Fit Fido or Fat Fido…

Fit Fido or Fat Fido

About two years ago I had Shayne at a park hiking when I was approached by a woman and her lab.  As she approached I began shoveling food in Shayne’s face to keep her from being too concerned about the lab.  Out of absolutely nowhere, this woman began yelling at me and berating me about starving Shayne (yeah, I know, ironic since I was shoveling hot dogs in her face).  She threatened to call the humane society and report me for abuse/neglect.  Pointing toward Shayne, she said, “She is absolutely too skinny!  You can see all her muscles … she’s all skin and bone!”  The kicker?  She had a show-line lab who was … well, rather rotund.  Okay, that’s a really nice way of putting it… this lab had easy 15-20lb more weight on him than needed… that’s about 20% heavier than he needed.  As nice as possible, I respectfully replied that Shayne is fine.  She’s a competitive athlete who needs to be lean so she can safely compete, since a dog that is too heavy could injure themselves and that if the woman still wanted to call the humane society, I’d welcome the call since they would say she’s in excellent condition.

Shayne is lean, yes, but she is not starved or emaciated.  This woman had absolutely no idea what a dog in proper condition should look like.  What is so sad is that I regularly encounter people who have no idea what a dog in good condition should look like.  There is plenty of blame to go around to why so many people are ignorant to proper canine conditioning.  I think the sheer number of overweight and obese pets has made it seem like it’s normal for dogs to be fat so people aren’t worried when their canine packs on the pounds.  Certain breeds in large kennel club dog shows are being shown grossly overweight  or in poor condition.  Vets are tentative about alerting patients to weight problems for fear of offending the humans.  People are simply unaware how to tell if their dog is in the proper condition.

So, today I’m going to talk a bit about how to determine the proper condition of your canine companions–okay maybe not just talk, but show some pictures.  I’m going to use some pictures of Rio as examples of underweight though he is not actually underweight.  Due to some very specific lighting and his breed mix, I’ve been able to take pictures that make him look much skinnier than he is in actuality.  He is on the lean side of normal but his visible ribs and hips are largely due to his sight-hound heritage.

One thing to note is that photos and looking at your dog can only do so much.  You really need to get your hands on your dog and feel them to determine conditioning.  Rio, in some of his photos, looks very thin and frail almost, but put your hands on him and you feel that he is actually quite solid and muscular.  If you are unsure about what a dog in good condition feels like, you can use your hand as a guide.

Run two fingers across the back of your relaxed hand (not completely flat and not a fist, just a nice relaxed position) just below the knuckles.  You should be able to feel the individual bones in your hand without pushing hard and with only minimal fat covering.  This is pretty similar to what your dog’s ribs should feel like if they are in proper conditioning.  Run your hands across your dog’s rib cage… is it similar to your hand?  Can you feel the individual ribs without pushing hard and with only minimal fat covering?

If you turn your hand over and run your two fingers across the palm of your hand below your knuckles, this is about what an overweight dog feels like… you have to push pretty harder to feel the individual bones as there’s a moderate covering of fat.

If you run your fingers across your palm down by your thumb (even just circles in that area)… this is what an obese dog would feel like… a very thick covering over the ribs.  You can maybe tell there is a bone in there somewhere but you can’t feel it.

Now make a tight fist and run your fingers across your bottom knuckles.  This exaggerated valley/mountain is representative of an emaciated/underweight dog.  There is no fat and the muscle/tissue in between each rib has diminished resulting in the big valleys in between the ribs.

If that’s what the various conditions feel like, what might some of them look like?  Well an underweight dog will likely have multiple ribs showing (while standing still or relaxed, many dogs in proper condition show ribs while running or while breathing heavy), an exaggerated tuck, a very noticeable waste (when viewed from above), hip points or vertebrae may show, and there are often sunken areas of the face (fat stores above the eyes are pretty common)

A dog in proper condition should have a noticeable abdominal tuck (some breeds will have more than others but it should be there), a waist when viewed from the top (again some breeds more noticeable than others), with smooth coated dogs you should see some muscle definition.  The tuck is one of the most noticeable for guardians to see–their chest should be closer to the ground than their tummy.  You can see in the photo of the lab below that there is no tuck, this a signal of a really overweight dog–it’s interesting that as she looses the weight, the tuck is one of the areas it’s quite noticeable (even at only the 8 week mark).

Photo of Savannah Blue Belle (Thanks!)

I hear, “He’s not overweight, he’s just solid as a rock” all the time and unfortunately the vast majority of the dogs are overweight, not just solid.  Dogs, unlike humans, do not always get “squishy, jiggly” fat on their ribs, they often get this very solid type of fat (men with beer bellies often have this quality… it’s not a jiggly belly but somewhat solid).   Another way to assess the conditioning is to check your dog for common fat-stores.  Many dogs will carry excess fat on the front of their chest in between their front legs… run your hands down the front of your dogs neck and stop when your hand is between the shoulders, many overweight dogs will have a jiggly fat store here.

