There’s no denying the fact that a plethora of factors determine the constitution and fitness levels of your canine companion.

The number of hours per day it spends outside, running and playing at the dog park, the caloric intake and the nutritional values of the food, the temperature outside and the daylight hours, all these factors play a role in how fit – or fat – a pet is. However, recent studies have uncovered a startling aspect: the predisposition of certain breeds to become overweight, to the point of obesity. Let’s find out why that happens, shall we?

The Body Condition Scores (BCS) and weight appropriateness

To better understand how veterinarians determine the fitness levels of your canine companion, you’ll first have to learn how the BCS scale works. A series of sophisticated DEXA radiographs are taken to measure the levels of fat in the animal’s body and, in conjunction with palpation (physical touch) the expert assigns a score in the 1 and 9 range. Scoring ranges reveal the following:

  • Animals between 1 and 3 are underweight
  • Animals between 4 and 6 have a normal weight
  • Animals between 7 and 9 are overweight

On a side note, the consensus among vet experts is that scores of 8 or 9 reflect obesity.

The research

A study conducted in the Netherlands utilized the approximately 1,350 participants in a popular dog show to evaluate the terminology utilized by the judges to characterize dogs of various constitutions. The results were that breeds measuring between 1 and 6 on the BCS scale were referred to as ‘gracious’, ‘elegant’, ‘athletic’ or ‘smoothly muscled’. As the BCS progressed, judges called dogs ‘overall massive’, ‘thick set’, ‘heavy boned’ or ‘valiant figures’.

The issue here is that the evaluation perpetuates the idea that owners who breed dogs for show purposes should emphasize body size and weight characteristics that aren’t healthy for the animals. Genes that render certain breeds prone to becoming obese are selected to emphasize the appraised characteristics.

For instance, the expectancies in terms of size and structure from breeds such as Labradors, Newfoundlands or Golden Retrievers has to lead to a large amount of these dogs to become prone to uncontrollable weight gain. The same applies to Bichons, Cocker Spaniels and Pugs.

By contrast, the breeds whose weight remains unaffected by the human selection process are Setters, Boxers, and Whippets. Researchers theorize that the breeding programs for them are focused on supple, athletic characteristics.

The provenience of the breed

In addition to the selective breeding process, another factor that influences a dog’s weight gain propensity: Origins. Dog breeds that originate from colder climates have developed a “thrifty gene”, which helps them slow down metabolism and store fat deposits to ward off the low temperatures.

The thrifty gene might represent an advantage in colder climates, but it’s an undeniable setback when the very weather conditions it’s supposed to fight are non-existent. To put it simply, a Husky living in a warm climate is bound to gain and retain weight due to its inherent metabolism, unless the owners closely monitor and adjust the daily diet diligently.