Over 50% of pets in the U.S. are overweight, and obesity is estimated to be one of the biggest threats to the health of American pets. Obesity in pets is associated with numerous health problems, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, cancer, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, and shortened lifespan. Unfortunately, according to a recent study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 90% of owners of obese pets are unaware that their pet is in fact obese.
Italian Greyhounds seem to be prone to obesity for this reason. As a naturally thin and delicately built breed, few people are aware of what a fit vs. fat IG looks like and many mistakenly assume that a healthy weight dog is underweight and overfeed them as a result. Therefore, I wanted to make this small guide to help educate pet owners on how to properly assess whether their Iggy is at a healthy weight.
Every dog is different, and IGs are no exception to this. However, there are a couple basic principles that can help assess whether an Iggy is at a healthy weight:
A healthy weight IG:
-Has several ribs visible, but not highly prominent, most of the time. 3 is the average, but it is possible for a fit dog to show a couple more. It’s important to note that a healthy weight dog can easily appear more ribby than he actually is in some photos due to the various factors discussed in this post.
-Has a small portion of spine and the tips of the hips visible most of the time. Again, it is possible for some fit dogs to show slightly more or less spine than others.
-Has a well-defined tuck when viewed from the side. IGs have very deep chests so their tuck is especially dramatic.
-Has a noticeable waist when viewed from above with a smooth but defined transition between the rib cage and the waist.
-Has a fair degree of muscle mass visible, most prominently in the thighs. The dog’s individual level of fitness will affect the prominence of muscling, but all IGs should have large, well-defined thigh muscles.
Variations on multiple points from these standards indicate that the dog in question is likely either underweight or overweight.
Here are several concrete examples of applying these principles to different dogs to assess weight.
Due to the difficulty of finding photos of emaciated Italian Greyhounds, this first example is actually of a Whippet rescued from a neglectful situation. However, the body types of these two breeds are very similar and all the same principles still apply. In this dog, you can see all of the ribs and spine very clearly, in addition to much of the rest of the skeletal structure as well. There is a dramatic loss of muscle mass especially noticeable in the shoulders and thighs, which in turn makes the skeletal structure of the legs clearly visible; these will NEVER be visible on a healthy weight dog. The final conclusion is that this dog is extremely underweight, classifying as emaciated.
This example is of an IG which was lost for about a week before being recovered. Most of the ribs are not only visible but also clearly defined. A large portion of the spine is also visible. The waist as visible here is unusually defined and casts a more dramatic shadow than would appear on a healthy weight dog, giving the impression of a thinner than usual waist. Additionally there appears to be a degree of loss of muscle mass in both the shoulders and the thighs, though this is nowhere near as dramatic as the previous example. In conclusion, this dog is definitely underweight, but not emaciated.
As an aside, it is very likely that this dog was at a good weight or even overweight prior to getting lost, and became underweight within only a few days. As small, delicately built dogs, if a healthy weight IG loses even only 2 pounds, they can easily become quite noticeably underweight within days. This is common with IGs that are temporarily ill or suffer from chronic health conditions, even if they are receiving the proper medical care. Therefore, it’s important to not automatically assume that the owner of a dog in similar condition is neglectful or intentionally starving their animal. If a lost underweight animal is recovered, efforts should still be made to contact the pet’s owner rather than assuming that the animal is either a stray or was being abused. If someone had made that assumption with this elderly IG, he would’ve never made it back home.
This is an IG which is on the thinner side, probably built more lightly in the first place, which is still considered at a good weight. Several ribs, a portion of spine, and the hip tips are visible but they are not very clearly defined or jutting out. The dog has a good degree of tuck, and muscling on the shoulders and thighs is visible. The fact that the individual vertebrae in the tail can be seen may alarm some people, but taking the condition of the dog as a whole into account indicates that the dog is at an appropriate weight.
