Fit or Fat: A Look Into Your Pet’s Body Condition Score
Wed, April 21, 2021

Fit or Fat: A Look Into Your Pet’s Body Condition Score

Have you ever wondered whether or not your beloved pet is in the right body condition? Like humans, the health and fitness of a pet depend on how much exercise they receive and their overall weight / Photo by: famveldman via 123RF


Have you ever wondered whether or not your beloved pet is in the right body condition? Like humans, the health and fitness of a pet depend on how much exercise they receive and their overall weight. Many do not realize that obesity and being underweight is a problem that can also occur in animals, with variations depending on the type of animal and its size. Thus, it is important to know not only how to care for pets but also how to evaluate your furry companion’s weight in order to address weight loss or weight gain and proper nutrition.


Body Condition Scoring

Overweight or underweight pets are at a higher risk for a variety of health problems, including skin infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, immune suppression, diabetes, orthopedic and arthritic disorders, increased surgical and anesthetic risk, and even forms of cancer, shared the Drake Center, an American Animal Hospital Association accredited animal hospital. Body condition scoring, or BCS, is a number assigned to your pet based on fat located at key points in the body. It’s a method similar to the Body Mass Index in humans, but with a scale of 1 to 9. The lower numbers show that an animal is severely underweight, in danger of death and starvation while the higher numbers show that an animal is severely overweight, at risk for various diseases. The ideal number is 4 to 5 BCS out of 9, with every number above 5 an extra 20% of being overweight. Between 1 and 9, the first 4 are varying categories that depict a pet that is “too thin,” where ribs, spine, and pelvic bones are visible, with less muscle mass and fat. Five is ideal, with pets that are well-proportioned, whose ribs, spine, and pelvic bones are not visible but easily felt, with a waistline and abdominal tuck. Numbers 6 to 9 depict dogs that are too heavy, with ribs, spine, and pelvic bones barely felt or seen, with massive fat deposits, diminished waist, and rounding abdomen.

Although this method is visual and somewhat subjective, this rating is used to standardize the level of an animal’s weight by looking at areas of the body from the ribs and waist to the hips. With the ribs, the test is to feel your pet’s ribs, depending on how visible and easily the ribs are touched. For the hips, it’s being able to feel the joints of the animal. For the waist, behind the rib cage, this is a part of your pet where you’d feel a tuck on the abdomen. But, exceptions include those dogs with a lean body type.                                      

Are Your Pets Fat?

Diabetes in dogs and cats are the most common pet illness. Just like in people, certain factors make animals more likely to develop diabetes, which is completely within control. Between 2017 and 2018, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that there were a total of 50.2 million dogs in the United States and 56.5 million cats, the majority of which were found to be overweight. During the same time in 2017, a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a non-profit organization committed to making the lives of dogs, cats, other animals, and people healthier, found that 56% of pet dogs are overweight or obese while it's 60% for pet cats. These numbers represented a combination of BCS numbers from 6 through 9.

APOP further revealed that in 2018, 59.6% of cats were considered overweight to obese, consisting of 25.7% from BCS 6 to 7, known as overweight, and 33.8% from BCS 8 to 9, known as obese, while only 38.5% were found normal or BCS 4 to 5, with 1.6% considered thin or BCS 2 to 3, and 0.5% considered too thin or BCS 1. Also in 2018, APOP found that 55.8% of dogs were overweight and obese, consisting of 36.9% from BCS 6 to 7 overweight and 18.9% from BCS 8 to 9 obese, 43.1% were normal or BCS 4 to 5, 0.9% were considered thin or BCS 2 to 3, and 0.2% were considered too thin or BCS 1.

A separate 2017 APOP survey found that 90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pets as having a normal weight, showing that most humans still lacked the knowledge and know-how on how to really care for their pets. The survey also shared that more than half or 58% of pet owners and 54% of veterinary professionals have tried helping pets lose weight. Additionally, 40% of pet owners did not know whether organic pet food is healthier than commercial pet food. More, however, have confidence in the quality of generic commercial pet food, with 63% of pet owners and 76% of veterinary professionals saying that commercial pet food is better than it was 10 years ago.

Cause and Effect

Fat cats and pudgy dogs are more likely to end up developing diseases such as diabetes more than those pets that are lean. Symptoms of common diseases in our pets include unusual behavior, possible vomiting, excessive drinking of water and urination, cloudy eyes, and even infections and eventually weight loss despite an increased appetite. Obese pets are also more likely to end up with arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, dermatologic conditions, lipomas, and more. Unlike humans, dogs, cats, and other pets aren’t able to go out and buy chicken nuggets or other unhealthy and indulgent food on a whim. This means that the health of our pets is directly our responsibility.

Taking care of pets is easy and doable. It’s never too late to start them on healthy eating and exercising habits. While it’s best to consult veterinary dieticians, routines and full advice on pet diet are also readily available online. Pet owners must remain informed and proactive to keep pets healthy and living at their best. Goals for weight loss and weight gain depend on the pet’s body, condition, goals, activity level, and age. Keep diligent with schedules and tracking goals, regularly check the BCS, and tweak or adjust diet if initial plans don’t seem to work.