Let's Talk about Weight
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
If you ask anyone what are the top questions they're asked by the general public about azawakh they'll tell you it's something along the lines of: "Are they supposed to be that skinny?"
In order to address weight, we need to look at how starvation response works in mammals. If you or a dog (or any mammal really) eats fewer calories than they burn, then they will lose weight. If they take in far fewer calories than they burn, they will lose weight rapidly. This can happen because of a diet or it can happen because of starvation/neglect in humans and domestic animals. When a body is being starved it will first use all the resources available to it easily located in the digestive tract and liver. Once those reserves are used it begins to use the stores of fat. If a body remains in a state of starvation, it will begin to use muscle to keep itself moving.
That's the basics of how an actual neglected, starved dog will in essence eat their muscle in order to survive. Since that is scientifically how starvation works the simple conclusion is that if a dog is well muscled, they cannot be starved. The two states are incompatible.
I want to talk a little bit about how muscle type can impact visuals as well. The sighthounds most people are most familiar with are greyhounds and whippets. Despite being in the same superficial class as azawakh (they all hunt by sight) they have very different physiques. Whippets and greys have huge, bulging muscles. This has to do with the types of muscles needed for the types of running/hunting that they do. Generally, large, noticeable muscles are better for sprinters, which whippets and greys excel at. However, endurance runners, which azawakh qualify as, have a different type of muscle fiber that is thinner and flatter. Azawakh in particular have flatter, dryer muscles even than most endurance sighthounds. Much of this can be explained by looking at the environment that azawakh are adapted. Greyhounds particularly are notorious for overheating, much of this has to do with their muscle type, which makes it more difficult for them to cool themselves. In a near desert environment, dogs with particularly flat (dry) muscles are going to be at an advantage.
Now that you understand two things: 1) a dog cannot be starving and well muscled and 2) azawakh have particularly flat musculature, I want to look into what the AKC breed standard specifically calls for in regard to weight. The standard is quite specific about proper weight and it has this to say: "in correct weight a minimum of three to five ribs and hip bones should be visible." It also says: "bone structure and musculature are transparent beneath fine and lean skin." There is very little left up to interpretation.
Now let's take a look at my dogs as an example, because something I absolutely pride myself on is their condition.
The first picture is Amidi at five months. She's young enough in this picture she has very little muscle tone yet here.
You'll note the she still has three ribs clearly visible plus a tracing of a fourth. Her pin (hip) bones are visible, but substantially less so than you'd see in an adult.
Ignoring the gangly puppiness of the picture, this is similar to what you will see in adult at are "food bowl conditioned". In other words, their weight is controlled primarily through how much food they are fed every day. For food bowl conditioned dogs, I understand ever so slightly how people can believe that the dogs are underweight. However, even if they aren't in sport/coursing/working condition, this is still a much healthier weight to maintain on a desert-descended, thin framed, flat muscled dog.
This next picture is Amidi at thirteen months, shortly after her first heat. Her body changed drastically and all the muscle tone seemed to develop overnight. Look at the difference in muscle tone compared to her puppy picture. Remember, azawakh have particularly flat muscles, so the fact that there is muscle clearly evident in the picture speaks to how much muscle tone she really has.
This is an excellent example of a dog who is the weight she is because of the physical conditioning regimen that naturally produces this weight. I can pretty much free feed her and she doesn't gain weight.
In 2018, shortly before bringing home Ami, I fostered Luna (Noblewinds Once in a Blue Moon). She had been in a home with an elderly woman who no longer could keep her. I fostered her for four months while the temperatures dropped enough to fly her to her new home. When Luna first came to me, she was so overweight she lacked most of the physical hallmarks of the breed.
Her croup (hips area) looks rounded instead of having clearly visible hips. She has no visible ribs. Even her tuck up is lacking. Now, Luna had two litters of puppies before being spayed, so I understand a dog having a softer appearance in such cases. However, in this case Luna was so overweight that she didn't get further than a block before being tired and she was reluctant to break into a trot, let alone a run.
The second picture was taken four months later (pardon the atrocious stack). When I first got Luna, she was 48 pounds (which is two pounds heavier than Anubi in peak coursing condition). Four months later with diet and exercise she was 38 pounds, a full ten pounds lighter.
There are some notable changes in her physiology. You can see tracings of three ribs, she has a clear, definite tuck up, and visible hip bones. There's even some muscle tone noticeable in her shoulders and rear leg. Even so, this is still on the heavier side of ideal weight, but she was happy, healthy, and much more active.
I'll end with some pictures of Anubi. It is easy to look at a picture of a dog and proclaim them too skinny or too fat. Pictures can be deceptive though since they only capture that one moment in time. What if a dog is inhaling, what if they're contorted weird, what if they're running and their skin is stretched tight against their side?
The first picture was taken when Anubi was about 42 pounds. It's lighter than I prefer him, but he tends to fluctuate between 42-46 pounds (mostly depending on how much muscle tone he has at any given moment).
His spine is more prominent than usual. It doesn't help that it's not a great picture, he was inhaling, stretching a bit to look at me, and in general he looks just a tad emaciated. Additionally, Anubi was 16 months old in this picture. He was still very much a gangly teenager in the process of filling out.
Despite how emaciated he looked in that one picture, he still had excellent muscle tone and was able to go out and run out run agility less than a week later. He happily ran with no panting, tiredness, or soreness. Though he was lighter than I would prefer, he was still in a very functional condition and I wasn't seeing any muscle wasting.
As he jumps you can very much see prominent muscles doing their job.
Even if you're against how skinny the breed is it's very hard to look at azawakh running and coursing and see them as starved or neglected. Again, they're not greyhounds and yet Anubi's muscles are very clearly visible.
This photo was taken the same month that I had seen a vet who told me that Anu was substantially underweight. I had been in need of a vet and heard that an office worked often with the ex-racing greyhounds in my area. However, this vet (very rudely) compared his condition to that of a greyhound and was appalled. Needless to say, I didn't go back. Finding a sighthound savvy vet who deals with dogs in sport-weight is ridiculously hard and they are worth their weight in gold.
Finally, compare all of the previous to Anubi in Orlando. He's 2.5 years old in the picture and what I consider peak condition. He free runs and walks daily. He does agility once a week and flyball practice 1-2 times a week, with various short practices for both sports during the week as time allows.
He only has five ribs visible, in addition to his hips. His vertebrae are only minimally visible. His muscles are clearly defined. While there certainly are people who look at him and consider him underweight, once you know what you're looking for, it's hard to look at the muscle tone, his glowing coat, and clear eyes and see neglect.