How to assess if your dog is at a healthy weight

In Diet & Nutrition by Breakthrough AdminLeave a Comment

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Weight Charts to assess ideal weight

Veterinary practices often have a chart of breed ideal healthy weights on the wall near the scales. These can provide a useful reference for recognised breeds but are less useful if you have a crossbreed dog. Weight charts also fail to consider that there is variation in type and size in some breeds.

The standard weight listed for a Labrador Retriever, for instance, is 25-35kg, but a small female working type may be at her ideal weight at 20kg, and a large show type male could weigh over 40kg without being fat. Weight charts can be a useful starting point but should not be used alone.

Labrador sat outside

Having an up to date and accurate weight is important for safe dosing of medications including parasite control products. Many veterinary practices and pet shops have scales where you can check your dog’s weight.

Body Condition Scoring to assess dog’s weight

Canine body condition is scored on a scale from 1-9; 1 is emaciated with no body fat or muscle, and 9 is very obese. The ideal body score is between 4 and 5. An advantage of body condition scoring over just weighing is that it is suitable for all types of dogs and needs no special equipment.

Assessing a dog from the side there should be an obvious abdominal tuck behind the ribs. The ribs, the top of the spine, and the hip bones should not be visible. Viewed from there should be a waist behind the ribs.

When feeling the dog, the ribs should be easy to feel under a thin layer of fat, they should feel like the back of your hand. The tops of the spinal vertebrae and the wings of the pelvis (hips) should also be felt with gentle pressure. Hairy dogs may be easier to assess when wet!

Jack Russell in Field
Jack Russell enjoying the outdoors

Charts are available which illustrate all 9 levels of body condition or ask your veterinary practice nurse to demonstrate. Be aware that some breeds will have more subcutaneous fat at a healthy body condition score than others and that the abdominal tuck is less obvious in some breeds.

Muscle Scoring for healthy weight assessment

A healthy dog getting sufficient nutrition and exercise should be well muscled as well as being at a healthy weight. It is possible for a thin dog with little body fat to be well muscled, but also for an overweight dog to be unfit and lacking muscle. Knowing how well muscled a dog is can be important if planning a fitness regime or a diet change.

Poodle at the vets

Muscle mass is scored from A (normal) to D (severe muscle loss) and is assessed by feeling the muscles to either side of the lumbar spine. In a normal dog this muscle should rise up on either side of the bone and feel firm to the touch. If the muscle is hollow and feel flabby the dog has muscle loss.

Muscle loss can be seen with a poor diet, inadequate exercise, ageing, and illness. A change in muscle mass with no lifestyle changes should be a reason to visit the vet.

Final assessment of your dog’s weight

When your dog has a body condition score of 4-5 and a muscle score of A you should record their weight to get a personalised ideal weight.