This is my own dog, Dante, who is built a bit more sturdily than the previous example. A few ribs, some spine, and the tips of his hips are clearly visible but not strongly defined as in the underweight examples. He has a strong tuck, which appears somewhat more dramatic than the last example due to him having a deeper chest. The muscling in his neck, shoulders, thighs, and some on his sides is apparent. Overall, he’s at a fit weight. This condition was the result of a diet program he did earlier this year after becoming too heavy as assessed by both me and his vet.
This example of my two dogs is to specifically show what a healthy waist on an IG looks like. Both dogs have a defined waist when viewed from above, but their ribs are not sharply sticking out so the transition between their rib cage and waist appears smooth. Their shoulder blades are also clearly visible.
This IG is slightly overweight. None of the ribs are visible, nor is the spine or hip tips. She still has a tuck but it’s not as well-defined. Her extra fat slightly obscures the muscling on her shoulders and thighs. Her neck is also disproportionately thick in comparison with the width of her head; at a good weight, an IG will have a slender neck that is approximately the same width as the broadest part of their head, but never thicker. While she is unlikely to be at a high risk for obesity-related health problems, she is still classified as overweight.
This IG is more significantly overweight than the previous example. No ribs, spine, or hip tips are visible, and while he has a slight waist visible from the side, he has almost no tuck at all. At this level of obesity, health problems become more of a concern, and a concentrated effort should be made on the owner’s part to reduce the dog’s weight.
This example is in contrast with the photo of my own dogs in the previous section. Here you can see that these Iggies have virtually no waist when viewed from above and their shoulder blades are obscured by a layer of fat. Their entire body is about the same width from the shoulders down, which will never be the case with an IG at a good weight. These dogs are classified as overweight.
These two dogs are very dramatically overweight. No ribs, spine, or hip tips are visible whatsoever. Even from this angle with the dogs lying down, it is obvious that they have no tuck and no waist. Their necks are very thick and are much wider than their heads, with excess fat clearly rolling over the collar of the dog in the back. Their muscles are covered with a layer of fat and there are prominent wrinkles of excess fat on different parts of their bodies. Though loose, excess skin may form wrinkles in certain places and positions, an IG at a healthy weight will never have wrinkles of excess fat anywhere on their body. It’s an immediate indication that the dog is too heavy.
This final example is morbidly obese; even if this dog were not an IG, it would still be considered extremely overweight. The main point I wanted to highlight in this image is the size of the dog’s body compared to the size of its legs. It’s clear that this dog’s body is far too large for its tiny legs to carry efficiently. Iggies are already prone to easily broken legs at a healthy weight, and a dog of this size runs a much higher risk of injury by putting too much strain on its thin, long legs. For the same reason, it’s likely that this dog will suffer from arthritis and experience pain just by trying to stand and walk around. The dog’s health, lifespan, and overall quality of life are going to be negatively affected by its high level of obesity.
My IG is Overweight. What Can I Do?
If your dog is overweight, the first thing you should do is have them examined by a vet for underlying health conditions which may be causing their weight gain. These conditions must be addressed first to ensure your dog’s health. Hypothyroidism is common in IGs and causes weight gain, but can be effectively controlled with medication. It’s also common for a dog’s metabolism to slow down after being spayed or neutered, causing them to gain weight if their food intake isn’t adequately adjusted afterward.
Once underlying medical conditions are either ruled out or properly treated, the first thing you need to do is control your dog’s intake of food. Feed your dog according to what their ideal weight should be, rather than their actual weight, if they need to shed some pounds. Limit or eliminate the number of treats they receive and cut table scraps out of their diet. Instead of using treats to train your dog, you can take a portion of the kibble they’re allotted for meals and use that for training treats instead. Try increasing the amount of exercise your dog receives if possible. Keep track of your dog’s weight on a weekly basis to monitor their progress. If necessary, get help from your vet to formulate a good weight loss program for your pup and help keep you accountable with weekly weigh-ins at the clinic. Above all, don’t give up! Your pet is relying on you to keep them healthy and able to live a long, full life.