Don’t Rely on Ranges to Determine Your Dog’s Ideal Weight

Filed in Dog Health on February 19, 2022

ideal weight of dogs

Weight can significantly impact your dog’s health and is something you should monitor closely.

However, knowing how much your dog should weigh can be a bit confusing. Your dog’s ideal weight depends on many factors and isn’t always as simple as checking the number on the scale.

While scales can be helpful, other tools can provide a better understanding of your pet’s overall health. One of these tools is known as body condition scoring.

In this article, I’ll discuss how to determine your dog’s ideal weight and why body condition scoring is essential.

While this article is written by a vet, it’s meant to be general in nature, so please discuss with your own vet for specifics to your dog.

Why Your Dog’s Weight Matters

Maintaining your dog’s weight isn’t just for looks. Being over or underweight can cause a variety of health problems for your pup. These problems can affect your dog’s wellbeing and impact their long-term health.

According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, over 55% of dogs are considered overweight or obese. Obesity puts your dog at increased risk of osteoarthritis, heart disease, and diabetes.

As a result, being overweight can reduce your dog’s lifespan.

While this information may have you wanting to put your pup on a diet, underweight dogs can also experience health issues. If your dog isn’t eating enough, it can cause nutritional deficiencies.

Sudden weight loss can also be an early sign of diseases such as cancer.

Your dog’s weight is an important assessment of their health. By understanding what your dog’s ideal weight should be, you can help create a healthier lifestyle for your pet.

Understanding Your Dog’s Ideal Weight

Dog owner treating her chihuahua with dog food

From Rottweilers to Chihuahuas, dogs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Because of this, ideal weight can vary significantly between individuals. Some factors that affect ideal weight include your dog’s age, height, and gender.

When determining your dog’s ideal weight, many owners start by putting their pet on the scale. While this can provide valuable data, it can also be challenging to make sense of the number.

Instead, you may want to start by making a few simple observations about your pet. Does your dog have a sagging belly? Does their rump feel squishy, or can you feel defined muscle and bone?

These questions will help give you a better idea of your pet’s overall condition and determine if they are at an appropriate weight. These questions are also the first step in body condition scoring your dog.

I’ll discuss more tips for understanding your dog’s ideal weight throughout this article. However, it’s always a good idea to consult your vet if you have specific questions or concerns about your dog.

Weight Ranges for Different Breeds

If you’ve ever looked up information about your dog’s breed, you’ve probably seen an estimated weight range.

Organizations like the American Kennel Club often provide this information alongside other breed statistics such as average height or life expectancy.

Unfortunately, breed weight ranges can be very broad and don’t account for differences in height or overall size.

For example, the American Kennel Club lists the ideal weight range for Shih Tzu’s as 9-16 lbs. That’s a nearly 50% difference in body weight!

Likewise, the ideal weight for Chihuahuas is listed as under 6 lbs. Weight ranges such as this one leave a lot of room for confusion and are often not an accurate representation of health.

Because of this, you should always use breed recommendations with caution. Even if your pet falls within the range, it doesn’t mean your pet is healthy.

The Importance of Body Condition Scoring

Veterinarians use body condition scoring to better assess your pet’s weight. This scoring system focuses on fat deposition and weight distribution.

One of the main benefits of body condition scoring is that it takes breed out of the question and provides a more accurate evaluation of dogs of all shapes and sizes.

As a result, body condition scoring gives a better understanding of your pet’s overall health and is often compared to body mass index in humans.

There are two main scoring systems for dogs. One system evaluates dogs on a 9 point scale, while the other is based on a 5 point scale. While both systems are useful, the nine-point scale provides more room to distinguish subtle differences in weight.

Regardless of the scoring system used, animals with low body condition scores are considered underweight. Dogs with a body condition score on the higher end of the spectrum are classified as overweight or obese.

A more thorough breakdown of the scoring system can be seen below.

Body Condition Scoring 9 Point Scale

1 Emaciated

2-3 Too Thin

4-5 Ideal Weight

6-8 Overweight

9 Obese

Body Condition Scoring 5 Point Scale

1-2 Too Thin

3 Ideal Weight

4-5 Overweight

How to Body Condition Score Your Dog

Now that you know what body condition scoring is, it’s time to evaluate your dog. Here are a few tips to guide you through the process.

1. Get a Bird’s Eye View

When assessing your pet, the first thing you should do is look at their body shape from above. When your dog is at their ideal weight, you should be able to see a defined waistline just behind your dog’s ribcage.

Dogs that are underweight may have an exaggerated waistline. Overweight dogs often have a more rounded appearance with no distinction between their ribcage and waist.

2. Look at Your Dog’s Side Profile

Once you have evaluated your dog from above, it’s time to observe them from the side. Like the bird’s eye view, the most important thing to look for is the area just behind your dog’s ribcage. A healthy dog should have what is called an abdominal tuck.

An abdominal tuck refers to the appearance of your dog’s belly between their last rib and their hips. A healthy dog belly should curve upward into their groin, giving your dog a defined waist.

3. Use Your Hands

pet owner caress her husky

Your dog’s hair coat can make it difficult to assess their weight. Breeds such as Huskies and Cocker Spaniels can hide a lot underneath their long hair coats. For this reason, it’s important to use your hands to get a better feel of your pet’s weight.

Start by running your hands down your dog’s back, feeling for the bones along their spine. Continue to your dog’s hind end and take note of how easy or difficult it is to feel their hip bones.

Finally, run your fingers along your pet’s ribcage. Are your pet’s ribs easy to feel, or are they covered by a thick layer of fat?

It’s a common misconception that feeling your dog’s ribs is a sign that your dog is underweight. However, this is not always the case.

In a healthy dog, you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs and hip bones under a small layer of fat or muscle. If you cannot feel these structures, your dog is likely overweight.

4. Assign Your Dog a Score

Now that you’ve assessed your dog, it’s time to assign them a body condition score. First, you need to determine which scale you will be using. You will then use the information you gathered from your visual and hands-on exam to score your dog.

When scoring your dog, use a detailed scoring chart such as this one from the American Animal Hospital Association. Not only are these charts extremely helpful, but they will also keep your scores accurate and consistent over time.

You can also set up an appointment with your veterinarian if you have concerns about your dog’s weight. Vets perform these assessments during every physical exam and can provide additional tips for evaluating your pet.

I Know My Dog’s Body Condition Score, Now What?

The purpose of body condition scoring your dog is to help you make healthy choices for your pet. If your dog is not at their ideal weight, you will need to make some lifestyle changes to help them reach their weight goals.

By the way, here is a blog post on 8 ways to help your dog lose weight if interested.

Dogs who are overweight may benefit from smaller meals and increased activity. If your dog is on the skinnier side, you may need to consider increasing their food and reevaluating their nutritional plan.

Keep in mind that it will take time for your dog to lose weight.

Before changing your dog’s diet, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian.

Your vet can perform a more thorough exam and look for any medical conditions that could be contributing to your dog’s weight problem. Your vet can also help you create a nutritional plan to get your pet back on track.

Even if your pet is at their ideal weight, it’s important to evaluate them regularly. Body condition scoring is a great way to monitor your pet’s weight over time and is often easier than getting your dog to sit still on the scale.

Summary

Understanding your dog’s ideal weight is a critical part of helping them live a long and happy life. When evaluating your pet’s weight, tools such as body condition scoring can give you a better sense of your pet’s overall health.

Body condition scoring is a common part of your pet’s annual wellness exam, but it is also something you can do at home. Not only is it simple to do, but it’s also a great way to monitor your pet’s weight over time.

I hope this information has been helpful and will encourage you to take a closer look at your pet.

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