Ask the Vet: Preventing Dog Obesity
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. And just like for humans, being overweight is detrimental to a dog’s health, affecting its quality of life and ultimately its life expectancy.
At Southeastern Guide Dogs, we are extremely intentional about keeping our puppies and working dogs at a healthy weight. Our puppy raisers are conscientious about feeding puppies appropriate servings and never—ever—giving puppies table scraps. Our graduates sign a contract agreeing to maintain a healthy weight for their guide and service dogs. Our working dogs are on the go, and keeping fit ensures they are comfortable whether at work or at play. Our dog’s welfare is our number one priority.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is up to you. If your dog is overweight, you can help your dog lose pounds by monitoring food intake and ensuring exercise through walks and playful activity.
Our veterinary staff use a common tool called a body condition score—or BCS. You can learn to assess your dog’s BCS as a first step toward achieving a healthy weight.
The body condition score is a scale from 1–9 that quantifies how overweight or underweight a dog is. A score of 1 out of 9 is a dog that is emaciated, whereas a score of 9 out of 9 is a dog that is obese. An ideal body score is 4 or 5 out of 9. At our school, 4 out of 9 is preferred in growing large breed puppies because they are less likely to develop musculoskeletal diseases at this body score.
Dogs with a body condition score of 4/9 are defined as having easily palpable ribs with minimal fat covering. Their waist should be easily noted when viewed from above, and they should have an abdominal tuck evident when viewed from the side. If you assess your dog, what do you think the BCS is? You can Google the terms “body condition score” and “dogs” to see images of a BCS chart for a visual reference.
For dogs that are overweight (BCS 6 and above), make a list of everything they eat, including food and treats. Identify how much they eat, and make sure to use a measuring cup and not a coffee cup or scoop. Decrease the amount of food you are offering by 5–10%. Continue at this lower amount of food and re-assess their BCS in two to four weeks. If they are still overweight, decrease another 5–10%, and re-assess in another two to four weeks, and so on.
Weight plays a vital role in your dog’s health, and with effort and dedication, your dog will soon be at a healthy weight with an optimum body condition score. And your dog will likely thank you with many healthy years to come!