Is My Dog or Cat a Healthy Weight?

Updated on June 24, 2019
J Landis DVM profile image

Small animal veterinarian with an interest in shelter, international, and field medicine and surgery.

Guidelines to Assess Your Pet's Weight

In the United States, carrying excess fat is as much a pet problem as it is a people problem, so the perception of what a healthy weight is may be skewed. Many folks do not know how to determine if their pet is at an ideal weight or even know how much their pet should weigh.

These guidelines can generally be used for every size and shape of dog as well as cats. Use them in conjunction with each other.

Step One: Reach for the Ribs

It is important to put your hands on the pet because what appears to be an overweight pet may not be. Use light pressure with your fingertips to feel along each side of the ribcage from front to back. Use similar pressure as you would to create an impression of your fingertip on a very soft avocado. You should be able to feel each rib but not see them. If you cannot feel each rib at all, or without increased pressure, your pet is overweight or obese. This method is used for both dogs and cats.

It is more difficult to determine if the ribs are visible in long-coated pets. In dogs, this can be resolved during a bath when the coat is completely wet. In long-coated cats, if the ribs can be felt, then use the next guidelines to help make a determination about your cat’s weight.

Step One

Feeling for fat along the ribcage. Each of the ribs can be easily felt, but are not visible. He is at his ideal weight.
Feeling for fat along the ribcage. Each of the ribs can be easily felt, but are not visible. He is at his ideal weight. | Source

Step Two: Where's the Waist?

Stand next to your pet and look down at his/her “waist” from above. This is the area behind the rib cage and in front of the hip bones (also called the lumbar area). There should be a narrowing of the lumbar area between the ribs and the hips. If this area is the same width as the ribs and the hips, or curves out to the sides, your pet is overweight or obese. This method is used for both dogs and cats; however, keep in mind that many cats of normal weight may have a very subtle waist, or not have one at all. It may help to press on the fur in a downward motion to help visualize this area in long-haired breeds.

Step Two: Normal Weight Dog

Earl's head is to the left. He has a waist behind his ribcage in his lumbar area and each of his ribs can be easily felt, but not seen.
Earl's head is to the left. He has a waist behind his ribcage in his lumbar area and each of his ribs can be easily felt, but not seen.

Step Two: Overweight Dog

Molly's head is to the left. She has a waist, but it is disappearing, and compared to Earl's, is not well defined. Each of her ribs can be felt, but not without firm pressure.
Molly's head is to the left. She has a waist, but it is disappearing, and compared to Earl's, is not well defined. Each of her ribs can be felt, but not without firm pressure.

Step Two: Underweight Dog

Ethan's head is to the left. His waist is more defined than Earl's making him underweight, however, his ribs are not visible and this weight is healthier and more desirable than to be overweight.
Ethan's head is to the left. His waist is more defined than Earl's making him underweight, however, his ribs are not visible and this weight is healthier and more desirable than to be overweight.

Step Two: Normal Weight Cat

Carlton's head is to the right. His fat pad is minimal and he has no outward curvature of his sides. Each of his ribs can be felt easily, but are not visible.
Carlton's head is to the right. His fat pad is minimal and he has no outward curvature of his sides. Each of his ribs can be felt easily, but are not visible.

Step Two: Overweight Cat

Froggy has no defined waist and an outward curvature of her sides. Each of her ribs can be felt, but not without increased pressure.
Froggy has no defined waist and an outward curvature of her sides. Each of her ribs can be felt, but not without increased pressure.

Step Three: Find a Tuck or Fat Pad

Steps one and two are good indicators of weight in both dogs and cats, but there is one last area to check. Look at the abdomen from the side while your pet is fully standing. There should be an abdominal “tuck,” meaning a distinctive difference in how far the chest is from the ground compared to how far the abdomen is from the ground. This method works better for dogs since cats have a fat pad in the abdominal area, and it should be of minimal size in a cat of normal weight.

Step Three: Normal Weight Dog

Earl's head is to the left. The red line shows the angle of his abdominal tuck which is normal. He has a normal waist, and each of his ribs can be felt easily, but are not visible.
Earl's head is to the left. The red line shows the angle of his abdominal tuck which is normal. He has a normal waist, and each of his ribs can be felt easily, but are not visible.

Step Three: Overweight Dog

Molly's head is to the right. The red line indicates the angle of her abdominal tuck which she has little of. Her waist is minimal, and each of her ribs can be felt, but not without firm pressure.
Molly's head is to the right. The red line indicates the angle of her abdominal tuck which she has little of. Her waist is minimal, and each of her ribs can be felt, but not without firm pressure.

Step Three: Normal Weight Dog

Compare this photo of Molly at her normal weight with the overweight version. Her abdominal tuck is much more pronounced.
Compare this photo of Molly at her normal weight with the overweight version. Her abdominal tuck is much more pronounced. | Source

Step Three: Normal Weight Cat

Carlton's head is to the left. His fat pad is minimal as shown by the white arrow. He has no outward curvature of his sides, and each of his ribs can be felt easily, but are not visible.
Carlton's head is to the left. His fat pad is minimal as shown by the white arrow. He has no outward curvature of his sides, and each of his ribs can be felt easily, but are not visible.

Step Three: Overweight Cat

Froggy is carrying a moderate amount of fat in her fat pad shown by the black arrow. She does not have a defined waist, and has an outward curvature of her sides. Her ribs can be felt, but with increased pressure.
Froggy is carrying a moderate amount of fat in her fat pad shown by the black arrow. She does not have a defined waist, and has an outward curvature of her sides. Her ribs can be felt, but with increased pressure.

For Cats Only

In cats, the spine and hip bones are other useful areas used to determine whether the pet is of normal weight. The spine and hips of a normal weight cat can be felt to a certain extent, but are more prominent if the cat is underweight and less prominent if overweight.

What Is Obesity?

Obese means your pet is 20% or more above his/her ideal weight, so a dog or cat that has an ideal weight of 10 pounds is considered obese if they weigh 12 pounds. An overweight pet is 10-19% higher than their ideal body weight, and the same 10-pound dog is overweight between 10-12 pounds. From a health perspective, obesity and being overweight means your pet is more prone to suffer from a host of medical conditions similar to those which obese humans face. These conditions range from mobility limitations to severe cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. Among other things, pets are prone to weight-related diabetes, surgical and anesthetic complications, renal disease, and increasing mobility challenges with age-related arthritis.

Roody can be affectionately called "Muffin Top" due to the "muffin" shape of his rear end putting him in the obese category.
Roody can be affectionately called "Muffin Top" due to the "muffin" shape of his rear end putting him in the obese category. | Source

Know What Weight Your Pet Should Be

If your pet passes the "ideal weight" test using the above methods, obtain a current weight so you will know exactly what your adult pet's ideal weight is. The easiest way to do this is to use a human scale to weigh yourself and then weigh yourself holding the pet. Subtract your weight from the combined weight of you holding your pet. This method is not accurate with small dogs and cats and not practical with very large dogs. Your veterinary clinic will be happy to help you weigh your pet if you need assistance.

The most common reasons for overweight and obese pets are overfeeding and lack of exercise. It is caused less frequently by medical conditions, the most common of which is hypothyroid disease in dogs. Cats, on the other hand, are more prone to weight loss when there are underlying medical problems. If you have followed all exercise and dietary recommendations from your veterinarian, and your pet is not losing, or gaining weight as expected, or if sudden weight change occurs, further investigation is advisable.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 J Landis DVM

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)