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How to Tell If Your Dog is Fat

June 6, 2010

cute tan short hair chihuahua

"I'm not fat, I'm...not fluffy!"

How to Tell How Much Padding Your Dog Should Have

Use Body Condition Score: BCS!

Body condition score is a semi-objective way to get an idea if your dog has the right amount of weight for his or her body structure.

The weights and weight ranges published for pure-breed dogs are show standards. The show standard means the breeder organization (fanciers) of that breed want a dog of their breed to fall within a certain weight range. This is no guarantee that your dog will become only that size. It also is no insurance that a 18 pound Shih Tzu in a 10-pound Shih Tzu frame is okay, even though the numbers might fit the breed standard.

A majority of dogs are of mixed-breed descent. You cannot look in any book to really get any idea of how much a mutt should weigh. It is pure guesswork.

Body condition scoring is a way to observe at 3 things on your dog to tell if he or she is fat:

1. Amount of flesh over the ribs

With your dog facing away from you, place your open palms on either side of the chest where you should be able to feel and not see the ribcage. If you gently press with your open palms and fingers, you should feel the ribs under the fur, skin, and a light coating of muscle and maybe a tiny amount of fat. You should be able to feel and count the ribs.

When your dog’s furcoat is wet, you should not be able to see the ribs.

Common sense applies: a Greyhound, Sighthound, Italian Greyhound, certain German Shepherd dogs, working police and rescue dogs, Iditarod dogs and other performance athletes may show their ribs.

Your Labrador, Golden, Cocker, Shih Tzu, Chihuahua, Mini Poodle should not have ribs showing!

Tan chihuahua viewed from the side: you can tell the stomach starts at the chest and goes straight back to the legs

No tummy tuck!

2. Tummy Tuck

Your dog should have a nice tummy tuck when viewed from the side. If the bottom line of the chest extends right back to the legs, or sags down, your dog might be fat (not always, their are medical exceptions).

This Chihuahua is too fat! Notice the belly just goes straight back to the legs, with no graceful tummy tuck upward curve.

3. Hourglass Figure

Chihuahua felt or viewed from above: sides just in front of the hips actually bulge out, instead of curving inward

No hourglass, more like barrel-shaped!

When viewed from above and behind, your dog’s waist should pinch in just in front of the hips in a nice “hourglass” shape. If fur gets in the way, you can feel your dog through the fur to gain an idea of the shape underneath. (No excuses!)

This same Chihuahua when viewed from above is obese. Not only is the hourglass gone, but it has been replaced by a bulge on each side of the waist, a dimple at the base of the tail, and two little “doggy love handles” on either side of the hips.

“If you cannot feel your dog’s ribs, cannot see or feel a tummy tuck, and cannot see or feel an hourglass waist, your dog is fat,” says Doc Truli. “Furthermore, your dog is extra bonus fat is there is a tail head dimple and lumps of fat over the front of the hips that make you wonder of they are tumors.”

Get The Skinny on Your Dog’s Diet!

or, Three Common Reasons Pet Dogs Are Fat

1. Feeding Waaay Too Much

“But I’m Feeding What it Says on the Bag!”

The chart on the bag is just a starting point. If you want to figure this right, do these three things:

1. Ask your veterinarian how much your dog should probably weigh, the ideal weight. It takes a professional to estimate the magnitude of the problem. Or you can guess.

2. Ask your veterinarian to calculate your dog’s daily energy needs.

Dog’s Daily Energy Needs: Generally 30 kcal per pound ideal body weight per 24 hours.

For example, an ideally 10 pound Chihuahua should eat 300 kcal total per day. If the calories come from a high-quality balanced dog food, the nutrients are supposed to be matched to the kilo-calorie needs. However, there is a flaw in this system. Scientists theorize that a dog (or cat) eats to satisfy caloric needs. Generally, this seems true. But some animals seem to have no stopping point. Clearly, these pets do not follow the textbooks!

There’s another catch to this plan. You cannot get the kilo calorie information off of the food container! You can study the label until the dogs come home and never find it. On the plus side, most of the food companies publish the information on their websites, or you can call their 1-800 customer support number and ask.

You are looking for kilocalories (kcal) per cup. It doesn’t have another name, or a fancy name, or another spelling. Do not be fooled! You can also ask your veterinarian to do this for you.

3. The 3rd thing you can do to help your dog, Be honest! If Doc Truli sees a dog as fat as the Chihuahua in this story, about 2-3 times too many calories are being consumed in a day! Many of the semi-soft dog treats contain 36 calories per treat! Ten of those to a Chihuahua, and your over for the day/ And those are non-nutritious calories as well.

2. Food Labels Lie

“I’m Not Feeding too Much, and my Dog Still Won’t Lose Weight.”

How do you know how much is too much? Can you find the kilocalories published on the bag? No? Then you don’t know. Stop wasting your time and money arguing with the veterinarian. Write down everything you know your dog eats in a few days and let your veterinarian help you calculate how many calories you’ve got there. Most fat dogs eat 100% to 200% too many calories.

If you’ve followed your veterinarian’s advice and your dog is still fat, what about the thyroid gland function? Ask your vet!

3. Lack of Exercise

“I Know My Dog is Fat, I Had Health Issues and We Couldn’t Walk as Much.”

Okay, this is a true excuse. Try to cut back on your dog’s food when you know the two of you were going to recuperate together for a few weeks or months.

  1. Have a neighborhood kid walk the dog.
  2. Find a volunteer.
  3. Pay a dog sitter.
  4. Learn to throw a ball.
  5. You can fix this!

You will not like to see your dog in knee pain or respiratory distress, or worse. We’re talking obesity, not just a little fat.

Let’s Play, “How Big Would My Dog be if She or He Were a Human Person?”

10 pound Chihuahua weighs 20 pounds. This is like a 150 pound woman weighing 300 pounds!

75 pound Labrador Retriever weighs 120 pounds. This is like a 550 pound man. He can still get out of the house, but barely.

25 pound Beagle weighs 65 pounds (I’ve seen this!). This is like a person who weighs 600 pounds and cannot get out of bed or fit through the doors to go out. A person that misplaces hot dogs in their belly rolls. Your dog might smile and pant and wag his tail, but he’s suffering. And he will live a shortened lifespan.

Start Losing Weight Right Now!

  1. Call your dog over, give the ribs, tummy tuck and hourglass a feel.
  2. Get the ideal weight.
  3. Get the kilocalories from the food company website.
  4. Figure out how many calories your dog usually eats.
  5. See the overage! Wow! I bet you had no idea!
  6. Cut back gradually over a few weeks so as not to cause psychological family trauma.
  7. Or go cold turkey onto the new amount, your choice.
  8. Ask your veterinarian if diet food would be better for your dog, given all of the issues you are dealing with.
  9. Then, weigh your dog weekly and watch the pounds melt away!
7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2014 1:47 am

    Very helpful information. We all have to take more notice of our pets and not let them become overweight.

  2. Mitch Berkson permalink
    September 18, 2013 8:14 am

    Losing – not loosing. Come on!

    • September 18, 2013 4:57 pm

      Seriously! Did I make that stupid typo?
      As you know from reading VirtuaVet, I do not hire a professional editor. Typos slip through!
      (You read pretty at to find that typo!)

  3. Kimm permalink
    March 9, 2012 10:40 pm

    This is one of the most well written and informative articles on the topic of dog weight. Thank you!


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