← home
All

How do I Know if my Pet's Weight is Healthy?

Whether your pet is thin, fluffy, or ideal, their weight says a lot about their health. Recognizing your pet’s body condition can help you adjust their daily care, avoid chronic disease, and add years to their life.

Dr. Felicity Moffatt
How do I Know if my Pet's Weight is Healthy?

Key takeaway

Consult your Dr. Treat veterinarian to determine whether your pet’s weight is healthy. With our personalized approach, your unique pet is more than a number on the scale—and their care is anything but routine. With semiannual wellness visits and completely customized care plans, our expert team can identify and address small changes to your pet’s health before they become serious health issues.

R
ecognizing your pet’s body condition can help you adjust their daily care, avoid chronic disease, and add years to their life.

Check out our Dr. Treat team at-home assessment guide. If your pet scores outside the normal range, schedule a virtual care visit or an in-clinic appointment.

Body condition score for dogs

Look

Visually assess your pet’s body condition

Observe your pet while they are walking or standing naturally. Unless your pet is heavily coated, you should be able to identify a defined waistline behind the ribs. In dogs, you can identify the waistline as a tucking-in from the side, or as an upward tapering from the chest’s lowest point up toward the abdomen (i.e., loin). For cats, who often develop a low-hanging skin pouch around the abdomen, you can more easily identify the waistline when you look from above. A cat’s waistline is a slight indentation behind the ribs.An overweight pet may appear as having one continuous shape, with no clear curves or angles, while an underweight pet’s ribs or backbone, especially along the mid-back, are clearly visible.

Feel

Palpate your pet’s body condition

By performing a hands-on assessment (i.e., manual palpation) of your pet’s body condition during their daily care routine, you can learn invaluable information about your pet’s weight, swellings, tender body areas, tumor growth, and hair or skin changes. When assessing your pet’s weight, focus again on their ribs and backbone. Place your hands flat on either side of the rib cage and gently feel for the ribs. You can determine your pet’s body condition by following these weight categories:

  • Thin — You can feel your pet’s ribs easily by palpating with no effort. For some dog breeds—specifically sight hounds—this may be normal.
  • Ideal — You can feel your pet’s ribs and light tissue covering relatively easily by palpating with some pressure.
  • Overweight — You can feel your pet’s ribs by palpating with strong pressure, or you are unable to feel their ribs.

To better understand how each weight category should feel, compare your findings with the following exercise:

  • Extend your hand with your fingers flat and palm down. With your other hand, palpate the flat hand’s knuckles—this is how an ideal-weight pet’s ribs would feel.
  • Make a fist, and feel your knuckles again—this is how a thin pet’s ribs would feel.
  • Turn your palm up, and feel the backs of your knuckles and the fleshy pad below the thumb—this is how an overweight pet’s ribs would feel.

In addition, you can assess your pet’s body condition by observing the bony points of their backbone (i.e., the vertebrae), which should be palpable, and not prominent or hidden.

Score

Determine your pet’s body condition score

Knowing your pet’s body weight in pounds is helpful, but this information does not take into account your pet’s individual size, shape, and body composition. Similar to a human's body mass index (BMI), the body condition score (BCS) objectively determines your pet’s ideal weight.Because personalized medicine is the heart of what we do, your pet’s Dr. Treat veterinarian will determine your pet’s BCS at each visit, alerting you of any changes or concerns. However, you should also use this tool regularly at home. Follow the link to access the World Small Animal Veterinary Association dog BCS chart and cat BCS chart.

Body condition score for cats

More pounds, less life

Obesity-related pet health risks

An overweight pet has an increased risk for numerous health conditions that may shorten their life. Excess adipose tissue (i.e., fat) creates a pro-inflammatory state, which increases stress on the body and predisposes your pet to chronic conditions, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Orthopedic injuries (e.g., cranial cruciate ligament rupture [CCL])
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Skin issues
  • Slow healing

Heavy pet? Thin pet?

Talk to Dr. Treat

If your pet’s weight is outside the ideal weight range, consult with your Dr. Treat veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet or lifestyle. Many variables—some outside your control—impact your pet’s body condition.

In addition to the obvious cause (i.e., underfeeding or overfeeding), your pet’s weight can be influenced by factors that include:

  • Inappropriate or inadequate physical exercise
  • Thyroid disorder
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis or painful mobility
  • Endocrine disorders (e.g, Cushing’s disease)

To rule out medical causes for your pet’s unhealthy body condition, their Dr. Treat veterinarian may recommend blood work or imaging (e.g., X-rays or ultrasound). In some cases, such as thyroid imbalance, supplementation may be all your pet needs to restore their healthy weight.

If your pet is otherwise healthy, we will take a closer look at their calorie intake, daily exercise, and nutrition to design your pet’s customized healthy weight plan, including diet, physical activity, and periodic rechecks to chart their progress, provide encouragement, and make modifications when necessary.

Fit and fabulous?

Tips for maintaining your pet’s healthy weight

If your pet’s weight is ideal, congratulations! To maintain your pet’s healthy weight or to help them shed a few pounds, follow these tips:

In addition to the obvious cause (i.e., underfeeding or overfeeding), your pet’s weight can be influenced by factors that include:

  • Feed a healthy, well-balanced diet — Our Dr. Treat veterinarians can recommend customized food based on the number of calories your pet should consume each day. If your pet is overweight or having issues with satiety, your Dr. Treat veterinarian may recommend a specialized prescription food to help get your pet’s weight in check.
  • Portion your pet’s meals — Feed your pet two small meals daily, about 12 hours apart. Allowing your pet to eat freely throughout the day can contribute to obesity.
  • Exercise your pet daily  — Your pet needs more than an ordinary walk to stimulate their cardiovascular system. To add more appropriately challenging activities (e.g., swimming, jogging, interactive toy play) to your pet’s exercise regimen, ask your Dr. Treat veterinarian for recommendations.
  • Keep visual records — Every three to four months, photograph your pet in a standing position, to help you monitor their weight and posture, which can indicate muscle loss, weakness, and discomfort.

Final Notes

Consult your Dr. Treat veterinarian to determine whether your pet’s weight is healthy. With our personalized approach, your unique pet is more than a number on the scale—and their care is anything but routine. With semiannual wellness visits and completely customized care plans, our expert team can identify and address small changes to your pet’s health before they become serious health issues.

Written by:

Dr. Felicity Moffatt

Dr. Felicity Moffat is a Lead Veterinarian at Dr Treat. She also loves to write about veterinary care.

references
Read more on
Nutrition
View all
No items found.

Want to stay updated?

If you’re interested in learning more or you’d like to read our in depth pet health & wellness guides, join our newsletter.

your preference:
Thank you!
Oops! Something went wrong