Pet Talk: Is your dog too skinny?
Special to the Daily
“Do I look fat in this collar?” my 8-year-old standard poodle Eleanor asked me this week. “No, of course not honey” I told her. “You always look perfect to me and I love you regardless.”
All kidding aside, I get asked this question a lot. Usually in the form of “my neighbor told me my dog is too skinny.” With over 50% of American dogs classified as overweight or obese, my answer is almost always an emphatic “no” followed by me citing studies showing that skinny dogs live longer. A lot longer in fact.
Purina did a landmark study in 2002 using that icon of American chunky dog, the labrador retriever. They divided 48 sets of twins up, told half the group to let them be typical beefy labs and told the other half to limit food and calories so that they were skinny. “So skinny that your neighbors tell you to feed your dog, skinny” I heard the author of the study say in a lecture.
The results were shocking, and as a veterinarian to me they were a game changer. The skinny group outlived the normal group by almost 20% (11.3 years versus 13 years). Also, of great interest was that those in the skinny group died a more natural death and almost 90% of those in the normal group were euthanized due to medical problems. Care to guess which medical problems? Mostly arthritis.
Since this original study numerous groups have repeated it and achieved almost identical results. What they have also found its that being skinny delays the onset of many age-related degenerative diseases like cancer, diabetes, organ failure and arthritis.
So how skinny is skinny enough? Historically, veterinarians have used what is called the Body Condition Score or BCS. This rates a dog on a numerical scale based on subjective criteria. Older vets like myself use a 1-5 scale with 3 being ideal and younger veterinarians use a 1-10 scale with 5 being ideal. Potato potahto.
My best advice is to go online and check out the BCS scale to get some visuals, but here is the skinny: You want to be able to feel your dogs ribs with a little fat only between skin and ribs. Your dog should have a waistline, meaning the chest should be wider than the abdomen and there should be nothing hanging beneath. Of course, what is normal for a greyhound is not normal for a bulldog, so breed variation plays a role.
I just want to leave by telling you that there indeed can be medical issues causing your dog to be too skinny and any excess or sudden weight loss should be investigated by your veterinarian. I have had a few cases over the years where I was certain there was underling disease; these dogs were just too skinny. “Every veterinarian has told me Basil is too skinny” said his owner; this being one of my favorite stories. “Go ahead and run whatever test you want.” So I did, and found Basil completely disease-free. He lived skinny to the ripe old age of 17.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-3647 or drsteve @gypsumah.com.