Charts that tell you how to check to see if your dog is the right weight or too fat (or thin) always say that you should be able to feel, or palpate, your pet’s ribs. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association, for instance, says that on a scale of 1 to 9, an “ideal” number of 4 to 5 means the ribs are palpable with “minimal” or “slight” fat covering.
But what’s “minimal” or “slight?” In some dogs, you can feel the ribs super easily and in others, you can feel them only if you push hard. What amount of pressure equates with healthful body weight or, in veterinary speak, ideal body condition?
Tufts veterinary nutritionist Lisa Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, says to look to your hand for guidance.
1. Make a fist. Then touch your knuckles. If your dog’s ribs feel like that, he’s much too skinny, akin to a 1 on the body condition scale.
2. Flatten out your hand, palm up.Press on the junction of any finger and your palm. If your dog feels squishy like that when you go to palpate his ribs, he’s much too fat — along the lines of a 9 on the body condition scoring system.
3. Now press on the juncture between any finger and the rest of your hand. Just right. That’s how your dog’s ribs should feel — the touch approximates the “minimal” to “slight” fat covering that veterinary nutritionists want your dog to have — a 4 to 5 on the body condition scale.
Your dog should also have a noticeable waist from above and a slight abdominal tuck. More or less than that, and a discussion with your veterinarian about your dog’s nutrition needs is in order.