Assessing your dog's weight and body condition

You know your dog is unique, but did you know this extends to the way they process the nutrients and energy in their food?
Dog Retriever
Dog Retriever
Dog Retriever

Like people, each one processes their food in a slightly different way, particularly depending on their age and activity level. If your dog gets more calories than they need, those excess calories may be stored as fat, which in the worst case can lead to obesity in dogs.

"Learning how to perform a body condition score for your pet, and regularly assessing this in combination with appropriate nutrition and exercise, will ensure you're doing your best for your pet's health and wellbeing", says Zara Boland, Purina's vet.

Understandably, although weighing your dog and monitoring your dog’s weight regularly is a good idea, this can be tricky if they are a large breed or just very wriggly! As there is a lot of variation between breeds, it’s not always easy to know what is right for your pet. That’s where body condition scoring can make things easier.

Body condition scoring allows you to assess the amount of fat your dog is carrying, is easy to do at home without scales, and can identify problems in overweight dogs before the scales show a big change. What’s more, the scale applies to nearly every kind of dog, so you can easily check them between visits to the vet whether they’re big, small, wiry or extremely furry!

Body conditioning and your dog’s body score

Body condition scoring for your dog is really simple if you follow some easy steps. It uses a scale of one to nine, with one meaning ‘very underweight’ and nine meaning ‘very overweight’.

A dog body condition score between four and five is considered ideal – not too big and not too small, which is where you should aim to get your dog. To work out your dog's current body condition score, there are three areas you should check.

1 Rib Check:

Get your dog comfortable and run both of your palms across their ribcage, one hand on either side (your dog will probably think they’re enjoying a nice stroke!) Simply note how it feels and compare it to the chart

2 Profile Check:

View your standing dog from a side-on angle. It’s best if you are level with your pet so you get the most accurate view.

3 Overhead Check:

Look down at your standing dog from an overhead angle.

If your dog has the ideal body condition, you’ll be able to feel their ribs without too much of a fat covering. Their waist should be easily visible from above (look for an hour-glass shape) and their abdomen (the part of their underside just in front of their hind legs) should be tucked up towards their pelvis when viewed from one side.

Owning a dog means keeping a close eye on your dog’s body score and working to maintain an 'ideal' score of four or five throughout all stages of your dog's life. This can also decrease the risk of health problems associated with owning an overweight dog. These include arthritis, heart disease and even diabetes, which not only mean large vet bills but an unhappy, uncomfortable dog – more reason than ever to get them in shape!

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Your dog is too thin if:

  • They have ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and other prominent bones (ones that you can see the shape of) that are visible from a distance. They will have no discernible body fat and an obvious loss of muscle mass.
  • Your dog's ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones are easily visible. They’ll have no palpable fat, with some prominent bones but only minimal loss of muscle mass.
  • You have an underweight dog if their ribs are easily palpated (felt) and may be visible, with no palpable fat covering them. The tops of their lumbar vertebrae are visible, their pelvic bones becoming prominent, and they have a prominent waist.

Your dog’s body score should be:

Dog with owners

Your dog should have ribs that you can feel easily, with minimal fat covering. Their waist should be easily noted when viewed from above, and their abdominal tuck can be seen.

Your dog should have palpable ribs without an excess fat covering. Their waist is observable behind their ribs when viewed from above, and their abdomen is tucked up.

Your dog is overweight if:

  • Their ribs are palpable but with slight excess fat covering. Their waist is discernible viewed from above, but is not prominent and an abdominal tuck is apparent.
  • You have an overweight dog if you find it difficult to feel their ribs because of a heavy fat cover is in the way. There are noticeable fat deposits over their lumbar area and the base of their tail. Their waist absent or barely visible and their abdominal tuck may or may not be present.
  • Your dog's ribs are not palpable under a very heavy fat cover, or palpable only if you apply significant pressure. There are heavy fat deposits over lumbar area and base of their tail. Their waist is absent, with no abdominal tuck. Obvious abdominal distension may be present (their belly is large and hangs a little).
  • They have massive fat deposits over their thorax, spine and the base of their tail. Their waist and abdominal tuck is absent, and they have fat deposits on their neck and limbs. There is obvious abdominal distention (their belly hangs).

More tips for assessing your dog’s body condition

Need some more help? Purina’s resident vet, Zara Boland, demonstrates how dog owners can measure their dog’s current body condition and asses your dog’s body score in three easy steps. It only takes a minute to tell whether your dog is underweight, overweight, or just right.

View a short video of Purina's resident vet Zara demonstrating how to check your dog's body condition

Once you have determined your dog’s body condition score, it’s time to think about what action needs to be taken as a responsible dog owner. If your dog is over- or underweight, ask your vet for advice on getting them back into shape.

Once your dog is where they should be, life will be even more exciting than ever for them – and they’ll have so much more energy, fun and enthusiasm to share with you!

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If you’d like more information on assessing your dog's body condition or have any other queries, please contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM