Maintaining a hardworking dog in healthy body condition is critical to his health and performance in the field. Body condition tells whether a dog is too thin, just right or overweight, without actually putting the dog on a scale to measure body weight. Dogs maintained in ideal body condition look and feel healthy. Importantly, this is reflected in their field performances as well as their energy levels at home.
Knowing how to assess ideal body condition is important for two reasons: first, ideal body condition is associated with a healthy proportion of lean tissue, or muscle, and body fat, and second, most owners don’t have a scale ideally suited for dogs.
You should regularly monitor your dog to ensure he is getting the right amount of food to maintain an appropriate weight that contributes to overall health. Very simply, this involves using your eyes and hands to observe subtle changes, as opposed to trying to get your dog on a scale on a weekly basis to monitor body weight. Regularly observing a dog’s body condition will help you assess whether changes need made to his calorie needs, as you progress through the season and all year long.
Three key things to observe in ideal body condition are:
- The “hourglass” shape of the body when viewed from above, with a narrowing at the abdomen. This shape is much less noticeable in dogs not in ideal body condition
- A tuck in the belly when viewed from the side
- Being able to slightly feel the ribs, possibly without being able to see the ribs. Though this is dependent on the coat of the dog, you should be able to run your hands down the dog’s sides to feel the ribs
The Purina Body Condition System is a nine-point scoring system, developed by a Purina veterinary nutritionist, that will help you determine whether your dog is too thin, ideal or too heavy. It is important to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s overall health and body condition.