You want to keep your best friend happy and healthy, but did you know that a healthy body weight is a major determining factor in your dog's lifespan? In a groundbreaking 14-year study, Purina researchers found that dogs fed to their ideal weight lived 1.8 years longer than their overweight counterparts. Having a trim and fit dog is no longer an issue of vanity.
But how do you know if your dog is trim and fit? While there are weight charts that can give you a range of healthy weights for your dog's breed, most veterinarians recommend that you maintain your dog's weight without a scale. Factors like the size, sex, and individual build of your dog make it tough to pinpoint exactly which number in a weight range belong to your pup. If your dog is a mixed breed, it will be even harder to find a predetermined weight number to match their body.
So where can you go for some answers? As it turns out, the solution is closer to home than expected. Feeling your dog's body and scanning their overall shape is the best way to determine ideal body weight. Feel for your dog's ribs and frame. Are their bones buried under blubber? Or are they protruding noticably? You'll know your dog has hit the right weight when you can feel their ribs with a minimal layer of softness. To help this process, you can also scan your dog's silhouette to make sure their body is the right shape. Your dog should have a clearly defined waist, but too much tuck can mean they're too skinny.
If, like many pet owners, you feel you need a little more guidance in this process, you can use the weight chart below. First feel around to determine how much fat is on their frame. You can match the results with the description on the left of the picture. To double-check, you can eye your dog's shape from above and at a profile. This will allow you to visually compare your dog to the different levels, so you can guage whether your dog is too thin, too pudgy, or just right. Finding the right balance can mean a little extra work, but it can also mean that you're preventing the wide assortment of weight-related health conditions.
What's Causing Your Pet to Gain Weight?
Learn to evaluate your pet's eating and exercise habits to see just what's causing their weight gain here.
As with people, when pets are overweight, it’s generally the result of an imbalance between the amount of exercise taking place compared to the amount of food being eaten.
Not all pet food is created equally. Take a look at the ingredient list of your cat or dog food: Is meat the top ingredient? If your pet food has meat by-products, grains, or corn as the main ingredient, this may lead to your pet’s weight gain.
Another common contributing factor to weight gain is how you feed your pet. Do you leave food out and available all day long? This can lead to your cat or dog eating out of boredom, rather than only when hungry. For pets with weight to lose, aim to serve a few small meals each day, instead of always keeping the food bowl full.
Portion control also plays a big role in weight gain: if you are pouring dry food into a pet’s food bowl, you may be giving as much as double the amount of food your pet should eat. Measure food out precisely. Be wary of following the guidelines on the food’s packaging; those are just estimates and may not be appropriate for your particular pet. Your vet can give you advice on how much food to provide your cat or dog at each meal.
The Trouble With Treats
When your dog does something good, it’s tempting to acknowledge her obedience or cute trick with a treat. Similarly, when your cat or dog looks at you with longing eyes, it’s easy to give in and provide a scrap - or more - of your tasty food as a reward. But all of these little treats can add up and potentially lead to weight gain and obesity. It doesn’t help that treats are often high fat, high sodium, and deeply unhealthy.
Treats should not comprise more than five to ten percent of your pet’s total diet. Look for healthy treats to avoid feeding your pet empty calories. Avoid giving your pet table scraps -- even if it seems like a small amount of food. Human food is not necessarily healthy or nutritionally sound for pets, and can lead to weight gain.
Lack of Exercise
So far we’ve been mainly discussing food-related reasons for weight gain. Insufficient exercise can also cause pets to put on the pounds -- think about how frequently you play with your cat or dog, and how much physical activity is part of your pet’s life. Has the amount of activity decreased? A more sedentary lifestyle could be the reason for your pet’s weight gain.
Some breeds of dogs are particularly prone to gaining weight, such as Labradors, Pugs, and Beagles. Be particularly mindful of exercise and portion control if your dog’s breed is inclined toward weight problems.
Indication of Illness
Weight gain is sometimes linked to hormonal conditions or diseases rather than limited exercise or excessive eating. This is one major reason why it’s a good idea to visit your veterinarian before putting your pet on a diet. Vets can help rule out and treat diseases like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease which can cause your cat or dog to gain weight.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.
Want more nutrition tips for your dog? Check out some of our other nutrition articles:
Dog Nutrition 101
Good Diet, Good Health: Using Nutrition to Prevent Disease in Your Dog
The Most Poisonous Foods for Dogs
Natural Dog Food: Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets
Raw Food Dog Diet
Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs
What is in My Dog Food?
Finding the Right Food for Your Dog
Vitamins and Supplements: Vital or Superfluous?
The Best Food for Your Dog or Cat