Perhaps what is the most frustrating is that people are simply unaware that their dog is overweight.  Vets are reluctant to tell people the truth because they don’t want to lose the business or offend the people… if they mention it at all they generally say, “Oh fido looks like he could lose a few pounds”–this for a dog who is 30% heavier than he should be.  Also, kennel clubs show certain breeds, like labs, pretty overweight.  Lab breeders will say that the dogs are “bone heavy” but when you put your hands on the dog, it’s really clear that it’s not bone.

This is what happened to an online forum friend of mine recently.  About 9 months ago she started a weight loss journey for her 4 year old lab, Savannah Blue-Belle (Savvy).  She is one of the many people who didn’t intentionally make her dog fat… Savvy just started packing on the pounds but her mum just thought she was filling out since she didn’t look too much different from the labs being shown on T.V.  It wasn’t until someone (okay it may have been me) mentioned her dog was obese or bordering on obese and needed to lose weight did she realize it.  Honestly, Savvy DID resemble the show labs and her vet hadn’t mentioned, in any serious fashion, that she needed to lose weight so her mum didn’t think it was a serious issue.  Now, 9 months in, she’s probably lost 25lbs with another 15 or so to go.  She’s made this journey publicly and I love her for that… it’s hard to make a dog diet and it’s hard to take the weight off… but she’s doing such an amazing job bringing Savvy back to a healthy weight.

**The top photo has been removed because it was brought to my attention that a photo that was emailed me to use in the top photo collage was not a photo that the emailer had been given permission to use.  My sincerest apologies!

**I have gotten a few angry and concerned emails from folks regarding my “skinny” dog Rio.  The “skinny” photo was taken when he was about 10 months old and in a gangly teenager stage.  He was about 28lbs and eating 1.5lbs of raw food a day and it was STILL a challenge to keep weight on him.  His whippet heritage makes him leaner than normal and makes it harder to keep up with a growing boy with a crazy efficient metabolism.  He was never starved or in danger–quite the opposite, he was eating me out of house and home on a regular basis.  Here’s a photo of my handsome handsome boy from early this spring, you can see how he’s filled out now that he is about 4 years old.  I hope some of you feel less concerned 🙂


  1. Great post, Tena! I haven’t been on Dogster in awhile, so it was good to see Savvy again and I’m glad she’s still making progress. That’s awesome!

  2. Hi, just want to say thanks for writing this and I am now going to be a regular blog visitor. Thanks for all the encouragement along the way and I’ll keep posting the pics. Maybe we can get a mention and a photo in here when we hit our target weight.

    I’m hoping that will be around our one year mark which will be near the end of August!

  3. Love this! It’s really hard when people are always telling me my boys are underweight, when the sight of their dogs in VERY opposite condition just breaks my heart. I wish everyone understood what proper body condition actually looked like, dogs would be so much healthier and happier if there was more awareness and accurate information available.

  4. Awesome post!

    I love the trick about comparing to the feel of our hands!

    I’m finding it hard to eyeball the dogs – seeing them day in & day out, you just don’t notice the difference. & it’s really hard on long haired breeds. I think I’ve let Bear get too pudgy so he’s on a diet & some careful increased exercise. He has arthritis so he needs to stay lean.

    Darwin, my field English Setter, is supposed to be quite lean, with ribs & hip points showing when he’s a healthy working weight – much like your Rio.

    So it’s also a matter of knowing your own breed. For all purebreds, I highly recommend that people look at images of the working or field lines as good examples of the breed. What’s in the showring now (esp for labs) is appalling.

  5. Great post. Funny how topic trends travel on blogs. One of the things I hate about AKC is that it can ruin breeds.. huge differences are created between “show” and “field” standard when there should be no difference. The labs seem to be hit the hardest as there is NO way any show lab I have seen would last more than 10 minutes in the field or water without me worrying about exhaustion. Luckily my breed has not been affected much when it comes to weight and the show ring. They want to see them slightly more padded than an ideal living weight but it is just above “normal.”

    You explained this topic well, had not heard the hand examples. Another place they carry the weight is right behind the shoulder.

    Thanks for this post, I try and tactfully mention when client dogs are fat/obese for the sake of the dog. It may be coincidence that the dog’s tail set rises as time went on in those last 3 pics or it is proof the dog feels better.

  6. I love this. I’m showing my roommates and mother the hand trick later. They keep telling me Delta is perfect, but you can’t easily feel her ribs… they say you can, but I have to push slightly. She just needs to lose two pounds or so.

