Friday, February 22, 2013

My Dogs Waistline

Waiting for dinner.

As a veterinarian I give a whole lot of advice. It's my job after all, educating, treating, advocating, and assisting people to learn about their pets needs. These needs are multifaceted complex and evolving. It is one of the many reasons I love being a veterinarian.

Today's subject is assessing your pets waistline. We often use the description of your pets waistline to describe assessing your pets weight. A defined waist is one of the ways we determine optimal body condition score. When assessing whether a pet is overweight we use the top and side view of the body profile. We want to see a taper at the waist when viewed from above and from the side. Here is a very good chart from Hills to help identify your pets body condition score (BCS).

Even as I stand in the examination room discussing a pets examination findings I sometimes get caught in the ever sticky predicament of having to admit that the advice I am giving isn't always the advice I am adhering too.

As my grandmother used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do." (In the spirit of full disclosure this was always in reference to her chronic consistent chain smoking, something that neither I nor my pets do).

When I received a request from uber-blogger Jana Rade, whose amazing blog can be found at, or on Twitter @DawgBlogger,  I thought "OK, time to put my money where my mouth is." She asked me to complete the mini dawg blog survey to "Show Off My Dogs Waistline" campaign.

So here it goes:

Exhibit A, Savannah, my 16 year old beagle mix. She has lost much of the muscle mass in her rear legs over the last two years, and we struggle to keep her active, mobile, happy, continent, and ambulatory. She has difficulty keeping standing when eating or drinking, and can no longer get up stairs, or sometimes even onto her 5 inch high bed. She has moved from her 5 inch high bed basket to the bed on the floor. Even the bed on the floor gets 'missed' sometimes. I usually find her close to the bed, but either partially in, or almost on it.

As a true beagle she spent most of her life pushing the bulging waistline. She has always been, and remains, very highly food motivated. Keeping her at a healthy weight was a challenge until she approached 13 years old. Thankfully she still loves to eat a snack and we keep her on a very high quality dog food. She eats twice a day, gets a few good quality snacks in between, and is kept warm, visible, and safe if outside. Managing a geriatric pet is a challenge. Keeping her happy and healthy is a combination of good advice, persistence, and being flexible with your plan. I advise my clients with geriatric pets to keep a little bit of meat on the bones so  that if they get challenged by a disease or illness they have a bit of fat on reserves. Also, we want to maintain lean body mass, not fat, but muscle on these guys. Keeping them active and ambulatory is the only way to maintain muscle mass. It is the aging challenge for all of us. There are many little tricks to try, monitor eating every meal and every day, and any amount of unplanned weight loss in an older dog is reason to go see your vet immediately.

Side View of Savannah. 

Top view, note her back legs are splayed in front of her, and she is barely on her bed.

Exhibit B, Charleston. My three year old pit bull mix. He is built like a pit bull, thick, long, and muscular. He is inside with me most of the winter. Snuggled on his bed, hibernating with his brother until the spring erupts, when they both hit the fields in search of trouble. He, like me, is a bit softer and rounder in the winter then we, (oops, I mean he) is in the height of swim suit season. (I promise we both will be leaner, lighter, tighter, and trimmer in June. I'll post an updated picture of his waistline and use it as the reference for us both then).

Side view of Charlie.
Top view of Charlie.

Exhibit C, Jekyll, the three year old beagle. He is a powerhouse. He has to be. He is Charleston's best friend, wrestling buddy, and refuses to let his long legged pittie brother get the best of him. Where Charleston is fast and has an elegant antelope stride, Jekyll is the torpedo-like bullet. I call him the sand bag. If he wasn't so strong, round, and solid Charleston would have broken him years ago. He has the stop, drop, and roll while Charleston plows over him like a master stunt-dog on their daily rumble-run-and-play sessions. All of my veterinary and non-veterinary friends think that my little Jekyll is fat. And here I go sounding just like my guilty clients I persistently reply, "He is not! He is solid, strong, muscular, athletic, and he has short little legs." (Sigh of slight admonition....)

Jekyll side view.

Jekyll from the top.

In my defense, my puppies (Charlie and Jekyll) run four miles with me 3-4 times a week in the winter and 5-6 times in the summer. They are very active pups and on a high quality commercially available diet. I monitor their waistline, muscle mass, coat, teeth, nails, ears, joints, mobility, gait, mentation, eating, urinating, and defecation habits daily. I know that a slim waistline is very important. It is a critical part of overall health. My two beagles have some weight challenges, they are after all beagles, and beagles LIVE for food, but I have also provided them lots of exercise, a very good diet, minimal treats, and measured amounts of food. I would say that the pups are BCS 3/5, Jek pushes 4/5 but he is all muscle, and Savannah is 2-3/5, she is what we vets call sarcopenic which is a loss of lean body mass that occurs with aging.

