Healthy Weight for a Rat Terrier
Keeping your dog at a good weight is important for all dogs, but particularly so for Rat Terriers, a breed with a delicate structure and thin legs. Rat Terriers should
be very lean dogs. Carrying excess weight—even as little as 1-2 extra pounds—can cause joint and limb problems and make the dog more prone to injury. It also puts him
at greater risk during any surgical procedure. Overweight dogs are at increased risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, and liver and kidney
disease. Excess weight can worsen osteoarthritis and cause respiratory problems in hot weather and during exercise. And obesity causes dogs to have less energy
and stamina, leaving their immune systems weaker and putting them more at risk for contracting viral and bacterial infections.
Being underweight, like the dog pictured at right, has health risks, too—such as anemia, skin disorders, muscle wasting, osteoarthritis, mental confusion, and physical
fatigue. But from a health perspective it is better to be a little too thin than a little too heavy. It has been proven that a lean dog lives an average of TWO YEARS
longer than an overweight dog, so it is crucial to pay attention to your Rat Terrier’s weight to keep him healthy, feeling good, and living a good quality of life.
Shockingly, more than half of dogs in the U.S. are overweight, and some 20% of them are obese, like the dog at right. Obesity in dogs is defined as being more than
20% over their ideal body weight. For a dog who should weigh 15-16 lbs., that means just 3 pounds of excess weight! Overweight dogs have minimal (or absent)
waist tuck-up and a thick layer of fat over the ribs. Obese dogs have no tuck-up plus very heavy (grabbable) fat over the ribs, along the spine, around the neck, and
around the tail.
How to Assess Your Dog
•The "ideal" weight for a Rat Terrier is approximately the weight where the last 3 ribs are just barely visible when the dog is
standing in good light or can be felt with a light touch. You should not have to prod to feel the dog’s ribs. If you can’t feel them, or if you have to apply pressure to feel
them, the dog needs to lose weight.
•Look at the dog from the side. There should be a definite "tuck-up" in the tummy area (between the rib cage and hind
legs). The "height" of a Rat Terrier’s waist should be no more than 3/4 the "height" of the chest, as shown at right.
•Stand directly above the dog and look down. Viewed from above, a Rat Terrier should have a definite hourglass shape, with a waist
noticeably narrower than the rib cage and hips. If such an indentation is not there, or if it bulges out, it’s diet time!
If you are unsure about your dog, ask your vet. Do not assume that because your vet has not told you that your Rat Terrier is overweight, his weight is fine.
Many vets do not mention weight issues unless they're specifically asked because so many pet owners are easily offended by the idea that their dog is too heavy.
Plus vets are used to seeing so many overweight dogs, including many other breeds that are naturally denser and meatier than RTs, that they may be overly
generous in assessing what is best for a Rat Terrier. So ask very specifically if your dog is overweight, with an open attitude that invites candid discussion,
and if your vet indicates even the slightest possibility of excess weight, take it seriously! Ask what the ideal weight is for your dog and what markers you should
be watching for.
Take a look at these Ratties, who are at a healthy weight:
You can see too much ribs and hipbones on these Ratties who are underweight:
When a dog is so underweight that it has lost most of its body fat and also suffers muscle loss, it is emaciated. With an emaciated dog, you can easily see the dog's
ribs, backbone and jutting hip bones:
These Ratties are overweight, with very little tuck and visible neck rolls. You would have to press pretty hard to feel their ribs:
When a dog is at least 20% overweight, having scarcely any tuck up, no visible ribs, big fat rolls around the neck and shoulders, and a chunky chest and butt, it is obese:
Some dogs are so obese that they exceed 30% of their ideal body weight. They have no tuck up at all, their bodies have no shape (other than round), and their
heads look disproportionately small for their bodies. These dogs are considered morbidly obese and are at great health risk:
Ready for a quiz?
Which of the following Ratties do you think is at a healthy weight? Which are underweight or emaciated? Which are overweight or obese?
Answers are at the bottom of the page.
Weight Loss Regimen
If your dog is overweight, you should start immediately to get him to a healthy body weight. Rest assured that it can be done! First and foremost, pay attention
to what and how much he is eating. Just as with humans, caloric intake must be equal or less than burned energy output for a rattie to lose or maintain weight.
It is seldom necessary to buy a so-called "special" or "vet provided" diet to lose weight. As long as you are feeding a high quality
food* that is protein-based with low (or no) grains, fillers, and sugar, just cut back the amount fed by half to a quarter. Use an actual measuring scoop rather
than "eye-balling" the amount to ensure accuracy.
If you give extra treats outside of meal time then be sure to compensate by reducing the amount of food given for the daily meals. Many owners who have dogs
in formal training classes (where lots of training treats are given) greatly reduce the portion size of the dog’s daily meal or even skip it entirely as compensation
for the calories consumed in training treats.