    GO SAVVY!!! It’s Delta and Doc’s momma 🙂 We’re so proud of your journey. It’s quite amazing!

  7. Cohen has a medium-length coat which makes it a couple degrees harder to determine her body condition. I keep her on the lean side of normal, but I think for a while there she was a tiny bit too lean. Now I’m very happy with her condition.

    I find my preferred way to gauge a dog’s condition by eye is to look at the tuck up, and then just above the tuck there’s another ridge of muscle traveling from the hip to the rib cage. Some breeds have very noticeable tuck ups, which can make it hard to notice their extra weight. But that nicely defined second ridge is one of the first things to go as dogs pack on the pounds.

  8. Love the hand trick! That will be soooo helpful in the future when I feel the need to say something. =D

  9. Wow thanks for all the information. I love the hand trick too! What a neat way to tell how in shape or out of shape they are.

  10. I just took in a foster dog, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who weighs 38 pounds. I hope to get about 5 lbs off him within the first month and the remaining 15 or so over 4 to 6 mos, His owners had to give him up because they live in a split level and his severe arthritis kept him from walking the stairs. His weight kept them from being able to carry him up and down and they were going to euthanize him. Fortunately, Cavalier Rescue was willing to step up and place him in a ranch style house for rehabbing. Sad that this dog almost lost his life due to the lack of knowledge on the part of his owners.

    • That is so incredibly sad! What is so frustrating and one of the reasons I wrote this post was because people just dont’ KNOW any better. They do not know how to tell if their dog is of the proper weight. I am glad he’s with someone who will get him back to shape and save his life!

  11. Great post … I remember Savvy’s weightloss thread on dogster. Just wanted to add the dog food companies aren’t helping this issue either – I actually took a look at the feeding guide on JT’s kibble and canned food this week (he gets that to supplement his raw sometimes), and realised if I actually followed these guidelines my dog would be a rather immobile tub of amorphous black and tan goo :S it recommended more than twice the amount of daily food!! YIKES.

    • That is a really good point, they just don’t take into consideration that MANY dogs are under exercised and that they don’t burn nearly as many calories as they once did (sounds like people too LOL!).

  12. This is a great post! We have a greyhound who is not still at racing weight since she’s retired, but well within a healthy weight range. Our vets have always said to err on the side of being thinner, since that’s how they were meant to be. It’s so sad to see obese dogs…

    • It is so sad! I definitely prefer my active dogs to be on the leaner side of normal because of their level of exercise, it’s so much better on their joints and general health to be lean and well muscled (which IS easier for some breeds like sighthounds).

  13. Excellent post – it’s all to easy to find a fat dog and rare to find a skinny one.

    There is just one thing I would add. The “knuckle test” works for most medium-sized and mixed-breed dogs, but there is a glaring exception – sighthounds. These are super-lean running hounds, and in hard weight they are boney along the ribs, spine, and hips, with great tuck-up – and packing masses of muscle. In order to expel the tremendous heat generated when working, they naturally require this phenotype. I feed a lot of working sighthounds – they consume a staggering number of high-quality calories. These dogs would “flunk” the knuckle test but are in fact in ideal condition for their type and function.

    • Oh absolutely breed plays a role in what a dog should feel like. I would not, for example, expect an english bulldog to feel like a greyhound. But for MOST breeds, I think the descriptions are accurate, though you do have to keep breed in mind for some. English bulldogs SHOULD still have a waist and SHOULD still have a tuck and you SHOULD still be able to feel some rib–this will just be different than a grey 🙂

      • I have an English Bulldog who plays flyball and is in excellent shape (see the link to Facebook). Because of the health problems they are prone too it is even more important to not let them get fat. Bulldogs are built differently from greyhounds, but I agree they should still have a tuck, etc. I hate when people use the breed as an excuse to let their dog be fat.

    • Good point Elinor. We find the same with our more ‘greyhoundy’ Alaskan Huskies. In perfect working condition, they would also flunk the knuckle test. Our sprint dogs (heavy greyhound influence) tend to be bonier than our more husky-like runners, with protruding hip bones and the last few ribs quite bony feeling. People think we starve them, when in reality they consume far, far more calories then pet dogs. They have tones of muscle definition, but no extra weight to cause strain on joints and respiratory systems as they run incredible speeds and distances. They are very healthy dogs, living far past the average pet age for the same size. Breed definitely should be taken into account when checking weight, though all dogs should have a tuck up and should not have fat packed over the ribs!

