Is your pet overweight? Too thin? Because animals come in all shapes and sizes, it is difficult to say “Your Labrador should weigh 50 pounds” or “No cat should ever weigh more than 10 pounds.” Obviously, that doesn’t make sense. Some dogs and cats are going to be bigger (or smaller) than others, even in a single breed. So veterinarians use a body condition score to help determine if a pet weighs too much or too little. Pets are graded on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is emaciated (way too thin) and 5 is obese (way too fat). Some veterinarians will use a 1-9 scale where 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese. The principles of the two scales are the same, one just has a few more steps than the other.
Wonder where your pets fall? Let’s take a look!
Body Condition Score 1
A pet with a body condition score (BCS) of 1 is emaciated, or way too thin. Pets can get this way from not having access to enough food, not having access to a good quality food, from being so sick they won’t eat for long periods of time, or from some diseases that make it difficult for them to digest and use their food the right way.
In these pets, many bones (like the ribs, backbone, and hips) are easy to feel, and can often be seen from a short distance away. These pets have an overall loss of both fat and muscle mass.
Body Condition Score 2
A pet with a BCS of 2 is too thin. This can happen for a number of reasons. Many growing animals will temporarily have a BCS of 2 as they go through “growth spurts” and their feeding schedules are adjusted to make up for their new size. This may also be an animal who is not given quite enough food to maintain an ideal body weight. Many illnesses can make an animal not want to eat, or not be able to digest and use their food well, for a short period of time.
In pets with a BCS of 2, you can easily feel the ribs and backbone, but you should not be able to see the bones well. There is an obvious “tuck” at the waist, between the chest and hips. These pets may not have much extra fat, but they have not lost muscle mass.
Body Condition Score 3
A pet with a BCS of 3 is at an ideal weight for his age, size, and breed. If your pet falls in this category, great job! It takes a careful balance of the right amount and type of food and the right amount of exercise to get (and keep) a pet in its ideal body condition.
In pets with a BCS of 3, you can feel their ribs and backbone while you’re petting them, but the ribs are not very obvious. They should still have a visible waist, but not quite so obvious as pets with a BCS of 2.
Body Condition Score 4
A BCS of 4 means your pet is overweight. Many pets fall into this category. It is easy for pets, especially house pets, to become overweight. Too much food and not enough exercise are the main reasons we see that pets get overweight.
In pets with a BCS of 4, you cannot easily feel their ribs when you are petting them. There are extra fat deposits over the back and near the base of the tail. At this score, the waist is difficult to see.
Body Condition Score 5
This is the big one, no pun intended. Pets with a BCS of 5 are obese, or severely overweight. Often, a BCS of 4 (overweight) is just a temporary stop on the way to a BCS of 5 (obese). The most common reason for a pet to be obese is too much food and not enough exercise.
These pets have large fat deposits over their backbone, near the base of the tail, around their chest and abdomen, and possibly even on their neck and legs. They do not have a visible waist.
Body Condition Score in Horses
You didn’t think we were going to leave the large animals out, did you? The same principles of body condition scoring apply to horses (and all other livestock, too). Most large animals are graded on a 9 point scale, where 1 is emaciated (too thin), 5 is ideal, and 9 is obese (too fat). Veterinarians do look at large animals just a little differently than at small animals to determine a body condition score (BCS).
Image from Purina Mills Horse Feed Products.
When evaluating a BCS in horses, veterinarians will look at the crest of the neck (A), the withers (B), the crease down the center of the back (C), the base of the tail (D), over the ribs (E), and behind the shoulder (F). We use the same general guidelines to determine what BCS to give a large animal as we do for small animals.
Overweight and obese animals are at a higher risk for many health problems. We’ll be talking about some of these diseases over the next few weeks, so be sure to check back to learn more about how obesity can affect your pet.
Is your pet at the ideal weight for his age, size, and breed? Call us or come in to have your pet’s body condition score evaluated. We can give you some ideas on how you can get (or keep) your pet to its ideal body condition. In the meantime, review our articles on feeding your dog or cat.