Monitoring a pet’s health can be a weighty issue

Welcome to Buckley Veterinary Hospital’s monthly pet care column. This month we are answering a reader’s request to discuss ideal weights and how to recognize if your pet is underweight or overweight by their body shape and mass.

Monitoring your dog or cat’s weight is an important part of keeping a pet healthy. If your pet is underweight, this could be an early indication of an underlying medical disorder. If your furry family member is overweight or obese, this can lead to health problems including diabetes, arthritis, heart problems and breathing problems.

Obesity develops when energy intake exceeds energy requirements. The excess energy is then stored as fat. Once a pet is obese, they may remain obese even after excessive caloric intake stops. The majority of cases of obesity are related to simple overfeeding coupled with lack of exercise. Certain groups of dogs appear more prone to obesity than others.

Specific breeds (Labrador retrievers and pugs, for example) and older dogs are particularly prone.

A body condition scoring system has been developed by veterinarians, serving as a useful, easy-to-use management tool to determine the nutritional needs of pets. At Buckley Veterinary Hospital, we use a numeric scoring system from one to five, ranging from emaciated to obese and the spectrum in between.

Learning how to score your animal is easy to do and will help keep your pet in optimal condition. At home, you can do a self-assessment of your pet’s body condition by following these simple steps.


Gently glide your hands down your pet’s rib cage. You should just be able to feel the ribs without applying pressure. If you need to press firmly to feel the ribs, this is overweight. If you cannot feel the ribs at all, this represents an obese animal. If you can see the ribs and there is little to no fat cover, that is referred to as underweight.


Observe and feel your pet’s tail if they will allow you to do this. You should just be able to feel the tail bones as you touch the tail. There should be a little fat cover over the tail bones so you cannot see them. You will need to apply pressure to feel the tail bones if your pet is overweight. You will not be able to feel any bones if your pet is obese. You will be able to easily see the tail bones in a pet that is underweight.


Observe your pet from the top so you can visualize their back. From this view, you should be able to observe a definite waist contour. If there is no waist at all and your dog or cat looks round in shape, this would be obese. A very thin or underweight animal will have an exaggerated hourglass appearance.


Observe your pet from the side. An abdominal tuck should be present if your pet has an ideal body condition. The area behind the ribs should be smaller than the chest. If your pet has an exaggerated abdominal tuck, they are likely underweight. An obese animal will have no abdominal tuck at all.

Again, more often than not, overweight pets are a result of too much food intake. In a recent study, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that 44 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Veterinarians can examine your pet to make sure there is not a medical cause for your pet’s weight problem. If medical reasons have been eliminated, we can recommend a diet that will be best to help to achieve an ideal body condition.

Beyond a change in diet, regular exercise and restricting the quantity of food that is given are also usually part of a successful weight-loss plan. It is imperative to have a veterinarian involved with any kind of weight loss plan. A diet that is too calorie restricted or a plan that results in rapid weight loss can be harmful to your dog and especially to your cat.

As mentioned earlier, overweight pets have many added stresses upon their body and are at an increased risk of diabetes, liver problems and joint pain. Your veterinarian can help prevent these added stresses, by addressing weight issues. The true goal is prevention of illness, pain and suffering. Comprehensive annual exams of all body systems can help diagnose, treat or prevent many health problems before they become life-threatening. More importantly, they help you, as a pet owner, provide a longer, healthier and happier life for your best friend.

Consult your veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet’s feeding and exercising schedules. Education and prevention is key.

Join us next month to discuss keeping your pets safe and healthy during the holidays, and the importance of not feeding table scraps to avoid stomach upset and intestinal obstructions.

Special thanks to the ASPCA and PetFoodDirect Blog for their literature within this article.


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