Fabulously Fit? How to Tell if Your Dog is a Good Weight

You feed them good food and tasty natural snacks. You walk them at least twice a day and frequently go on athletic adventures like running and hiking together. You may even know exactly how much they weigh right down to the ounce…but how do you know your dog’s weight is a good weight for their frame?

Breeds Vary!

Not all dogs are built the same. From the tiny 3 pound teacup Chihuahua to the giant 175 pound mastiff, each breed varies in muscle mass, skeletal size, and coat density. These all contribute to the average weight for each breed.

The American Kennel Club assigns a breed standard for weight and size, but we veterinarians see a huge variability even within individual breeds. For example, Labrador retrievers—according to the AKC—are supposed to be between 55 and 80 pounds. I have a Labrador patient who weighs a mere 45 pounds (yes, she’s a pure bred Lab) and not too skinny for her petite frame. Conversely, I have Labrador patient who is 110 pounds of solid muscle, far above the AKC breed standard, but still an ideal weight for his larger, more muscular frame.

Ignore the Scale

Instead of fixing on the number on the scale, a more objective way to determine your dog’s ideal weight is to focus on the Body Condition Score. Veterinarians and pet food companies have adopted this “BCS” system for evaluating a pet’s health and body composition.

The BCS system rates a dog from 1 (emaciated, minimal muscle mass, undernourished) to 9 (morbidly obese, excessive fat deposits). An “ideal” body condition would be a score of 4 or 5. This means that a dog has ribs that you can easily feel but not see. They have a notable narrowing at the waist, both from the side and from above. Even ‘blocky’ breeds like bulldogs and pugs, despite thick shoulders and chests, should have a discernible waistline.

He’s Not Fat, He’s Fluffy!

Many times I’ve heard about a client having quite a surprise after taking their dog to the groomer. They think their dog is a good healthy weight until the groomer clips off a large amount of hair and presto! The dog has an almost instant weight transformation! What the owner thought was merely extra fluff and hair coat was actually large fat stores that had subtly enlarged over time.

“I didn’t think he was that overweight!” I hear this. A lot.
This can work in the opposite direction too. Thick, dense coats can mask weight loss over time.

A quick home test to determine if your fluffy dog is a good weight is to run your palms along the side of his or her rib cage, just behind their front legs. If you can feel the contours of the ribs with your palms, (and do not have to use your fingers to push through fat deposits to feel the ribs), then your dog is likely an appropriate weight. If you can feel sharp edges of protruding ribs with your palms alone, your dog might be too thin.

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight for their whole life is crucial for long-term wellness. Excess weight can accelerate the development of arthritis in their limbs and make them more prone to orthopedic injuries, skin diseases, and even diabetes. I encourage you to do them a favor and regularly reassess their BCS, and adjust their meal portions and sizes accordingly. Pursue veterinary care if you notice unexplained weight gain or loss. This will help keep them healthier and happier long into their senior years!