Body condition scoring in dogs and cats

Body condition scoring is a great way to evaluate the nutritional status of your dogs and cats.

Body condition scoring is a management tool that can be used to evaluate the nutritional status of animals. Body condition, or fat cover, is an indication of the energy reserves in an animal. Body condition scoring for dogs and cats uses a range from 1 to 5. Healthy dogs and cats should have a body condition score between 3 and 4. Dogs or cats with a body condition score of 1 or 2 indicate a management or health problem. Body condition scores of 5 indicate an excessive amount of condition that could be detrimental to the dog or cat’s health.

Michigan State University Extension advises that it is important to note that body condition scores cannot be assigned by simply visually evaluating an animal. The animal must be touched and felt in three specific areas of the body. The first is the lumbar area, which is the area of the back behind the ribs containing the loin. The second is over the ribs and the third is the intercostal (between the rib) spaces.

When palpating the lumbar area, you will be able to feel the lumbar vertebrae, which have a vertical protrusion called the spinous processes, and two horizontal protrusions called the transverse process. The ribs gently slope out of the spine downward. By running your hand over the lumbar vertebrae and rib area, you will be able to feel the amount of fat, or flesh, the animal has.

Body condition score (BCS) ratings

  • BCS 1 = Emaciated. The ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all body prominences are visually evident from a distance. The animal has no discernible body fat and there is an absence of muscle mass.
  • BCS 2 = Thin. The ribs on thin animals can be easily felt and may be visible with no palpable fat. The tops of the lumbar vertebrae are visible, but the pelvic bones are less prominent. There is an obvious waist to the animal and an abdominal tuck.
  • BCS 3 = Moderate. The animal’s ribs are palpable without excessive fat cover and the abdomen is appropriately tucked up when viewed from the side.
  • BSC 4 = Stout. The animal has a general fleshy appearance. The ribs are palpable, but with difficulty. There are noticeable fat deposits over the lumbar spine and base of the tail. There may be no abdominal tuck.
  • BCS 5 = Obese. The animal has large fat deposits over the chest, spine and tail base; moderate fat deposits may be detected on the neck and limbs. There is no waist or abdominal tuck. The abdomen is distended.

For more information about body condition scores on dogs and cats, please visit The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center Body Condition Scoring Chart.

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