      • Breed does play a role for sure and I think serious canine athletes are a breed of their own. I would not expect the average person (even of a healthy or fit weight) to look like Michael Phelps. Human athletes are often both extra lean and extra muscley (when in competition/game shape)–they have some “underweight” features because they have a very small fat percentage but are also extra packed with muscle.

  14. Thanks so much for this post. I’m so tired of people saying my dog probably has worms (she’s been wormed) because she’s so thin. According to your pictures and method of testing fitness, she is perfect.

    • Going by feel is really what is the best option, if you easily feel ribs and your dog is well muscled, they are probably pretty good 🙂

  15. My vet is always super excited to consistently see my dog within normal weight parameters. My mother-in-laws dog though… **sigh** She’s an almost 40lb cairn terrier! She doesn’t believe that her dog is obese because she feeds her only vegetarian food (which is another issue for me).

    • YIKES!!! Hopefully you can educate your mom to get her pup to live a longer and healthier life when the pup loses some weight and gets on a SPECIES APPROPRIATE diet.

  16. We have a German Shorthair Pointer. She’s a senior citizen now, and being a thin breed with a well defined ribcage and abdomen – she’s become even thinner in her older years.
    Neighbor was even nice enough to called Humane Society on us to have her checked. Fortunately, the officer who came over was more than thrilled to find that our dog was of a healthy size and beautiful specimen of the breed.
    Wish I knew who that neighbor was, I’d tape your blog to their front door.
    Thanks for the awesome article, I’ll be a frequent visitor.

    • HAHAHA! Maybe tape it to your mailbox/fence for others to read/see LOL! Glad the HS agent recognized a well cared for senior dog!! Thanks for commenting!

  17. One thing to keep in mind is the BREED of dog. A Saluki SHOULD have their hip points visible.

    • Absolutely! Though I think for the vast majority of breeds, the descriptions are pretty accurate. A bulldog will never feel like a saluki but they should both have a waist, a tuck, and ability to feel ribs 🙂

  18. Great post, as a vet tech I love the “hand” trick. Great to show clients. I personally disagree that vets are hesitant to tell clients that their animals are over weight – because that’s what we spent the majority of our annual visits talking to owners about. But maybe that’s just the vets I’ve worked with. We had one owner drop off his obese scotty for boarding with a pound of deli roast beef and a box of frosted flakes for us to feed him. The owners are the most difficult to get the idea that food doesn’t equal love across to.

    • I think it really depends on vet. I would say 70% of the clients that I have the “your dog is overweight and will live a longer/healthier life if he looses some weight” have told me their vets never mention anything to them about their dog’s weight. So a dog who is clearly obese goes to the vet for years and the vet never mentions to the owner that 1. the dog is obese or 2. the severity of their dog’s obesity. I have personally overheard vets telling a woman with a weim who was probably 20-30lbs overweight that “he’s clearly eating well!” but not actually have a serious conversation about her dog’s weight (he was at the office for a check for arthritis… he was 4!).

      It’s HARD to have the conversation with people, but it has to happen. I am glad the vets you’ve worked with have had those important conversations!! I wish all vets would!

  19. Love this and I am also very concerned about the amount of overweight dogs AND those dogs that are in poor health due to their crummy diet! Also, love the example of the hand….helps to give people an idea of how their dogs should feel! I will definitely use that!

    • Yep, the quality of diet is a big issue I think. Pair that with the fact that many dogs are really under-exercised and it’s not surprising that there is a problem of doggie obesity. I really felt the hand example gives people a concrete, “this is what it should feel like” example that “should be able to feel his ribs” just does’t give. Thanks for stopping by!!

  20. I have two pups that will not gain weight and look like the photo of the pup that is under weight. We free feed them grain free food for active dogs and they still wont gain weight. Vet said they are perfectly healthy and keep feeding them exactly the way we have been.

    • Rio (the underweight photo) is a whippet/acd mix and although he is in his gangly teenaged time inthe photo and was extra lean, he almost always show some ribs. He has good muscle mass and doesn’t show any of the sunken in areas typical in truly underweight dogs, as long as they have good muscle mass and are otherwise healthy, being a little lean isn’t the end of the world 🙂

  21. Love the hand comparison! That’s such a great way to look at it and easy to understand. I’m lucky that I never have to deal with “your dog is underweight.” She’s in great condition, an athlete, a fair amount of muscles and at an excellent weight. We do agility and I don’t want her to get injured so we keep an eye on it. But since she’s a hairy monster no one can tell what her weight really is. You can’t see ribs or anything because it’s all thick hair. So we never get comments about her weight. Except from the folks down the road who have her twin…well, her twin if she gained a good 20 pounds. They always say “Oh look! It’s Alice if she went on Weight Watchers.” Yep…pretty much!