Assess the quality of the treats you are feeding. For example, cheddar cheese is very high in fat – switch to low fat string cheese perhaps. Read the package of dog
biscuits you use and see if it is a high calorie treat. Try using baby carrots, raw green beans, or even celery (remove the strings) for some low calorie treat options.
If your dog tends to "feed himself," either from a lucrative baby’s high chair, mooching off other family members, other pets in the home, or even the cat
litter box (yes, indeed), you must cut off the source of his supply. Have a candid talk with the other household members to be sure that all are on the same page for
canine health and keep an eye on the dog anytime there is food around.
Although it should go without saying, NEVER "free feed" a dog who has a weight problem. This means you should feed in 1-2 specific meals per day, measured
carefully, rather than leaving a food bowl down with food available all day. If you offer food and it is not all eaten right away, pick it up after 10 minutes and save the
rest for the next meal time. At the next meal, only add enough so that the total offered is a regular portion; do NOT give a full portion in addition to what had not
been finished at the last meal. If your RT eats well but does not finish his food, there is a good chance you are offering too much.
"But he’s still hungry" is a common complaint of the obese dog owner. There are some tricks you can use to help your pooch adjust to new smaller
meal rations. Add some canned pumpkin or green beans to add bulk without adding many calories to his meal. Float your dog’s food in a bowl of water when serving
to again give a feeling of fullness with the added benefit of keeping his kidneys flushed. Feed by hand or in small batches so your RT registers that he has eaten, rather
than gobbling his food and looking for more. And finally, realize that most dogs ALWAYS seem to want more food, but providing the proper amount of nutrition is
one of the biggest favors you can do for your dog, even if he seems to think otherwise!
Some folks tend to overfeed as a substitute for attention, a way to show love, or a cure for guilt. The rattie owner who cannot resist those soft, pleading eyes may be an
owner who is adding to canine obesity. Food is not a substitute for love, it is just an energy source. Try spending quality time with your pup instead. As in humans, diet
alone is seldom enough in a serious weight loss program. In nice weather, get out and walk your dog, go for a run, play fetch, or do some agility work to keep your
rattie mentally and physically fit. But what if the weather is unpleasant? Lucky for us, our little ratties are a great size for indoor games, too. Use the stairs or a long
hallway to play a rousing game of fetch. Work on training fun tricks like spin, crawl, roll over and other active tricks. Or you might consider a doggie treadmill to make
sure your pooch gets his full workout in each day. Do note that an obese dog may not be able to handle a lot of exercise in the beginning, so start slow and keep it fun,
gradually increasing the amount of exercise as you see what he can tolerate. Keep in mind that, just like people, dogs that aren’t used to exercise may get a bit sore
in the beginning. Give him a good gentle massage and keep him hydrated and stretched after vigorous exercise.
One important step when trying to help your RT lose weight is to weigh him regularly and track it. This will help you gauge if your new diet and fitness program is
working. If your rattie weighs the same (or has unhappily gained more weight) you need to adjust your program. If he is down even a tenth of a pound or so, keep
doing what you are doing and if your dog will tolerate it, gradually increase the exercise.
Once the dog has achieved a healthy weight, don't just stop and go back to how things were before, unless you want to undo all of your success. Instead, use the
next 2 months to transition him to an on-going maintenance regimen. Start by increasing the food SLIGHTLY over what he has been getting, continuing the exercise,
and weighing again in two weeks. If he has continued to lose weight, again increase the food portion slightly, but if he has maintained his weight, continue at the
current food level. (And obviously if you find that he gained weight at the amount, then you will need to cut back again.) Continue to measure food portions and
monitor weight at least every other week until he has stayed at the same healthy weight for at least two months. At that point you can assume that you have found
the right food amount for this lucky dog.
*Evaluate the quality your dog food brand at www.DogFoodAdvisor.com or
ANSWERS TO QUIZ ABOVE
1. Healthy weight, but at the bottom end of the range and should not lose any more.
2. Overweight and on his way to obese if changes are not made.
3. Underweight. You can see ribs too easily, but no hipbones.
4. Emaciated. He is showing all his ribs, backbone knobs, and jutting hipbones.
5. Healthy weight.
6. Overweight. See the neck rolls?
7. Overweight on his way to obese. The neck roll in particular makes his head look disproportionately small
8. Healthy weight.
9. Emaciated. The ribs are harder to see with black fur, but the backbone and hipbones are clearly visible
10. Healthy weight, but at top end of the range and should not gain any more.
11. Overweight and maybe even obese. A side view would help determine that.
12. Overweight. See the neck rolls? And with his fur so short and glossy, you probably should be able to see the hint of the last ribs.