Thoughts on ribs showing in dog? (read full post before freaking out!)
September 29, 2007 7:35 PM   Subscribe

So i'm trying to solicit some unbiased thoughts and opinions on the subject. A lab mix - probably greyhound or wippet, maybe even dalmatian, with some ribs showing, slight backbone showing, and super muscular. Dog is very active, hikes and runs, climbs 14,000 mountains in colorado, etc - all with no problem. Eats usually 2 to 3 cups of quality dog food, lately part raw too - on more active day will get slightly more food. Healthy or not? I know general consensus is you should be able to feel ribs but not see, but should that really apply across the board?
posted by joshgray to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
IANAV, but for that mutty mix and level of activity, that sounds perfectly healthy to me. If his hindquarters look muscular and lean, and his head doesn't look "gaunt" (as much as a dog can look gaunt), then a little "peeping rib" should be fine.

FWIW, I have a dalmatian/husky mix, with an obviously super-high play drive. He gets tons of running and agility-type exercise, and averages 2-3 cups of food per day. You can slightly see his ribs and backbone, but his vet says he's in spectacular health and gets enough calories. So...

Sounds like you've got a healthy dog there. Just make sure you're getting frequent and quality vet care, and keep that tail waggin'.
posted by angry.polymath at 7:45 PM on September 29, 2007

My parents have two slightly overweight greyhounds, and their ribs still show pretty prominently. Their excess weight is all in their belly, hanging down, so it's harder to spot. I'd definitely say in a dog like this, seeing ribs is normal, and it sounds like your dog is nice and healthy!
posted by leesh at 7:50 PM on September 29, 2007

Ribs and back bone showing in a lab mix? It depends somewhat on the length of the coat of the dog how much body definition you see, but a lab in that condition would be starving. An active dog won't generally put on excessive fat, if fed a little extra, but will form more muscle, if it can and has daily activity, before storing fat.

But a little body fat is good, I think. You want the dog to have enough fat to weather short illnesses, and to form enough skin oils to keep his coat in good shape, plus not have trouble eliminating.

2 to 3 cups of dry food, for a 40 pound dog might be enough, but wouldn't be enough for that level of activity in a larger dog. The dry food I feed is 360 KCal per cup. For my 55 lb. lab/chow mix, I feed 1 & 1/2 cups a day, plus a 14 oz can of commercial dog food, plus once a week or so, cooked chicken with rice, or fish with rice/vegetables. Plus occasional training treats and dry biscuits. My dog's weight is stable (+/- 1 pound over last 3 years), and he doesn't tip trash cans, or beg for additional food, or routinely leave chow in his bowl uneaten after 20 minutes. But he has more body fat than yours, and his ribs don't show, although they can be easily felt with light petting pressure. The small amount of fat he carries would be important for him, if he became ill and was unable to eat for several days.
posted by paulsc at 8:12 PM on September 29, 2007

Thanks for the input so far! Here's a few notes:

* Two different vet's we've been two said she is perfect (didn't want to lead with that in the original post)

* She does have an extremely thin coat, with no undercoat. I'm guessing that's the possible greyhound - i've been wondering dalmation too because they seem to have thin coats and the same build as well.

* Interesting points on the extra fat - esp. the bit about being sick or unable to eat for days. She does get cold very easily, we've had to use a fleece on some of the colder hikes.
posted by joshgray at 8:16 PM on September 29, 2007

Most of the greyhounds and whippets I've seen, even mixes, show some ribs in healthy condition. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Cricket at 8:44 PM on September 29, 2007

I was the proud owner of a retired racing greyhound for 12 years. He was marked for the kill truck when we adopted him, and a more pitiful specimen you've never seen. After we'd had him a few years (and he was fed to his heart's content), his ribs were still discernable, as was his spine, but nothing like when we first got him and he was malnourished and worm-ridden. Take your cues from your dog's behavior; if he seems active and happy, his eyes are bright and clear, he's in good shape.

Please do make sure he has a comfy bed or cushion to lay down on inside the house, as the lack of body fat will cause callouses if he lays on a hard surface.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:54 PM on September 29, 2007

i think it's funny - in person some people latch on the lab part of her and just assume she's a skinny lab. She's only lab from the neck up folks!

RE a comfy bed - ha if i could take a picture of how she's sleeping on the couch at the moment you would crack up.
posted by joshgray at 9:12 PM on September 29, 2007

seriously, this post means nothing without pictures. I want cute doggie pics.
posted by nursegracer at 9:20 PM on September 29, 2007

A picture would be helpful here but if his weight is stable and he is energetic and healthy and his coat is shiny and his eyes are bright then I would relax. What happens when you increase his intake slightly? Does he bulk up, does he fatten up, or does he get more energetic but stay at the same build? That can give you a clue as to where he should be. Some rib and some backbone is okay for a lot of breeds including boxers and pointers, for some breeds you actually want to see most of the ribs.

For a highly active dog less weight is a lot easier on his joints, many agility dogs look starving to the average eye. Also there are studies that indicate low healthy body weight can significantly increase their life span as well as delay the onset of age related disease. (You know that ad that says a proper diet of Purina increases your dog's life span by several years? The study actually says that reducing how much food you feed your dog (in this case, Purina) by 25% increased their lifespan, not the implied meaning in the ad that feeding Purina instead of another brand increases your dog's life span)
posted by hindmost at 9:24 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

My greyhounds are quite ribby. Especially the one, who is quite picky about food, and not so much the other one, who gets to eat the first one's leftovers. But I digress.

