Body Condition Score
The most common and easy to use option is the Body Condition Score (BCS). It is a subjective measurement as no measuring instrument such as a scale is used. You look at your pet's body from above and from the side and feel the ribs and protruding bones for fat. Now check which BCS your animal has:
- BCS 1 Severely underweight
Dog: ribs, pelvic bones and all bony protrusions visible from a distance (in short-haired animals); no palpable body fat and no muscle mass
Cat: ribs visible (in short-haired animals), fat not palpable, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones clearly visible, belly line is strongly drawn in, loss of muscles
- BCS 2 Underweight
Dog: Ribs easy to feel, little fat, spinous processes of the lumbar vertebrae and the pelvic bones protrude, waist pronounced
Cat: ribs easily palpable, have minimal fat coverage; lumbar vertebrae clearly visible as well as the waist
- BCS 3 Normal weight
Dog: Ribs have some fat deposits and are easily palpable, vertebrae cannot be seen, waist is noticeable but not pronounced, belly line is drawn in
Cat: Ribs somewhat covered with fat and easily palpable, spine is not visible, some fat on the belly, belly line present, waist not particularly noticeable
- BCS 4 Overweight
Dog: Ribs and spine are difficult to feel and have a thick layer of fat, fat deposits in the lumbar spine area and at the base of the tail, waist difficult to see
Cat: Ribs barely palpable, moderate fat coverage, belly is clearly rounded, belly fat is present
- BCS 5 Severely overweight
Dog: massive fat deposits on the chest, spine, base of the tail, neck and limbs, waist no longer present, belly extremely stretched
Cat: Ribs cannot be felt due to the layer of fat, heavy fat deposits on the lumbar area, limbs, no waist, belly very stretched
As you can see, there is a fine line between the different weight areas, recognising them takes a little practice. We recommend that you seek help from a veterinarian or experienced pet nutritionist.
Weighing your pet
Weight control is a simpler measure to monitor your pets body condition. For dogs and cats alike, the following applies:
- they are overweight when they are 10% - 20% above their normal weight.
- from 20% above their normal weight they are considered obese.
To use this information, you need to know what weight is “normal”. If you have a specific breed, there is information on what the average weight or weight range of the breed should be. For mixed breed animals this is a bit more complicated, here the Body Condition Score is a more accurate indicator.
Today’s Veterinary Practice. Treatment of Obesity in Cats and Dogs. September 2013. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/nutrition-notes-treatment-of-obesity/
Chun JL, Bang HT, Ji SY, Jeong JY, Kim M, Kim B, Lee SD, Lee YK, Reddy KE, Kim KH. A simple method to evaluate body condition score to maintain the optimal body weight in dogs. Journal of Animal Science and Technology. 2019;61(6):366–370. doi:10/gjk2rh
American Kennel Club. Breed Weight Chart. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/breed-weight-chart/
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Ideal Weight Ranges. https://petobesityprevention.org/ideal-weight-ranges