    • I am really glad the hand comparison was helpful. I hear so many people say “you should be able to feel their ribs” …well, what does THAT feel like? The hand was a pretty good fit! What’s sad is that 20lbs on a 50lb dog is huge!

  22. My Golden Retriever got called underweight ALL the time when she was young and fit!
    Ironically, when she was older and had trouble keeping weight on so actually WAS underweight we never got comments on it. I think it was because when she was older she had spinal spondylosis which caused poor muscle tone in her abdomen and a loss of her “tuck up” so the appearance was different.

    • The tuck really is such a big part about how we visually assess a dog’s conditioning because it’s one of the most obvious. People often don’t look at muscle mass or missing fat deposits or put their hands o nthe dog to see/feel the true conditioning.

  23. Years ago my dog escaped out of a hotel room and was picked up by animal control. He was micro chipped but they didn’t check it. I had a hard time getting him back, because he was “too skinny”. They also said he was hungry, because he ate a can of cat food when they captured him. He was my top agility dog with a CDX in obedience, a CGC and a therapy dog certificate, but even with all my paper work and an obvious over-joyed dog at our sight, they where not convinced. He was only lost for about an hour, but was already put in the killpen with a dangerous dog sign on the cage. So even “professionals” don’t know what a fit dog looks like.

    • I’m really glad you finally got your dog back! There seem to be a lot of people who SHOULD know proper body condition who simply don’t or who have become so used to overweight dogs that they don’t think about it. I’ve even had problems with veterinarians and vet-techs mis-identifying dogs as being of appropriate weight when they were well above ‘normal’ in my opinion.

  24. Ok people. After reading this article and your post I realize my dogs are too fat!! I have three rescued dogs. A senior mixed breed probably Dashhound/Beagle 12 years old 24 lbs, an Australian Shepard 3, 64 lbs, and a Lab 2, 95 lbs. I have been feeding Blue Buffallo. Is that a good choice? I have recently started giving them the healthy weight formula. And I have to admit they are all spoiled. I give them way to many treats. I need to get stronger. They really know how to get to me with those eyes and sitting pretty!! Any suggestions??

    • I would not feed a ‘weight management’ food–these are normally filled with stuff that cannot be digested by the dog (filler) to make it lower calorie. Just measure out their food w/ an actual measuring cup and feed less of it. Use their kibble AS training treats. If they act like they are STARVING, you can add green beans to their kibble as a low-calorie filler that is at least a good quality. Blue is not a food that I personally feed but I always say feed the best quality food you can afford. Often, many of teh higher quality foods are more nutrition dense so you dont’ need to feed quite as much to get the same amount of nutrients (which also means less poop!!! woohoo!). Personally, if I feed a kibble, I make sure it’s grain free and some of the brands I’ve fed (various price points) are Earthborn Holistics, Fromm, Orijen, Pure Vita, Nature’s Variety Instinct. Feed the best you can afford, but dont’ worry about weight management, just feed less.

  25. The hand test is great. It makes it very easy for anyone to tell if their dog needs to lose some weight. Because my dogs have long hair and double coats(which can cover up weight gain to a certain point)I typically weigh my dogs every month or so. They love going for rides so I’ll put them in the car and take a quick trip to the vet’s office to get a weight. It really keeps them on track….and keeps the vet’s office from being a scary place where they only get poked and prodded. 🙂

    • Regular weigh-in trips are so great. Sometimes owners dont’ see the gradual weight gain but comparing regular weigh-ins can be helpful (and you are right, added bonus for making the vet more fun!). Gotta go by feel most the time since fur can be deceptive!

  26. My mom thinks her dogs are normal weight. They’re all quite obese and much wider than the dogs at my local animal shelter. Her dogs never get walked and eat fast food, bread, cereal, ice cream, candy, and everything she and her husband eat every day. She thinks ribs equals skinny. Her oldest lab is 95lbs at 8 years and female. The dogs sneeze a lot. I think that’s from second hand smoke. She doesn’t want them walked, because she says they’ll run away.

    • Maybe you or a neighbor could help take the dogs out for a leashed walk to help or maybe play with them inside to get them some exercise.

  27. I loved this article! As an owner of a saluki, greyhound, and whippet it’s fairly easy since they maintain their lean shapes without much effort. I see so many overweight/obese dogs though, it’s a shame! A lady I know has a VERY overweight lab mix, and I really wish i could tell her something. This dog is shaped like a beach ball….I don’t know how it gets around! Rolls, maybe? Sad…

    • It isn’t always easy. I have a whippet/acd (the “skinny” dog photo) who could eat and eat and stay pretty lean but I also have a BC/?? who, as she has gotten older, has the ability to get chubby if she over-eats (and by that I mean counter surfs!). It’s harder to keep her lean because she just doesn’t have the same metabolism as the acd/whippet. BUT, it’s possible!