Sounds like an active, athletic girl to me. Would she eat more if you offered it to her? Say, 3 to 3.5 cups instead of 2 to 3? Not that I'm saying you should fatten her up. Just saying, if there's any doubt, you could try it out. But she sounds pretty healthy, and IANAV, etc.
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:24 PM on September 29, 2007

This description sounds like the standard healthy body condition for agility dogs (who are generally kept leaner than dogs who do not put as much stress on their joints). As long as the dog is maintaining its muscle, it sounds fine to me, and it's much healthier for a dog to be a wee bit too lean than overweight, especially a larger dog. That said, 2-3 cups of food isn't very much for a dog of the size I assume this one is (Lab/Greyhound-ish), unless it's a VERY high calorie food.
posted by biscotti at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2007

yup you guys are totally right about agility.. we haven't tried it yet, but know she'd be great at it. we feel the same way about the less wait being better on the joints because of all the hiking and running.

just looking thru my pictures quickly before bed, here's one that shows her profile, there's a billion others on there if you are interested Link to flickr
posted by joshgray at 9:42 PM on September 29, 2007

oh and forgot to respond about if she would eat more if we gave it - haha, come on, she does have enough lab in here that she would eat us out of house and home if we kept feeding...!
posted by joshgray at 9:43 PM on September 29, 2007

Her chest looks a bit thin, to me. Labs have big heads, and are retrievers. In water, they pull with their forequarters, and on land, they rarely have the full running extension of sight hounds like whippets, pulling more with the forelegs in their running gait than pushing with the rear. Even given that your dog is a mix, and depending on what she weighed, I'd see what she looked like with more chest development. She has the frame to be more powerful, unless her running gait argues against it.
posted by paulsc at 9:57 PM on September 29, 2007

hmmm maybe a bad picture, her chest is pretty strong. She's at about 55lbs. The fiance says she runs powering herself with her back legs like a sighthound, not with the front as a lab does. It's quite a sight at the dog park, only the wippets and greyhounds can beat her!
posted by joshgray at 10:07 PM on September 29, 2007

Her chest looks much more muscular than the greyhounds I used to know, and they weren't all that skinny compared to most of that breed. The way her chest narrows reminds me a lot of them, too, but it's hard to know what's standard for any mutt. Lovely dog, though. If you're really concerned, ask your vet.
posted by Schismatic at 12:24 AM on September 30, 2007

I can see where the confusion arises because her head is completely lab, whereas her body is more greyhound. So people seeing her expect to see a chunkier body.

There's a big greyhound racing stadium not far from here which has a big rehoming programme for retired dogs, and a few of my friends have greyhounds, my sister had a half-greyhound, half pointer, and a good friend had a dog that was half greyhound, a quarter Staffordshire bull and a quarter collie. Both the mongrels looked odd, with 'big dog' heads on skinny greyhound bodies. Their ribs showed, their spines were knobbly. They were both very healthy dogs.

is the classic greyhound resting pose, they just love to lie in this position.

And this picture proves to me that your dog is probably 75% greyhound with a lab head. Greyhounds do not like swimming. So whilst her lab head is telling her she should just go ahead and plunge into an icy lake, her greyhound body is saying "where's my couch?"
posted by essexjan at 12:50 AM on September 30, 2007

I wouldn't worry too much, especially if you say 2 Vets have examined her. I had 2 Aussies that I would feed to their hearts content, and they were skinny from being so active. In Boulder, of all places, I had one dude accuse me of malnourishing them because he could feel their ribs when he petted them. I asked him if he was a vet, and he said no but he knew a lot about animals. They were VERY active dogs, and would play all day while I was at work, and we hiked every day with them off leash. I think your pooch is fine. Seriously, do you think she'd be able to do all she does if she was underfed? Yeah, dogs can be greedy, but I think really active dogs self regulate well. My current Aussie I don't even measure his food. Just fill his bowl and he eats when he wants. And, he's a very skinny active boy.
posted by Eekacat at 12:59 AM on September 30, 2007

The 'ribs should be felt but not seen' is just a rule of thumb. My dog goes to the other extreme... she has a very stocky body and a very thick double coat, so you can barely even feel her ribs and spine. I asked one vet if she were overweight and the vet laughed and said she was perfectly healthy. Dog shapes vary a lot, and so long as your girl is happy and energetic, she's fine.
posted by happyturtle at 1:53 AM on September 30, 2007

Her eyes look bright, she's active, and her coat is gorgeous. There's no problem here. If you're really worried try an experiment of leaving more food out for her longer and see how her behavior changes.
posted by schroedinger at 5:09 AM on September 30, 2007

We think my parent's dog is a whippet cross with lab and possibly alsatian thrown in for good measure. She's also very healthy with lots of muscle (she loves her swimming). You can usually see a few ribs, and slight backbone.

I've put a few pictures on flickr for comparison. Her ribs don't show up so well in photos, because of her colour, plus some of these were taken in winter, so she's got her thicker coat on. Oh, and they're scans, so again not so great. But you know, cute dog pics...

I know the very definition of a mutt is that they're not all the same, but also, watch her hips, Rosa was quiet happily sunning herself in the garden one day when she found she couldn't stand up, not even for biscuits, so she got taken to the vets in the wheelbarrow. Turns out she's got bad hips, so no long walks, but lots of swimming. It put paid to her dreams of flyball stardom.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:51 AM on September 30, 2007

Yes, and a link would be useful...
posted by Helga-woo at 5:55 AM on September 30, 2007

I'd say that dog is perfect. CNN recently had an article about how 60% of pet dogs in the US are overweight.

One of our dog looks about like yours. Actually, she's a bit skinnier. Her vet says she is the ideal weight, but compared to most dogs we see around town, she looks like she suffers from malnutrition.
posted by AaRdVarK at 6:30 AM on September 30, 2007

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