Body Condition Score [BCS]

Body Condition Score (BCS)

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS vet

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

What is a body condition score?

A body condition score (BCS) is a subjective measurement of your pet’s body shape. In cats and dogs, a BCS is given out of 9. 1 is the lowest BCS, which indicates your pet is too thin. 9 is the highest, which indicates your pet is too fat.

How is a body condition score carried out?

Your vet will visually assess and feel certain areas to determine your pet’s body fat coverage. It is important to feel as well as look at your pet’s body condition because their fur can alter the appearance of their body shape. The key areas that are assessed include the ribs, waist, hip bones, spine, and abdomen. Based on their findings, they will then score your pet out of 9 (some vets will score out of 5).

There are many charts available to help you and your vet determine your pet’s BCS. To be consistent, make sure to use the same chart every time. Check your findings with your vet at each visit – it takes time and practice to get good at body condition scoring!

What is the ideal body condition score?

An ideal BCS is 4-5/9 (or 3/5 on a five-point scale). The features that determine this ideal BCS will differ for cats, dogs and between different breeds. The common features are listed below:

  • The entire body is well-proportioned
  • Ribs cannot be seen but can be easily felt
  • Waist can be seen from above and the side

What should I do if my pet’s body condition score is not ideal?

If your pet’s BCS is not ideal, your vet may suggest a weight management programme. Depending on whether your pet’s BCS is too high or low, your vet may suggest a gradual decrease or increase in food and exercise to achieve this.

It’s not a good idea to put your pet on a crash diet, as this can cause problems (especially in cats). Slow and healthy weight loss is ideal.

Is body condition scoring the same in cats and dogs?

Body condition scoring is not done in the same way for cats and dogs, but it is similar. Separate charts exist for cats, small dogs, and large dogs. This is because fat is deposited differently for each group.

Body condition scoring can even differ between different breeds. For example, an ideal BCS for Greyhounds and Bernese Mountain dogs will look very different. This is because it is normal for healthy greyhounds to have a pronounced abdominal tuck. A pronounced abdominal tuck in a Bernese Mountain dog would indicate they are too thin.

Why does body condition score matter?

A BCS refers to the relative amount of body fat coverage. If your pet’s BCS is too high, they will have a high amount of body fat coverage. High body fat suggests obesity, which increases the risk of diseases such as heart and liver disease. At the other end of the scale, a BCS of 1/9 indicates your pet is too thin. A pet that is too thin will also be at risk of malnutrition and disease.

How accurate is a body condition score?

Providing an accurate BCS depends on experience, practice and the chart being used. This means different vets may give your pet a slightly different BCS. If you want to try body condition scoring your pet, ask your vet what their score would be to see how accurate you are.

Another thing to note is that a BCS only considers subcutaneous (under the skin) body fat. Fat can also cover your pet’s organs (visceral fat), which cannot be seen or palpated. It is possible that your pet has an ideal BCS but has high visceral fat.

Body condition scoring is more accurate than simply taking a weight, since it’s very hard to say what a ‘normal’ weight for any breed is due to such variation. That said, an individual pet can have their ‘ideal weight’ calculated using their body condition score, giving you an easier way to monitor their progress at home.

Written by:

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS vet

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS