How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
There are plenty of ways to assess whether a cat or dog is overweight, but most vets start with a basic test – the Body Condition Score. Using a simple combination of visual assessment and some basic physical examinations it is easy to get a quick idea about whether your pet is under-weight, carrying more weight than they should be, or is sitting in the healthy range.
STEP 1 – Look at your pet from the side
At their ideal weight, a cat or a dog should have a distinct, gradual ‘tuck’ as the line of their rib cage flows up into their abdomen. If they are underweight, that ‘tuck’ will be more pronounced and might even be extreme. If they are carrying excessive weight, the ‘tuck’ may be non-existent or possibly the abdomen may bulge out below the line of the ribs.
STEP 2 – Look at your pet from above
When you look at a cat or dog from above that is a healthy weight, you should be able to see a waist that is clearly defined behind their ribs. The shape of the rib cage should be obvious, but the ribs themselves should not be visible. If they are underweight, the waist will appear very narrow compared to the size of the rib cage and it will be easy to see individual ribs. If they are extremely underweight, the ribs, spine and pelvic bones will become obvious.
For cats or dogs carrying too much weight, the waist is barely visible or is bulging out beyond the line of the ribs, and the shape of the rib cage may not even be visible.
A visual assessment can be enough for some cats and dogs, but if your pet has a thick coat or they have had a few litters, you may need to get a bit more information with a physical examination.
STEP 3 – Feel around your pet’s rib cage
Using a very light touch, feel around the back end of your pet’s rib cage. At their ideal weight, you should be able to easily feel the outline of their last few ribs even though you can’t see them. If your pet is underweight the ribs will feel very obvious. If they are carrying more weight than is good for them, it will be hard to feel individual ribs. If you are unable to feel any ribs through a thick layer of fat then your pet is dangerously overweight.
STEP 4 – Feel along your pet’s spine from base of head to tail
Once again using only the lightest touch, run your fingers along the spine of your pet. At a healthy weight, you will be able to feel individual vertebrae under the skin but they won’t be too obvious. If your pet is underweight, those vertebrae will feel sharp and bony. If your pet is overweight, you will feel fat covering the bones and if they are extremely obese, you may not even be able to feel any individual vertebrae.
If you would like to know more about the Body Condition Score test, check out our Cat Body Condition Score video and our Dog Body Condition Score Video. You can also find our Pet Body Condition Score Triage Tool on our website. This tool helps you to evaluate the body condition of your pet.
What if my pet is underweight?
If your pet has a low Body Condition Score when you test them, the first thing to rule out is whether they are being fed enough. A healthy pet won’t starve themselves. If you are providing enough food but they aren’t eating it, or they eat it but still don’t have a healthy body weight, then there could be an underlying medical problem. If your pet continues to lose weight or simply can’t put weight back on, consult with your local vet to find out if there is an underlying problem that needs to be treated.
What if my pet is overweight?
A 2008 survey of Australian vet practices found that around 32% of cats are overweight. A similar study in 2005 found that over 40% of dogs are overweight. If your cat or dog is carrying excessive weight, it can be putting stress on their bodies, reducing their quality of life and making them less active. Telltale signs beyond Body Condition include excessive begging, mobility issues, inability to groom themselves effectively, excessive amounts of sleeping and problems with shortness of breath.
When treating obesity in a pet there is more involved than just reducing the amount of calories they consume. If you think your pet is overweight, consult your local vet or vet nurse about putting them on an integrated weight management program that combines a mixture of diet, lifestyle and activity changes. ROYAL CANIN® has a range of cat and dog weight management diets that reduce the number of calories in a pet’s diet without cutting down on the essential nutrients they require to keep adequate muscle mass and maintain a healthy body.
 McGreevy, P.D. et al, Overweight or obese cats presented to Australian veterinary practices: Risk factors and prevalence, Australian Veterinary Practitioner 38(3):98-107, September 2008
 McGreevy, P.D. et al, Prevalence of obesity in dogs examined by Australian veterinary practices and the risk factors involved, Veterinary Record 2005; 156:695-702 doi:10.1136/vr.156.22.695