Is your dog too fat

As the American public has become infatuated with their televisions, and in more recent years with their computers, the problem of obesity has increased dramatically. Most of us do not exercise on a regular basis, especially as we age, and tend instead to lead rather passive lives.

A direct result of this lack of human activity is a corresponding obesity problem with our dog population. If a dog’s owner is exercise adverse, then the chances are that his dog will not exercise to the optimal degree. When combined with the bad feeding habits that are imposed on many dogs by their owners, the result is that an estimated 25% to 30% of all dogs in the United States are obese.

And with obesity comes a whole host of potential medical problems for the canine population. These include orthopedic and skeletal problems, diabetes, heart and lung disease, reproductive dysfunction, amongst many others. They are also more prone to injury. Once any of these obesity-related conditions is recognized, a cycle of medical (and often surgical) treatments often arises.

In many cases the diagnosis is made too late in the game, after significant and in many instances irreversible physiological damage has already taken its toll on the dog’s body.

We will be discussing these medical problems as well as how to deal with an obese dog in a later article. We will also touch on how to keep a healthy dog from becoming obese.

But for now we want to focus on how a dog owner can tell whether his pet is overweight (or underweight for that matter, as the latter has its corresponding medical issues as well). While the fact is that some dogs are obviously overweight even to the most undiscerning eye, many dog owners really have no idea that their canine friend is obese. The way they learn of their dog’s weight problem is from their veterinarian.

However there are some general guidelines and testing methods that can help a dog owner evaluate whether their pet’s weight is ideal. The most common test was developed by a researcher with Purina, who created a scale that dog owners can use to evaluate their dog’s weight.

Basically it involves the owner making a physical assessment of his dog, to determine which of the 9 grades his pet fits into. The lower the grade, the thinner the dog, as follows:

1. Emaciated: The dog’s hips, ribs and other bones protrude and can be seen from afar. There is very little muscle or body fat present.

2. Very Thin: The dog’s bones are visible, but more muscle and body fat are also seen.

3. Thin: The ribs and the top of the dog’s spine may be visible, and his pelvic bones are prominent. A waist and tuck-up are evident. (A dog’s ‘waist’, as viewed from above, is an indentation between where the ribs end and the hips begin. ‘Tuck-up’ is the area on the dog’s body behind the rib cage and in front of the hind legs, as viewed from the side).

4. Underweight: Exhibits some fat on the ribs and has a visible waist and abdominal tuck-up.

5. Ideal: The dog’s ribs can be felt easily, and show a thin layer of fat. A waist and tuck-up are obvious but not excessive. 6. Overweight: The ribs show noticeable fat, while a waist and tuck-up are visible without being prominent.

7. Heavy: Here, the dog’s ribs are covered with a heavy layer of fat, while fat deposits show at the base of the tail and along the spine. No waist is easily seen.

8. Obese: The ribs are completely covered by a fat layer, and large deposits of fat show at the tail’s base and along the spine. No waist or tuck-up are present.

9. Morbid: Evidenced by excessive fat deposits in the area of the chest, along the spine, and around the base of the tail. No waist or tuck-up are visible, the dog’s stomach protrudes, and there are fatty deposits along the neck and the legs.

So the closer the dog’s evaluation is to Ideal (Level 5), where there is a thin layer of fat over the ribs, the better. Conversely, the farther the dog is from Level 5, in either direction, the more in need of a thorough medical examination he is.

Besides the 9 Level test, a dog owner should take notice of some behavioral indications that his dog may be obese, including whether he seems reluctant to exercise, has difficulty getting up after he is lying down, or gets tired easily when he does exercise. If your dog exhibits any of these characteristics, or your analysis of his body weight utilizing the 9 Levels system above shows his weight as not being ideal, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for your dog to have a complete physical examination.