How to assess if your pet is overweight

MON MAR 6 2017

It is estimated that over 40% of dogs and over 30% of cats are overweight. Many pet owners aren't even aware their pet is overweight, as they don't know exactly how to tell. The news that a pet is overweight frequently comes as a shock to many owners.

Obesity is a true epidemic with animals, just as it is with people. Not only is an overweight pet at a higher risk of serious health problems such as diabetes, pancreatitis, and urinary issues, but existing health problems are usually worsened when an animal is overweight. It is also extremely uncomfortable being overweight, just as it is with humans. Ultimately, the lifespan and life quality of an overweight pet is significantly reduced.

The first step to addressing obesity in your pet is to recognise whether your pet is overweight.

Assessing whether your pet is overweight really is simple. With pets, we don't worry about numbers on the scale per height as much as we do for humans, as different breeds can be different sizes and shapes (for example, a staffie can be 40cm tall and weigh 16kg as a healthy weight, but an italian greyhound at 40cm height might only weigh around 5kg as a healthy weight!)

Instead, for pets we work off a system of Body Condition Scoring. A pet is typically given a score out of 5 or 9 depending on which scale is used.

There are a number of parameters assessed when body condition scoring a pet. These are outlined below. Keep in mind that the aspects are slightly different for dogs as they are for cats.

1. Ribs

Feel either side of your pet's ribcage. Ribs should be easily felt with a slight fat cover. If you can barely feel your pet's ribs, this likely means they are overweight. Likewise if the ribs are sharply demarkated with hardly any fat covering, your pet may be underweight. Keep in mind that cats gain weight over their ribs at a later stage in obesity than dogs do, so a cat may still be overweight but maintain the ability to feel their ribs.

Keep in mind that fur can cover ribs, so you'll need to get your fingers down to the skin if your pet has a lot of fur. It also helps to move the skin around over the ribs if you aren't sure. Fur coverage can make underweight pets appear healthy to the eye. However, at the opposite end of the spectrum, be careful not to assume that your pet is just merely 'fluffy', when they are actually obese. This is a very common assumption.

2. Presence of a waist from above

Look at your pet from an above birds-eye view. They should have a nice waist contour sloping in (like an hourglass) between their ribs and hips. If they appear to be the same width around their waist as they do on their ribs and hips, they might be overweight.

Very overweight pets will have a 'barrel' shape appearance to their torso. This is what we want to avoid.

3. Presence of a waist or 'abdominal tuck' from the side.

Now look at your pet from a side-on view. You should see the abdomen tuck upwards under the flank, becoming narrower than the chest, and making another hourglass-type figure.

If the abdomen is the same width as the chest and doesn't appear to 'tuck', or if it hangs lower than the chest, it is likely that your pet is overweight.

Note that in cats, the tummy is where they tend to gain weight first. A small amount of 'fat pouch' is normal, but if it is anything more than a mild puffy gathering of skin, it might be that your cat needs to lose weight.

4. Tail Base

Feel at the top of the tail base, where the tail joins the torso. There should be a smooth contour with small amount of fat cover, and bones underneath should be palpable.

Overweight animals will have a fair amount of thickening of the fat here, and obese animals will have thickening to the point where it is difficult to feel any bones.

See the charts below for a diagrammatic demonstration of how to grade your pet's body condition score from 1-9.

Posted by Dr Carla Paszkowski

When Carla isn't talking about petcare at PetCircle, she enjoys playing mum to her fluffy little cross-eyed feline fur baby, Smudge.

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