Friday, March 28, 2014

FitFriday: What is an In Shape Dog?

A friend of mine was generous enough to share with me two educational tools she put together of her own dog, Tess, at various weights. Each of these is a series of three photos, with the top one of Tess overweight, middle being Tess at a healthy pet weight, and the bottom one being Tess when she is conditioned. Tess competes in agility and other sports, so being in good condition with plenty of muscle and no extra weight to carry around is important.

Stacked photos
I think the difference is pretty easy to see in Tess. She has a very short coat, which makes it easy to see not just the basics like her tuck up, but also the outlines of her muscles when she is in shape.

Tess is a very active dog, which makes it important that she carries around as little extra weight as possible. Extra weight can not only slow the dog down, but puts additional stress and strain on their joints when dogs run, jump, and turn. That is why there is a big difference between what a healthy pet weight is and the ideal weight for competing.

In motion photos
Most people are used to seeing dogs who are, if not fat or obese, at least a healthy pet weight, rather than well conditioned. Which means that a large number of my friends in the dog sport world report being told to "Feed your dog!" sometimes even yelled at them from the window of a passing car. This just goes to show how distorted the general public's view of proper weight for dogs is. Believe me, if our dogs WERE too thin, our agility instructors, flyball teammates, lure coursing club friends, etc, would not hesitate to say something about it. 

In fact, I've been called out for Koira being too thin lately, when she was still losing weight on Prednisone. She came along to the flyball tournament in Canada and I was approached by a few people who hadn't heard about her injury who were worried that she looked too thin. On the other hand, most of us are much more used to having to tell people that their dogs need to lose some. Pallo gained a bit of weight over this past winter and had to be brought back down to racing weight. He isn't quite there yet, but very close. 

My Koira girl, under muscled and underweight. She is a naturally muscular dog, so doesn't look nearly as bad in this photo as she could look. 

Unfortunately, I find that vets are not reliable people to ask about the weight of your dog. Many vets will avoid the topic of a dog being overweight, or even lie and tell a client that their dog is fine. People get upset when they are told their dog is fat, and vets don't want to lose business. Not all vets do this, of course, but many do. I generally ask my vet two times, the first time, she always says my dogs are a great weight. The second time, I specify that I do dog sports- and sometimes, I get a different answer, maybe take a pound or two off, or put some more muscle on. If you want your vet to give their absolute honest professional opinion of your dog's weight, make sure you are clear that you are not going to be upset, no matter what the answer is- and then make sure to not act upset, even if you are told your dog is too fat or too thin. A good way to do this might be to say "I am thinking Pallo needs to lose a couple of pounds, what do you think?" or just straight out asking, how much weight do we need to work on losing?

Pallo, when he was fat. Sorry for the blurry picture, this is the photo from when he was brought into dog control as a stray. And he was very chubby at the time, with almost no muscle development. 

In the end, the ideal weight of each dog depends on each individual dog. A dog who is an active competitor in agility or flyball should be carrying very little if any extra weight and should show well conditioned and well toned muscles to minimize risk of injury and maximize performance. Your pet dog who goes on walks and plays a little fetch can have less definition of muscle, but should still have a minimal amount of extra weight on them. Senior dogs or dogs with healthy problems should have a little bit of extra weight as a backup in case they get sick, but shouldn't have so much additional weight that they add a large amount of stress to their joints, heart, or lungs. 

You should be able to easily feel your dog's ribs, curve of the spine, and tops of the hip bones. Depending on the breed and build of the dog, the spine and hip bones may or may not be very prominent, but you should be able to feel them at least lightly without having to dig around for them. The ribs should be easy to feel while casually running your hand down your dog's side- if you need to poke in at all to find them, the dog is carrying extra weight. 


  1. Great post! Nola's right between healthy weight and conditioned. She's super muscled (her back legs are crazy, haha) and is naturally lean. People tell me all the time that she's either A), the only healthy looking Dachshund they've ever seen or B), she's way too thin. A lot of people can't guess her breed since she isn't fat like 99.99% of other Dachshunds.


  2. Good post! I've always been concerned about keeping Kaya and Norman at the right weight. My mom loves to feed them extra when she visits and it drives me ballistic. Her dog is a nibbler so she's just not used to dogs who chow down their food!

  3. Such a good post - love the comparison pictures. I think visuals really help people see the difference and you are so right, even a 'conditioned' dog is going to look different than an average dog. Thanks for joining the Hop.

  4. Great post! Love the visuals (photos) too! Folks with fluffy dogs (like mine) really have to feel under all the fur to see if their pups might be too fat or too thin. Visually, Rocco just looks like a huge ball of fluff so I good massage pretty often so I can feel what's going on underneath there!
    Diane and Rocco

  5. Yes, great post! I get the "your dog is too thin" a lot. I need to remember to tell people that she is an athlete (agility).

  6. Great post! I may need a few family members to read this. Sophie has gained a few lbs and I am trying to get them off her. in typical lab fashion, she acts like she is being starved which causes my family members to be upset on her behalf. :-P

  7. My sisters and I are fit and healthy, but we find it just about as hard to tell someone their dog is fat as it is to tell the human they are fat. People go crazy and it gets pretty nasty. Overweight pets make us so sad. There is no excuse for it. We weigh in regularly and have maintained out weight for years now. Exercise is good for the dog and the human and increases our bond, so why not just do it? Great post!

  8. Love this! I'm glad Peggy linked to your blog so that I could find you.

  9. I tell people their dogs are fat all day long. I have also been known to tell people to stop smoking around their pet.