Is There Really Such a Thing as an Ideal Weight for Pets?

Dog on Scale
Kanwarjit Singh Boparai / Alamy

Our furry family members depend on us to help them stay happy and healthy.

And with so much talk of obesity and its effect on both quality and quantity of life, it’s only natural to aim for an ideal weight.

But is there such a thing when it comes to pets?

Why Owners Need to Look Beyond the Number on the Scale

Obesity in cats and dogs has been linked to numerous health problems — like heart, musculoskeletal and skin diseases — but not tipping the scales can have an equally detrimental effect on pets.

Dr. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD Diplomate ACVN, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University and a Vetstreet.com board member, recalls seeing one pet who was so thin that everyone assumed it was a medical problem.

“A thousand dollars later, we realized that no one had done a dietary history, [which is when] we found out that the owner had been feeding the animal half of what it needed for fear of making the pet obese,” he says.

So finding that middle ground is key, but plopping your pet on a bathroom scale isn't the answer.

If you want to ensure optimal wellness for your dog or cat, keep in mind that weight by itself is not an accurate gauge of health — it's only one factor.

According to Dr. Buffington, dogs and cats do best at moderate weights, but he stresses that an ideal weight can also depend on such additional factors as age, adding that “different animals in different situations are in better health at some weights than others.”

How Your Vet Gauges a Good Weight for Your Pet

At any age, muscle condition, as well as fat, must be taken into account when determining whether a pet’s poundage falls within the right range.

Dr. Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, agrees with Dr. Buffington that cats and dogs do better at moderate weights “as long as muscle condition (lean body mass) is also ideal.”

"Body condition scoring is a better gauge than body weight because of the huge variability in body composition and size in dogs,” Dr. Bartges says. “An 80-pound male Labrador may be ideally conditioned in the same way that a 120-pound male Labrador may be ideally conditioned because of their differing body frames.”

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