Body condition scoring your dog

Over 50% of dogs in the UK are overweight. Being overweight can lead to the following problems:

  • Reduced life expectancy
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic and endocrine disorders
  • Orthopaedic and joint diseases
  • Skin diseases
  • Respiratory disorders.

Obesity is just a term given to individuals that are extremely overweight. But how do you know if your dog is too fat? Worldwide veterinary organisations have come up with a scoring system which goes on the shape of your dog rather than the weight which can be a meaningless number. This system is called Body Condition Scoring (BCS). It is a visual, hands-on assessment of your dog’s levels of lean muscle and fat and is an important measurement of their health.

Find out here how Body Condition Scoring works and how to take this measurement at home.

A Body Condition Score is based on four criteria

  • How easy it is to feel the ribs
  • How obvious the waist and abdominal tuck is
  • How much excess fat is beneath the skin
  • How much muscle mass is present.

For a dog to score in the healthy range, the ribs should be easy to feel but not see. A defined waist or “abdominal tuck” should be obvious to see when you look at the dog from the top and the side.

An overweight dog would have a saggy stomach, no obvious waist, ribs that are difficult to feel under fat and a back that is flat and broad.

An underweight dog would have visible bones – ribs, spine and hips are obvious and there is less fat and muscle than there should be. The waist would also be very pronounced.

Using a 9 point scale, an ideal score is 4 or 5, with 1-3 being too thin and 6 – 9 being too fat.

How to measure Body Condition Score at home

Ask your vet for the scoring system they prefer. They will be able to give you a pictorial chart for reference, often with your breed type on it.

  • Your dog should be standing whilst you do the assessment. Preferably get someone to hold them at the head end.
  • To begin, press the flat of your hands gently over the rib cage. Individual ribs should be felt without having to press hard. There should be no overlying fat, and the ribs should not be seen readily.
  • Feel around your dog’s waist and look from the top and the side. There should be an “hour glass” shape from above, and an obvious upward curve of the tummy (rather than straight along or downward).
  • Feel the spine which runs right down the middle of the back. Feel the tops of the hips and tops of the shoulders. In an underweight dog these will stick out and are easily felt. In an Ideal Dog, they will be able to be felt but with a layer of fat/muscle over them.
  • Dogs that are obese will have excess fat laid down on their body. Fat can stretch the skin and consequently this can feel quite hard. Don't be tricked into thinking it is muscle!
  • Thick coats can hide a multitude of sins - don't be fooled that everything is okay just because you can’t see it! If your dog has a thick coat, you will have to rely more on feel. If it is warm enough to give them a bath, a wet coat will reveal the true shape.

Remember

Measuring your dog’s Body Condition Score at home should not replace going to see your vet. If you would like advice to start you off, the vets and nurses at your local Healthy Pet Club veterinary practice will be only too happy to help.

Don’t give up

You should put a weight management plan in place if you try the Body Condition Score and your dog scores any other number than a 4 or a 5. There are a lot of brilliant diet foods for dogs available and if increasing the exercise is not an option, don't give up. Pop in to see your veterinary team who will have lots of great ideas to help you!

Getting some weight off will help, even if you don’t reach your target.