Golden Retriever adult in black and white with Body Conditioning Score illustration

Healthy weight isn't only measured on a scale

Weighing your dog is not the only way to check if they're overweight. You can find out if your dog is a healthy weight and shape, by asking your vet about Body Condition Scoring.
Golden Retriever being examined in a vet practice

What is body condition scoring?

Body Condition Scoring is used by vets to help you check whether your dog is overweight, underweight or at ideal weight and shape. It focuses on the look and feel of your dog because checking their weight alone doesn’t give an indication of a healthy shape.

The body condition score uses a 9-point system ranging from severely underweight at 1 to obese at 9. The indicators used for scoring are your dog’s ribs, waist and abdomen, and a score of 4 or 5 means they are at ideal weight and shape. This means a well-proportioned dog will have ribs that can be easily felt, a waist that can be seen from above and an abdomen that tucks up behind their rib cage when seen from the side.

Your vet can show you how to use the dog body condition score chart. It’s also important to visit them regularly so they can help you continually monitor your dogs shape.

Brown and white spaniel lying on a grey sofa

How do I tell if my dog is overweight?

It’s important to check your puppy’s weight and shape from the start and to monitor them regularly to be sure they develop into healthy adults. If you don’t have a scale of adapted size (baby scale for instance), simply weigh your puppy by holding them as you step on your family-scale and subtracting your own weight. Besides the weight, it’s also easy to pay attention to a few details when you pet them. First, you should be able to easily feel their ribs when massaging with your fingertips. Next, ask yourself a few questions: Can I see a clearly defined waistline when I look at my puppy from above? Does their abdomen tuck up behind their rib cage when viewed from the side? If not, your puppy may be overweight. 

Speak to your vet on your next visit to learn about the body condition score and the best ways to assess your puppy’s shape. The more comfortable you are checking your puppy’s shape from the start, the more likely you will detect changes that require professional attention.

Two curly-coated dogs out for a walk with owner in a forest

How to help your overweight dog lose weight

The great news is that overweight and obese dogs can return to their ideal weight and shape by losing weight. Helping your dog return to their ideal weight will help to improve their quality of life, and dogs at ideal weight have also been shown to live longer than those who are overweight or obese.

Being overweight is caused by eating more calories than are being used. So the important areas to address are your dog’s food and exercise. Ask your vet about diets formulated to support weight loss in overweight dogs. Simply reducing your dogs daily food ration, reduces the likelihood of them getting all the nutrients they need, and may also encourage begging behaviours. Make sure you stick to the portion size on the pack and avoid giving treats in addition to this – or save some of their dry daily food allowance to use as treats.

Regular physical activity is essential for their overall wellbeing, as well as helping them lose weight and maintain a healthy shape. Ask your vet about the right level and type of exercise for your dog, and only increase it gradually in-line with your vet’s guidance.

Golden Retriever sitting on weighing scales in a vet practice

Speak to your vet

If you have any concerns or questions about your dog’s weight or shape, it’s always best to speak to your vet. They’ll be happy to help and can identify how overweight your dog is, if at all, and what actions you should take to help them lose weight or to advise you on how to prevent weight gain.

Likewise, it’s important to speak to your vet before making any changes to your dog’s diet, exercise patterns or lifestyle.

As no two dogs are the same, your vet can give you advice tailored to your dog as an individual. This will be based not just on their breed, age and sex, but on factors such as any existing health conditions and whether or not they’ve been spayed or neutered.

Advice about extras

Treats can be used to strengthen the bond you share with your pet, but be careful! Some treats can be very calorie-dense which can lead to weight gain. 

Remember that treats should account for no more than 10% of your pet's daily energy needs.