more of the hour-glass figure and not an egg or oval shape.
Stand to the side of your dog a few feet away and try to look at the outline of its body. Consider your dog to be overweight or obese if you cannot see any definable taper at the waist or that there is no abdominal tuck. You may even notice bulging sections on your dog’s back such as the spine and the base of its tail. There may also be extra paddings of fat on its limbs as well as the neck and chest. If you notice any of these in your dog, then it definitely has excess weight.
The Healthy Weight Protocol
It is important to understand that feeling for your dog’s ribs and checking for its definable body shape are both subjective assessments of a dog’s weight status. Everything is quite dependent on our ability to analyze and interpret what we see in our dogs. As such, it is possible that we can consider our dogs to be in its ideal weight range while our friends or other people may think it otherwise. Weighing your dog and comparing the measurements with breed standards for weight as adjusted for age and height can help improve understanding of our dog’s weight status. However, there is now a new and more objective way of establishing such health parameter in our dogs.
Developed by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the Healthy Weight Protocol offers a more objective assessment of your dog’s weight status by considering its morphometric measurements instead of anthropometric and subjective data. What this means is that it provides a more accurate picture of your dog’s body fat index and come up with its ideal body weight. More importantly, it gives you a goal for picking the best dog food for weight loss.
You will need to bring your pet to your veterinarian who will take the weight of your dog in addition to the weight of 4 other dogs as well as 5 cats. The data is entered into a computer that has the Healthy Weight Protocol program and the results are computed using a complex algorithm. This will give you an idea as to just how much weight needs to be shed off your hound.
There are other ways in which you can somehow determine if your dog is overweight or not. Know however that these may not discount other possibilities so you should still perform any of the methods we have already discussed. In the next few sections, we’ll look at some of these “other” possible indicators of canine obesity.
Difficulty Grooming Itself
Just because your dog cannot groom itself doesn’t automatically mean it is already obese or overweight. A dog that has arthritis or any other joint problem will also have difficulty grooming or even scratching itself. Even an elderly dog will have diminished ability for self-grooming. Sick dogs or canines that are in pain or discomfort will typically have problems grooming themselves because they are more focused on the pain experience itself rather than any need for grooming. However, if there are no medical problems or physical deformities in your dog, it would be safe to assume that it is overweight. An obese dog will have thick pads of fat surrounding its joints. This will make it a bit more difficult for the joints to facilitate movement.
Issues Getting Around
In the same manner that a dog cannot groom itself, an obese or overweight dog will have problems moving about. Again, this is barring any health condition that may impair mobility such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, pain syndromes, and even infection, among others. Here’s a tip: if your dog shows progressive difficulty with movement or it is becoming sluggish in its movements, there’s a chance that its weight is already pulling your dog’s body down. If it cannot jump onto your couch or even have issues getting up from a lying position, your dog is most likely obese.
Heavy Panting for No Obvious Reasons
Dogs pant as a way to cool themselves, releasing heat from inside the body. As such, you can expect dogs to pant heavily after exercise or after being subjected to intense physical activity. They also pant heavily during the summer or when they are severely stressed or anxious. However, if none of these conditions are present yet your dog is panting like it has just completed a 10-mile marathon when all it did was lie all day in its doggie bed, then there is a possibility that your pet is already overweight or even obese.
Determining whether your dog is overweight or not can be accomplished using a number of ways. Some are subjective assessments while others offer more objective determination of your dog’s weight. Whichever method you choose, hopefully you’ll follow it up with more sensible dog feeding practices and more responsible exercises for your pet.