  28. Thank you for posting this article-I feed my dogs a whole food raw diet and am constantly being told -your dogs are too thin and your puppies are not eating enough- My dogs are very active and my puppies are larger breeds that shouldn’t put on weight steadily but never quickly-they are weigh regularly and feed between 5-8% of there body weight depending on the day I have an older puppy leave my house the vet said it was too thin and put it on a weight gain diet from the vets office that puppy wound up with a bone growth deformity from gaining too much weigh to quickly naturally then the family comes back after me -even my house keeper made a comment the other day about -she is so thin poor thing-grrr-Even when you explain this they don’t get it – People are over weigh so I guess their dogs should be too

    • I am no puppy growth expert but I do think there is a fine line between slow growth for large-breed dogs and dogs that don’t get the nutrition to grow properly. Both have potential problems if you miss that balance.

  29. Just adding my two cents….I’m a veterinarian and love your article…but at least for my boss and myself I would say at least 60-70% of the time we tell owners that there pet is overweight, they argue with us, maybe 20-25% don’t argue but won’t take it serious and the rest will do something about it. I have spent countless hours making up calorie intake handouts, discussing treats and substitutes etc with very little to show for it. Most owners just don’t want to listen.

    • Thank you for going the extra mile about making handouts–i wish more vets would go that route! I’ve had experiences where I hear vets say things like “he’s clearly eating well” or “take it easy on the treats” instead of having a more serious discussion about a dog who is obese. It is so hard to have the conversation with dog owners because it can easily cause a owner to be defensive or offended, but it needs to happen because I think many just don’t know. Finding the right language to open that conversation is key! Thanks to you and your boss for trying to educate pet parents!

  30. Great blog — you express so many thoughts I am thinking all the time. I have often brought one of my dogs out for clients to actually feel so they can understand what I am talking about.

    I hate to be the voice of doom, but has Savannah’s mom had Savannah’s knees checked? Savvy is standing in nearly exactly the same position in both of the “after” pictures, with her left rear leg too far underneath, and visibly offloading weight, especially in the middle picture. Being as I have been swamped with dogs with knee injuries I’m oversensitized to these kinds of stances… Of course losing weight is a great way to help protect joints, but if there’s some damage, more medical attention might be needed.

    • Greta, I have no idea if she’s had knees checked. The post was actually from 2010 and I haven’t kept up with Savvy’s progress in the last 2 years. Hopefully her position int he photos were just a fluke and that she’s actually okay (though I dont’ know)!

  31. I just wonder why you didn’t show your dogs picture and used pictures of other dogs as examples..A few more pounds would hurt if your getting comments on how skinny your dog is in.

    • Hi Liz, I’m not sure what you mean. The two dogs pictured ARE my dogs. The “under weight” photo was when my dog as a gangly teenager in an awkward stage (he was eating TONS of food and still a bit skinny, he finally filled out a bit in the last year). The red BC mix is the dog someone threatened to call the humane society on me about and as you can see she isn’t overly skinny.

  32. Great article!! We have just recently adopted a Pointer Mix and he is much like Shayna in his build. in bright sunlight ribs are more visible, lean tuck and hip points. Since moving in, he is working more daily with play out back and tremendous muscle tone is visible…

  33. I am so thankful that my vet was NOT hesitant to tell me when my dog was overweight. He is now a fit and healthy 10 pound Min Pin, at his ideal weight for breed and size!

  34. LOVE LOVE LOVE this article!!! I have a 2 year old, 70 lb. weimaraner who everyone is ALWAYS telling me is “too skinny!” and it drives me crazy!! People are just so used to seeing weims that are overweight that they don’t know a fit weim when they see one. I’ve actually had one guy at the dog park try to tell me that Murray (my dog) is supposed to look like his dog (a very “rotund” lab) and he was almost offended when I told him that actually, Murray is how weims are supposed to look. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but I just don’t understand why people let their dogs get so overweight! First of all, it detracts from the beauty of the breed (especially weims, but that’s just my opinion…I’m a bit biased :)), and second it’s SO unhealthy! If you ask me, a dog that is significantly overweight/obese is just as much a victim of neglect/abuse as a dog that is underweight/emaciated. Both pose serious health risks and are the result of ignorant owners. And it drives me crazy when people say things like “I just can’t say no to that face” when it comes to treats and people food! My dog would eat all day long if I let him, but I don’t for a darn good reason…I know better!! Anyways, I didn’t mean for this to get so long winded…just wanted to say thank you for the wonderful article and hand analogy! What a great tool to help educate people! 🙂

