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Veterinarians determine a pet's body condition using visual and tactile cues, which are then plotted on a scale. The resulting score gives the owner a good idea of whether a pet could stand to lose or even gain weight.
Ultimately, the goal is to see a somewhat hourglass figure when you view a standing animal from above. You should also be able to feel (but not see) a pet's ribs beneath a modest layer of fat.
Although pet owners can perform a condition check themselves, it's best to consult with a vet — especially before taking any steps to alter a dog or cat’s current diet.
“Maintaining the health of a pet is a team effort,” Dr. Bartges says, adding that veterinary professionals need to also rule out potential medical causes for weight changes.
Nutrition plays a big role not just in body weight but also body condition, Dr. Bartges notes, adding that this applies to both pet food and your critter's treats.
Optimal health “involves eating a balanced and complete diet,” he says. “For example, you can eat adequate calories and still not enough protein or vitamins and minerals.”
According to Dr. Bartges, food quality affects body condition because lesser-quality food means that dogs and cats must typically eat more in order to be able to digest, absorb and properly utilize the nutrients in the meal.
While Dr. Buffington and Dr. Bartges admit that there are no studies on the topic, they point to anecdotal evidence suggesting that mental and social stimulation are also key when it comes to weight management.
“Playing, exercising and interacting with other pets and people are important for overall health, including body weight and body condition,” Dr. Bartges explains.
One tool that Dr. Buffington recommends to “hit all three” — physical, mental and social well-being — is a food puzzle, which offers both physical and mental exercise.
Ultimately, Dr. Buffington stresses that owners shouldn't obsess about an ideal weight for pets. “There is no perfect. There is no ideal,” he says. “We want people to get into the ZIP code of healthy.”
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