Guild of Shepherds & Collies

How Breed Standards Can Help Prevent Obesity in Dogs

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has physical standards for all dog breeds. The special language used to describe the ideal physique of each breed may be useful for obesity prevention. It turns out that AKC standards can identify dogs with a genetic tendency to store more fat.

The AKC Language

When describing breeds that tend to have a leaner body the AKC use phrases like:

  • Elegance
  • Graceful
  • Athletic
  • Smoothly muscled

When describing the more robust dog the AKC uses phrases like:

  • Muscular
  • Heavier in bone
  • Massive build
  • Square and thick set in overall build
  • Heavy, thick-set, low-swung body
  • Dogs are more massive throughout

Symmetry and general appearance are decidedly square and cobby

  • On the whole a bold and valiant figure

The Thrifty Genotype

Dogs were originally bred for special working conditions, not for show. Many of the robust breeds were bred for hard work in colder climates. Breeding selection favored dogs that had extra fat for insulation and energy reserves. This genetic tendency is attributed to the thrifty gene. This extra fat accounts for the more robust body shape. Now sedentary, the thrifty gene can still be triggered with modern, high calorie dense food. This puts these breeds at higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Supporting Study

To prove that that the thrifty gene may be a risk for obesity, Dutch veterinarians examined 1379 dogs at a Netherlands dog show. They measured each dogs Body Condition Score or BCS. The BCS is a visual and touching exam of a dog from the side and the top, looking toward the head. A score of 1-3 are dogs that are too thin and undernourished. A score of 4-5 is an ideal body type. Dogs that score 6-7 are overweight and scores of 8-9 denote obesity. The simple BCS compares identically to sophisticated x-ray technology that determines the percent body fat.

The researchers compared the BCS to the language in the breed standards. They found that dogs with ideal BCS scores belonged to breeds that were “elegant”, “graceful” and “smoothly muscled.” Dogs that scored 5 or greater were breeds described as “heavier in bone” and “square and thick set in overall build.”

Using AKC Language for Obesity Prevention

So how does the dog owner use this information? The AKC standards are easily available online. Owners can research the breed standards of their dogs. Those with mixed breeds can use the standards their dog’s major breed characteristics. If selected standards use the phrases that describe the robust dog above, these dogs may poses the thrifty gene and risk becoming obese.

Obesity can be prevented by feeding these dogs so they maintain a BCS of 4-5. The BCS is a much more accurate measure of fitness than breed weight standards.
Article By:
Dr. Ken Tudor, The Dog Dietitian

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