If you are concerned that your pet has a large waistline, or if you ever have any questions about any aspect of your pets health sit down with your vet to discuss them. There are often important medical reasons that can cause or contribute to your pets appearance, and there are many ways to help identify what is contributing to their BCS. We have advice to help get and keep your pet in tip-top shape and keep them there.

"Oh mom, wake us up when it's summer!"
"See mom, I look good! I'm the most handsome pup ever,
and so adorable, and charming, and  irresistible!"

"Yes, Jekyll, you are all of those things, and more."


  1. Great post- love the honesty.

    We at have worked with our vets and done the research (Waltham Centre, etc) and have created an App that provides dog owners with some guidelines on how much they should feed their dog, given how active the dog is.

    SlimDoggy, a "Nike + or RunKeeper for dogs", is based on our experience with Jack- a Yellow Lab that we rescued in August 2011. He was 105 lbs. and on both Prozac (for anxiety & hyperactivity) and Rimadyl. Jack was ‘unadoptable’- he was in the shelter for over a year before we took a chance on him. We knew we had to change his lifestyle and his weight to get him into a good, healthy state. Once we knew how much to feed him each day, it was a matter of less than 3 months before Jack was down to 85 lbs, off of both medications, and is now a happy and healthy dog.

    Little did we know that there are a lot of dogs like Jack: there are 41 million overweight/obese dogs in the US[1] and the incremental cost in vet/medicine bills for this is an estimated $6-8 billion annually. Upon learning these startling statistics, we decided to share our work and create an iPhone App (Android version coming soon) and attack the dog obesity problem head on.

    Like the Apps used by humans, SlimDoggy is meant to work in conjunction with your vet-- make sure to get a checkup and discuss any proposed lifestyle/exercise/feeding changes.

    Furthermore, by tracking feeding/activity and weight history, it will be easier to diagnose when something other than over/under feeding is causing undue weight changes.

    For all of the above reasons, our local vets are supporting us and recommending our App to their clients.

    Read more about it at http:/

  2. Thank you so much for joining my campaign!

  3. Great blog! I just spent WAAAY too long reading through past topics... but it was so informative and interesting. I will be checking this blog daily from now on!

    On the subject of ideal weight for your dog-- if your dog has been on a weight-managing food and has reached an ideal weight, do you stay on that food or switch to a regular age-appropriate food?

    1. See the write up below..Thanks for the question!

  4. This is a great question!

    There is not a simple answer. In almost all cases the answer needs to incorporate a maintenance diet, a good continual monitoring plan, and still be addressing how the pet got to be overweight in the first place.

    Because most pets have a multitude of factors that participated in the weight gain we need a multi-faceted approach to help maintain the weight loss and avoid the weight being regained. Whatever contributed to their demise is likely to still present and creep back into the picture.

    If you were given a specific food (like a veterinary prescription food) and used it to lose the weight then the pet food manufacturers have a computer program to help you find your maintenance plan. Hill's and Purina both have these programs, they really help. They will advise you about which food to feed and how much. By plugging in the desired maintenance weight and a few other items they tell you exactly how much they recommend you feed of one of their maintenance diets.

    Remember that most prescription diets are classified as 'weight reducing' or 'maintenance' diets. They use all sorts of ingredients to help keep your pet feeling full but not absorbing the calories. If one diet doesn't work for you try another.

    For some clients an over the counter food is their only option for long term feeding. So, we have to find a measured quantity to feed, based on weight to maintain (see the food bag for this amount, and use a real-official measuring cup), and remember its important to maintain a steady activity level. Simple weight maintenance formula calories in has to equal calories burned.

    Re-weigh your pet every month. The scale never lies! If you find your pet is gaining weight reduce your feeding amount by 20% daily and re-check the weight in 2 weeks. Also scrutinize the hidden calories your pet might be getting, like snacks. Are they getting too many? If you are on a good measured diet then snacks are often the biggest hidden culprit to a pets weight gain demise. Is your pet getting enough exercise? There is no diet plan in the world that works without increasing your pets metabolism. So get moving! Burn those calories! And then maintain that high metabolic rate after you reach your target weight.

    If you are having difficulty maintaining see your vet. They will help you find any hidden road blocks, pitfalls, and try to identify any medical reason for the mystery.

    So, its not any easy answer. Every pet is unique and every client has different abilities.

    If your pet is not at great risk for regaining the weight try a good OTC food, be strict with amounts, and weigh your pet on a scheduled basis.

    If you struggled to get the weight off, or have any other underlying health concerns try to stick with a prescription diet for maintenance. But remember this is likely to be the diet your pet will be on long term.

    I hope this helps.


  5. Hi Y'all!

    If those 2 are running that much with you, either you are going at a fast my Human, who could never keep up with ME...or they have to be SOLID MUSCLE!

    My vets thinks I'm just fine, even though the tummy muscles are not as good at keeping that arch in my waist...I'll be 7 next month.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog