How to tell if your dog is overweight and how much you should be feeding them.
Let’s be honest, I’d rather someone called me fat than one of my dogs. If it has ever happened to you, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Your dog depends on you for their food and their health, and realising you’ve let them down in both respects can be really upsetting. When it happened to me, it was at a dog show last year. I had taken Dizzy into the Prettiest Female Dog class and was absolutely certain that she was going to be the star. Instead, the judge examined her and then looked up at me and said: ‘lovely dog, such a shame that she’s a little overweight.’
At first I was furious, Dizzy was beautiful and quite obviously perfect – the judge clearly didn’t know what she was talking about. I spend the rest of the day in a tornado of indignation; how dared she say anything like that about one of my dogs! It wasn’t until later when I got home that the doubts started to creep in and I started to do some research.
Fat or not? How to tell.
Your vet will be able to give you a clinical assessment of your dog’s weight, but it’s also something that’s pretty easy to work out yourself. Just like people, every dog is different so looking at breed height vs. weight tables isn’t always a solution. There are, however, a few easy steps you can follow that will give you a really good idea of your dog’s weight and body condition.
Step 1 – The Knuckle Test
Make a loose fist with your hand. Run your fingers over the back of your hand, then over your knuckles, then over the back of your fingers near the knuckles. If your dog or cat’s ribs feel like the bones in the back of your hand (as in, you can’t feel them very well) then they’re probably overweight. If their ribs feel like your knuckles, then they’re probably underweight. And if your pet’s ribs feel like the backs of your fingers — meaning you can feel each rib but there’s some padding around them — then your pet is probably in a good body condition. There will always be some exceptions to this rule, as the thickness of your dog’s coat is occasionally going to make them feel and look slightly thinner of fatter (it’s always going to be easier to feel and see a Whippet’s ribs than a Husky’s!), so use your own judgement and if you have any questions then you can always drop in to your vet or local Just for Pets store for a weight check.
Step 2 – Check the top line
Standing over your dog, look down. If you can get them to stand still for long enough (always a challenge in my house) look down and you should be able to see an hourglass shape. There should be a small >< where the rib cage finishes and the abdomen starts, before the hips flare out slightly.
Step 3 – The tummy tuck
With your dog standing side on, look closely at the line of their stomach. From their chest to their hips, there should be a steady upwards slope.
When I used these three tests on Dizzy, it became apparent that perhaps the dog show judge had a point. Whilst she wasn’t drastically overweight, she was definitely a little fatter than she should be and I needed to take action to reduce her weight quickly so that she stayed healthy. As she runs at least 5 miles a day, I didn’t want to increase the amount of exercise she was doing as it could cause muscle and joint problems later down the line, so instead I took a close look at what I was feeding her.
A change of diet!
A few articles that I found online relating to dog weight pushed me to look at the quality and quantity of the food I was feeding her. She was on a scoop of Wagg Complete Worker, twice a day which I would mix in with a splash of warm water. I was feeding her in accordance with their feeding guidelines – 400g of biscuit a day (200g in the morning, 200g in the evening), so where was it all going wrong? I began to read up on the benefits of the various nutritional ingredients in dog food and quickly began to realise how important the composition of the food was. The primary ingredients in many value brands of dog food is cereal. Whilst cereal is important for providing them with fibre, it also pads out the volume of the food without greatly adding to the nutritional value of the food. Basically, I was giving her a large volume of food that only had a relatively small nutritional value. No wonder she was a little overweight!
I wanted to really look at what my other options were with regards to Dizzy’s food, and to get a better idea of her condition in general, so I took her to the Just for Pets store at Telford as I knew they had some scales and would be able to advise on a good quality food for her. At 25kg, Dizzy was roughly 3kg heavier than she should be and there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of choice when it came to dog food.
From my research, I knew that I wanted to focus on finding a dog food which put protein content above cereal (the easiest way to work this out is by reading the ingredients and see what’s listed first, as an ingredients list is always ordered by volume), so that Dizzy was getting the food she needed without any unnecessary padding. Whilst there were plenty of foods that ticked this box, the cost of a lot of them was a little out of my budget! Dizzy didn’t need grain-free or hypoallergenic, so I didn’t want to start paying for something that she didn’t need.
Walking down the aisle in Telford Just for Pets, my eye fell upon a 15kg bag of Brit Premium with Chicken for £26.99. I flipped the bag over to check the ingredients and was immediately struck by the fact that the primary ingredient was chicken. The 41% chicken was over double the amount of chicken in a Wagg bag. I was also very interested to note that according to the Brit Premium feeding table, they only recommended that Dizzy had 200g per day compared to Wagg’s recommendation of 400g. It was definitely the best value solution to my problem that I could find, so I thought I would give it a go.
It’s now been over 6 months and Dizzy has never looked better. When it comes to feeding her, I weighed out 100g of Brit Premium and then found a cup in the house that exactly fitted the correct amount of biscuit in, so now I know I’m giving her exactly the correct amount of food every night without having to weigh each meal. The extra chicken in the Brit Premium means that she is finding her meal’s much more palatable and I’m definitely finding the food fantastic value. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough and am really looking forward to taking her back to that dog show later this year!