How thin is too thin?

Low body condition, and perceived difficulties putting on weight, are two of the most common health concerns that owners have of their working farm dogs. The question “How thin is too thin?” is simple, frequently asked, and yet we lack objective evidence to answer.

It is axiomatic that there is a point where muscle and fat mass is so low that risk of injury, disease, and early retirement increases, so one measure of what is too thin, would be a demonstration of an association between loss (retirement or death), and body condition. Unfortunately, the widely used body condition scoring system (BCS) is not suitable for assessing lean dogs, as it is inaccurate, not validated for very lean dogs, and is more suited for quantifying obesity than leanness.

With the help of the team at VetEnt, Naomi Cogger and Nick Cave have developed and published a method for more accurately defining the body composition, by creating a formula that expresses a dog’s bodyweight relative to its skeletal size. They are now applying that method to the huge TeamMate project, in which VetLife in the South Island have been monitoring farm dogs for 4-5 years. The body composition of over 600 dogs have been analysed, and will soon be published. The next phase is to look for an association between a low muscle or fat mass and an increased risk of loss during the study period. If a correlation is made between these two variables, a huge leap would be made towards answering the question, of how thin is too thin.

This project is part of the research component of the PhD of Katja Isaksen.