    • I really do think a lot of people end up with overweight dogs because they really don’t know that their dog doesn’t have to look like a sausage. I hear it time and time again when I’m talking about a dog’s weight that the dog owners say, “really!? My vet never says anything and they get around just fine” Some seem to know their dog is a bit ‘poofy’ but they dont’ realize that their dog is actually dangerously obese. I don’t think many (though i’m sure there are some) who INTEND on creating an obese dog… I just dont think people really know what a fit dog looks like and it’s easy when you see a dog everyday to not notice slow weight gain. I also think that the normal “should be able to easily feel their ribs” isn’t terribly helpful, some of them say “but i can feel their ribs”–no, you can feel that they have a rib cage but you can’t easily feel their individual ribs. Though I DO absolutely agree that dogs are often just over fed and under exercised–Shayne and Rio would eat until they exploded so I have to be careful and make sure to measure their intake.

  35. Thank you so much for this. I’m reminded of the obese basset hounds everyone thinks are “healthy” or you bring a healthy basset to the dog park and are berated for starving them. *eye roll*

  36. Sorry for the double comment, but I just called my mini aussie in (that I do my very best to keep at a healthy weight) in and tried to find a rib… I actually had to make him fairly uncomfortable to find his ribs. I keep him on a strict calorie regimen, but he looooooves food. He rarely gets treats (and when he does, I’d say 9/10 they are kibble) and isn’t fed table scraps (unless we accidentally drop a chip or some cereal). I just switched his food to a lower calorie alternative to our previous food (a nutro ultra, it’s not diet food and is very animal protein rich) so I could feed him a little bit more so maybe he’d stop acting like he was starving all the time. I would hate to cut him back to just a cup a day. Is there anything else I can do? He is very sedentary, and has been obese before (he lived with my parents for 2 years before I brought him to college with me) now 6 years later, he’s been underweight (his fur makes it hard to visually assess him, he has sheltie type fur) until I shaved his and realized he needed to gain a pound or two, and I thought we were doing well until I checked for ribs.
    Sorry for the novel, but I guess my question is: Is there anything I can do that doesn’t involve cutting his food back? I can’t take him running because of a leg injury (mine) but I can walk him more. We play fetch in the house and the back yard. I will cut his food back if that’s best, but he just inhales his food and freaks out when it’s food time and it’s hard to “tell” him he only gets a cup a day.

  37. What a fantastic article!!! Dog (and cat) obesity is epidemic! I the ‘hand’ example; that’s not one I’ve heard before.

    I am in veterinary medicine (I’m a vet student). I typically use the client’s own dog as an example, and talk through the points of the body that you mentioned. But being able to give them an actual feeling by using their hand could be valuable.

    I don’t think as many vets are unwilling to talk to pet owners as you mentioned a few times. I’ve spent a great deal of time with a large number of vets, and by far and away the majority of them are quick to bring up weight management. Many of them (myself included when I’m seeing patients) spend a LOT of time talking about weight management. A bigger problem isn’t vets being afraid to mention it; it’s that we haven’t discovered the magic formula for gaining client compliance with managing their animal’s weight. I’m sure there are some vets who are unwilling; maybe because they’re tired of talking about it and not making progress, maybe because of fear of offending the owner, but in my personal experience – which includes spending time with many more vets than the average person – that’s the exception.

    We would *LOVE* for our clients to partner with us in keeping their pets at a healthy weight! We’re happy to talk through how to evaluate weight and identify an appropriate weight, and we’re happy to talk through management techniques, dietary changes, appropriate exercise – whatever makes sense for an individual animal’s situation.

    For those clients who DO take it seriously and make progress, it is a tremendous source of pleasure for us to see that progress. I have one animal I’ve seen for two years now who started out approximately 30% overweight (an Aussie at 69 lbs that I estimated should weight 55 lbs). It’s been very slow progress, but the owner has that Aussie down to 59 lbs. That absolutely makes my day when I see that animal.

    We have a lot of tools at our disposal: there are new models for gauging the ideal weight for animal (so we don’t have to ‘guess’). There are a variety of GREAT diets available. More and more municipalities are providing off-leash dog parks. Trainers are clued in on using small, low-calorie treats …. the tools are all there for good weight management!

    Anyway, fantastic article. Well done.

