One of the most important things you can do to prevent injury in your canine athlete is to maintain a proper body weight. The effects of increased body weight have been studied extensively in the human field, and to a lesser extent, in the canine field. It is well-known that excess weight can lead to a higher incidence of diabetes, heart and breathing problems, increased joint pain and arthritis and overall decreased life span. Purina conducted a several-year study and found that dogs whose food portions were controlled so that they maintained a proper weight lived on average 2 years more than a litter-mate who was free-fed. From the results of this study, they developed a “Body Condition Score”, which ranges from 1-9, with 1 being very emaciated, and 9 being extremely obese. A 5/9 is considered “optimum” condition for an average pet. However, with a canine athlete, a 4/9 is actually a more desirable condition. This is considered “healthy lean”, and would be similar to a human athlete who is well-muscled and carries very little body fat. In humans, we can measure the “BMI”, or body mass index, which translates to a percentage of body fat. Although a similar technique can be used with dogs, it is more common to just palpate around the back and ribs to get an idea of the body condition score, or BCS. Below is a copy of Purina’s BCS index. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the differences between the numbers, as your dog’s weight can change during the year, depending on the sport(s) you participate in.