How to body condition score

What is a body condition score?

Most people believe comparing their pet to an ideal weight is the best way to figure out their overall health, but the best scale is actually body condition score. Body condition score (BCS) is a way to measure your pet’s fat to body mass ratio, similar to body mass index (BMI) in humans. Unlike BMI, BCS gives a score without using factors like height, weight, and sex. BCS uses a variety of anatomical markers on the body to give your pet a score on a 9-point scale. A score of 1/9 is extremely emaciated. A score of 4/9 or 5/9 is ideal, and a score of 9/9 is morbidly obese. BCS can be used on all species, breeds, sexes, and ages, since it does not use factors like weight or body size for the measurements.

Why is body condition scoring so important?

  • According to a 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 56% of dogs and 60% of cats in the United States are overweight or obese.

  • Obesity is the biggest nutrition-related health problem facing companion animals in the US.

  • Obesity affects animals just like it affects humans. They can have heart disease, joint pain (arthritis), high blood pressure, diabetes, and decreased life expectancy.

  • Obesity is an entirely preventable disease, so it’s important for owners to understand how to take a BCS and work with their veterinarian to help the pet reach ideal body condition.

  • It is extremely common for pets to become overweight or obese without their owner realizing. Their bodies are so different from humans’, so it’s hard to figure out ideal on your own. Do not feel guilty if your pet is overweight or obese. There is nothing wrong with having an overconditioned pet, as long as you recognize this fact and work with your veterinarian to get your pet back to ideal condition.

Frankie, 14lb, BCS 7/9 (overweight)

How do I take a body condition score?

Step 1: Just relax! Start off by casually petting your dog or cat. This should never be an uncomfortable procedure.

Step 2: Run your hands along either side or your pet’s body, working from the head to the tail.

Step 3: Along the way, feel for bony prominences and areas of fat.

    • Areas to feel bony prominences: along the spine, the ribs, and the hips.

    • Areas to feel fat: around the neck, over the ribs, under the belly, or at the base of the tail.

    • Keep in mind that cats have a primordial pouch, or a little sac of fat under their bellies. This should not greatly affect body condition score.

Step 4: Compare your pet to the BCS sheet provided by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (see links below). Remember, seeing and feeling are equally important in determining body condition score!

Photos and text from World Small Animal Veterinary Association cat and dog body condition score charts.

Step 5: Practice multiple times a week until you feel like you’re good at it. Contact your veterinarian if you believe your pet is overweight or obese.

Step 6: Once you are comfortable, see if your friends and family will let you practice on their pets too. Don't be afraid to tell your friends and family if you suspect their pet is overweight or obese. Let them know you are looking out for their pet’s health and well-being. It is so important that we all help one another fight this preventable disease.

Fawn, 20lb, BCS 4/9 (ideal)