Overweight Dog? Underweight Dog? A Dog Body Chart
What shape is your dog in? We’re not talking physical fitness, more their geometry and whether you have an overweight dog, or an underweight dog. A dog’s outline or profile is used to determine their body condition score – and this is a brilliant guide to their health and general condition.
The body scoring system looks at dogs in profile (sideways, nose to tail) and from overhead. It looks at their outline combined with a bit of touchy-feely stuff like feeling for ribs. Oddly it also seems only to consider dogs who look to their right in profile…
One second on the lips…
A dog’s body shape is probably the best indicator of their weight-related health. Indeed even popping your dog on the scales can be a bit hit or miss; you’d need to do it regularly and under the same conditions to get a clear picture. So them not standing still, or if they’ve just eaten or emptied can all influence the final number. Whereas you get to see your dog every waking minute and their silhouette is a more constant, and therefore reliable guide.
…a lifetime on the hips
A dog’s bodyscore is also good at highlighting creeping trends, such the accumulation of many little ‘sinful treats’ in that extra bulge in bad places, or the loss of bulk in places it is good to have a bit of heft. The key is looking with fresh eyes at your dog, to run the same kind of quick visual assessment over your companion that you do over every new dog’s you meet when walking – those instant snap judgements like “they’re a bit of a chunker” or “I can see their ribs”.
I feel the need, the need for breeds!
Now to state the obvious, there is a distinct difference between Chihuahuas, Mastiffs and cross-breeds. Not only are they different sizes, but they are also different shapes by design – be that due to breed requirements or the gene pool lucky dip. Yet for all dogs the principals remain the same, you just need make adjustments – not allowances – for their core silhouette.
Is your dog overweight?
What’s your body score?
Our system works on a range of 1 – 9, from dangerously thin at #1 to dangerously fat at #9. Some vets work on a 1 -5 scale, but the principals are the same just with fewer nuances in the Goldilock’s formula (too little, too much, just right). We think 1 – 9 offers a little more detail and a little more motivation if you’re working to get your dog up or down the scale – because the ‘gaps’ are smaller between stages.
So take a step back and give your dog a good look from the side and then lean over and look at them from above. Then place both your hands, one under each ear, and gently run them down the body towards the hips feeling as you go. Finally have a feel of the base of the spine and tail.
What am I looking for?
In profile, the visual features you’re looking for are the thickness of the neck and chin definition; size of the chest and shoulders; if the tum tucks in or bulges out; and if their bum “looks big in that”! From above the check is to look for definition between head, neck and shoulders; and if there is a clear wasp or bumblebee waist between chest and hips. Visually you’re to looking to determine clear definition between the various areas of the body – tucks both in and out.
What am I feeling for?
The tactile examination is to see if you can feel their skeleton, to gauge how thick the skin is and if there’s any extra padding along the way. There is no right answer, just pay attention to how hard you have to press to feel the ribs and if the bits that should be muscle are taut or wobbly.
Spotting changes in your dog's body shape can be difficult, as it happens gradually over time. So try to take the "body score challenge" every couple of months
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but…
Be honest but not harsh in your appraisal. Pretending that roll of fat around the neck is a peculiarity of the breed doesn’t do your dog any favours, as it won’t properly inform any future feeding and exercise plans. Similarly developing a negative body image, where they always have to be thinner, can also be dangerous.
Scores 4 to 6
If, with your dispassionate glasses on, your dog scored 4, 5 or 6. Hurrah! Good for you and good for them. They’re doing well and if not utterly perfect there’s certainly no need to panic. Maybe add or remove a few treats from their daily diet, or walk that extra mile – but you’re on the right track.
Scores 1 to 3 or 7 to 9
It is probably worth a nip down to the vets or booking a clinic with a nurse for a proper assessment. There could be many different reasons (most of them blame free e.g. age) for your dog’s score. But they’ll be able to point you at the best foods, offer feeding advice and just double check there are no more sinister reasons for the pounds they’ve gained or lost.
And a happy dog, able to do all the doggy things they should be doing at their age, is what we all want. Being the right weight and shape is key to this. So give them a look over and a rub down right now.
This Overweight Dog or Underweight Dog post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.
If in doubt contact your veterinary practice
And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!