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If your hunting partner is an underweight dog, make sure he has the proper nutrition he needs so he can hunt at his best. Hunting dogs are athletes. But, sometimes you can have an underweight dog. Their excellent work ethic and eager-to-please spirit make them the ideal partner for a variety of sporting activities.

Like human athletes, active dogs’ nutritional requirements must be adjusted to meet their unique needs. Due to their high activity levels and the stress placed on their bodies during hunts and trails, performance and hunting dogs require a higher level of nutrients and calories than the average domestic dog. It is not uncommon for hunting dogs to be lean, and often a healthy, athletic hunter can appear to be an underweight dog compared to the same dog kept alone as a pet. However, it is important to access your dogs nutritional requirements and balance them with the proper diet to ensure optimal health and best performance.

Veterinarians use a standardized Body Condition Score (BCS) system to assess a dog’s overall health and ideal weight. The BCS scale is from 1 to 9, with 1 being malnutrition and 9 being morbidly obese. As a general rule of thumb, the “ideal” range for a dog’s body condition score is between 4 and 5. At this level, the dog should have ribs that can be easily felt under the skin, but not seen. Dogs should have a waist (a narrowing of their width behind the rib cage) as well as an abdomen that is “tucked in” when viewed from the side.

In highly active performance dogs, a BCS of 3 can be considered a healthy weight. These dogs have a high percentage of lean body mass, with ribs that can be seen slightly under the skin and obviously felt. The very tips of the spinal or pelvic bones may be discernible, and they have waists. Dogs with a body condition score of 1 to 2 are underweight and their diets or performance demands should be adjusted. In these dogs, the ribs, hip, pelvis, and spine can be clearly seen, and a loss of muscle mass is evident. Dogs with a body condition score of 3 or less should be evaluated for possible dietary changes to provide more balanced, high-calorie nutrition for the dog. In dogs that are well fed, but have a persistently low BCS score, a veterinarian should be consulted to check for possible underlying medical issues, such as internal parasites that may be preventing the pet from absorbing nutrients from its food.

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