The easiest way to assess a dog’s condition is to feel its ribs with your fingertips. If they can be felt easily without applying pressure and the last three ribs are even visible to the naked eye, the dog is in the right physical condition.
Using the categories listed, you can tell whether your dog is in good condition or it is overweight or thin.
The ribs and hip bones can only be felt by applying mild pressure or cannot be felt at all. The last 3 pairs of ribs are not visible, and, if the dog is obese, even the spine is covered in fat tissue and the bony protrusions of the vertebrae cannot be felt. The dog’s waist is barely visible and its flank is in the same plane as the ribs. (Obviously, it ought to be narrower than the hips.) If the dog is only slightly overweight, the ribs can still be felt with firmer pressure, but this condition is not good for the dog’s health.
Damage can be caused to the internal organs, and the quantity of fat is increased not only under the skin but also in the abdominal cavity, thus the dog’s body weight grows. Being overweight damages the joints and makes movement difficult and the dog loses interest. Its willingness to play and exercise decreases and its overall quality of life declines. For small dogs an increase in weight of 0.3 to 0.5 kg means being overweight, while a fluctuation of 3 to 5 kg in large dogs is still acceptable.
A healthy weight reflects the good physical condition of a dog kept as a pet. Dogs in this condition are not overweight and their ribs are palpable but not visible. Their muscles are firm but not necessarily clearly visible. The chest is not broad and lightly muscled. The vertebrae and pelvis can be easily felt and do not have deposits of fat.
Fit, well-conditioned or sporty dogs
The best condition sporting dogs can be in. The percentage of body fat is low and the muscles of the whole body are well toned. The ribs are easy to feel and, depending on breed, visible as well. Such dogs are pure muscle. The chest and the thighs are broad, and the shoulders are distinct. Some people may think they are malnourished but this is not the case. The dog’s musculature reflects its feeding. A dog is well-fed while its muscle mass is not reduced, that is to say the fibres do not atrophy, but the dog carries no excess fat. If there are no muscles around the ribs and pelvis, the dog is thin. Just think of an athlete who likewise has no spare fat and who is almost all muscle. Such a person cannot be described as malnourished. The same is true of dogs.
There is very little fat on the dog, and its ribs and hip bones are clearly visible. Its chest is narrow and the shoulders and thighs do not stand out from the line of the body. Being “skin and bone” is not the only sign that a dog is underfed. As mentioned above, when a dog’s ribs and hip bones are not covered in muscle, even though it may give the overall impression of being fit, it is suffering from a nutritional deficiency (a lack of protein or amino acids) or it simply needs more food.
Being neither overweight nor underfed is good for a dog and will be detrimental to its health in the long term. The goal is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout a pet dog’s life, while it is particularly important to keep sporting dogs fit as this is the only way to protect their joints effectively.