Body Condition Scoring

Katie Havill

Body Condition Scoring in Small Animals

Obesity is common in pets, and it predisposes them for problems later in life. By using a tool called the body condition scoring system, pet owners can assess their pet and make dietary changes when necessary to benefit their overall health.

In 2014, The University of Liverpool came out with a study that compared pet owners’ assessment of body scoring their own dogs as compared to what the correct description of body condition scoring (Eastland, 2014). According to the study, out of 75 overweight dogs, owners underestimated the body condition in 81% of their dogs, scoring them as ideal rather than overweight. Approximately 93% of owners did not know of a body condition scoring system nor how to use it.

A body condition score assesses the amount of body fat and muscle in relation to the skeletal system. There are two different scoring systems; depending on species, which include companion and production animals.

The scoring system is a 1 to 9 scale with whole score increments or a 1 to 5 scale with half score increments. When using either scale, the scoring system is described with multiple factors involved. The characteristics can be visual, palpable or both and includes several regions of the body. Landmarks such as the ribs, hip and spine are some of the anatomical structures used to identify the correct body condition.

According to Purina’s 9 Point BCS, the ideal body condition score of 5 has three characteristics:

  1. An obvious waist behind the ribs when viewed from above
  2. A tuck in the belly when viewed from the side
  3. Ribs that are easily felt but not seen

body condition score

An increased body condition score can lead to orthopedic, reproductive, urinary, and cardiorespiratory disorders along with a number of other diseases. Anesthetic and physical evaluations are also more complicated with an overweight animal. The longevity of your pet’s life can be significantly decreased with a higher body condition score, as well.

Management of your pet’s body condition score is part of what is called a multimodal therapy, which includes dietary management, lifestyle management and monitoring of weight gain or weight loss.

An individual patient should have their diet assessed and then have balanced diet options that are recommended by their veterinarian. There are a number of different diets available to accommodate breed, size, age and disease.

Physical activity is another area of lifestyle management. Playing outside for a few minutes each day or walking around the block will keep your pet more active.

The above image is the Nestle Purina Body Condition System. This illustration has a great BCS reference that owners and practitioners alike should use with their pets. By monitoring your pet’s body condition, you are able to give your pets a better and longer quality of life.


Body Condition System. (2016). Nestle Purina. Retrieved on May 17, 2016 from

Eastland-Jones, R. C., German, A. J., Holden, S. L., Biourge, V., & Pickavance, L. C. (2014). Owner misperception of canine body condition persists despite use of a body condition score chart. Journal of Nutritional Science, 3, e45.

Kealy, et. al. Effects of Diet Restriction on Life Span and Age-Related Changes in Dogs. JAVMA 2002; 220:1315-1320.

Laflamme DP. Development and Validation of a Body Condition Score System for Dogs. Canine Practice July/August 1997; 22:10-15.

Mawby D, Bartges JW, Moyers T, et. al. Comparison of body fat estimates by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry and deuterium oxide dilution in client owned dogs. Compendium 2001; 23 (9A): 70.