  38. I always find it distressing when dogs in my classes are overweight. I have refused to teach agility to certain dogs until they were in better conditioning – not fair to the dog and possibly injuries. I also won’t allow dogs to play or train flyball that are overweight.
    When people say it is ‘hard’ to get their dog to eat less I just don’t get it..that is you as a human thinking that they are ‘starving’. Many breeds (Labs being the obvious ones) will eat and eat and eat again – not hungry obviously just food obsessed. It is our job as their owners to keep them in good health and a big part of that is keeping them in proper weight. It is simple – measure food, feed them less until they are at a good weight and then adjust feed levels to maintain weight. This will likely change over time as their metabolism changes (like being spayed or neutered or general age). Easy done – and the dog might ‘give you eyes’ like it wants more food – so what – you know you are doing the right thing by the dog by withholding the food – go and play ball or take them for a walk when they give you those ‘eyes’. No EXCUSES

  39. Very timely article as I adopted my first dog last January. She was 1 year old at that point and still growing, I can feel her ribs but loved the hand trick, think she could lose a pound or so. Most helpful was the picture of where dogs collect fat, I was feeling some rolls over her neck/shoulders, that’s better she also gains on her chest. My cats were always on slim side, I think dog treats we’re adding on lbs. we feed her 2 of Stella & Chewy’s frozen raw patties in the am (alternated with Instinct frozen raw patties) and 1/3 cup of Instinct dry no grain at dinner, or one freeze dried patty. She also gets some fruit or raw veggies as treats, loves apple! She was 20 lbs last weigh in.

  40. Wanted to add to get follow ups. Her 20 lbs has been consistent several weigh ins at vets, she’s a terrier cross, Jack with maybe Miniature Schnauzer, very leggy. Was listed as Maltese mix but I don’t think so from build and shape of face muzzle. Prominent sternum but also where she gains.

  41. Hi Tena,
    I wanted to thank you for this article. I am out in public with my dog quite often as she is my Service Animal. Occasionally someone will make comments such as “that dog needs to put on some weight”, “Your dog’s too thin”, “Why are you starving that dog” etc. All of which are grossly overstated and quite frankly – just crazy. My dog is a full blooded, paper carrying German Shepherd from the German and Czech lines. She is still a puppy at just a little over a year old – but her weight has never been an issue. She is very athletic and has a lean build. She does get very regular vet visits as my life depends on her and her ability to do her job. People occasionally comment or say things like “Poor Dog”, “I bet that dog just hates having to work all the time”, “Oh Doggie, I would help you if I could”, “I’m sorry you have to wear that THING on you” (People are actually saying these things to my dog as if I were not there). What they fail to realize is that I (AS MOST all people who are disabled and use service animals) LOVE my dog and care for her probably better than many care for their own children. My Previous Service Dog of 14 1/2 years was a GSD / Belgian Malinois mix and her body style was a little different, she carried more weight in her chest area – plus the difference in their coats made her look considerably larger. I’m not sure if people are trying to compare my previous SD with my Successor SD or if they really just think that Sakari (my successor Service Dog) is underweight. I’ll be happy to show a series of pictures of her from six weeks old to now. I would venture to bet that my dog eats better than a lot of humans do. At any rate, I wanted to thank you for the article – I will be happy to pass it along so that hopefully we can educate more people on what is Healthy and Fit for a dog to look like. Sakari does have her own facebook page at so that people who helped me obtain her from the Service Dog For Charlene campaign could follow along with her training progress as a Service Dog.

  42. Hm… when I took my dog in:

    He had really thin (not skinny) times then… but now he is very buff and this is all muscles.
    So he looks bigger now but is in a better shape then before:

  43. I was showing my Rat Terrier in UKC Novice Obedience–the judge gave me a passing score and added that the dog could lose a few pounds. I was startled at her directness, but have taken it to heart.

    The Ratties are basically wearing Speedos and there’s no way to hide any fat on them. They’re getting a high-quality kibble now that I WEIGH, not just measure, for each meal.

  44. Very nice post!!!My female dog is on a constant diet since granpa tends to give her treats when I’m not around She is about 22kg now (had been over 24kg once) and she could loose 1-2 kg more.She is 9 and neutered and has a hip issue but cannot have surgery.Extra weight can worsen this condition so that’s an other reason to keep her fit. 🙂
    My boy is very energetic and sometimes looks skinny especially during summer.He’s well fed and won’t put on weight even if he gets overfed…lucky!!

  45. I love this article. I was beginning to wonder if labs even have tucks, so it was nice to see Savvy’s. We have a heelerX and she definitely has a tuck. I am getting an 8 year old dachshund so it will be interesting to see how successful I am with weight control and a small dog. I once met one whose belly touched the ground. I’m sure activity level is a huge issue as well.

  46. I’m so glad for this post! I have a good weight pug. That means, like with all ‘good weight’ dogs, I can feel her ribs, she has a tuck up and a waist, and since her hair is short, you can see muscle definition. But the comments I get from pug owners! I am accused at every pug gathering I go to of underfeeding my girl, who is inevitably running around and playing while their pugs wheeze in the deep shade.

    It’s just not fair to let your dog be fat.

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