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All About Body Condition Score in Dogs

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Wondering if your dog may be under- or overweight? Every dog’s ideal weight is different. A body condition score is a tool that you can use in between vet visits to monitor your dog’s weight and help them stay in a healthy range.

What is a body condition score in dogs?

A body condition score (BCS) is a number that acts as a measure of a dog’s body fat, roughly similar to body mass index (BMI) in humans. 

There are two versions of the scale. One scale ranges from one to five. The other ranges from one to nine. Some veterinarians, including the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), use the nine-point scale. Others use the five-point scale, which can also be converted into nine points using halves of each number (1.5, 2.5, etc.). Veterinarians often use the nine-point scale for small animals, while the five-point scale is more common for large animals. 

Why is a dog’s body condition score important?

A body condition score can be a useful tool for assessing whether a dog is at a healthy weight. 

“Veterinarians use body condition score as an objective measure of whether or not a pet is at a healthy weight. Body condition scoring tends to be more reliable than weight measurement alone, as dogs of different breeds and body types tend to ‘wear’ their weight differently.”

Dr. Jenna Dockweiler, MS, DVM, DACT, CCRT, CVAT, Veterinary Geneticist at Embark

Feeding your dog a healthy diet is one way to help ensure that their body condition score stays in a healthy range.

Examples of body condition scores in dogs

Here, we’ll use the nine-point scale to explain body condition scoring. According to the WSAVA, there are three categories that a dog’s body condition score could fall into: 1) under ideal, 2) ideal, and 3) over ideal.

“Under ideal” body condition scores

The WSAVA considers body condition scores of one to three to be “under ideal” for dogs. If you can easily see or feel your dog’s ribs or bones, it could be a sign that their body condition score is in the “under ideal” range. 

Body condition score of 1/9 (or 1/5): Your dog has a body condition score of one if you can see their ribs, spine, pelvic bones, and other bony points from a distance. They have no noticeable body fat and/or an obvious loss of muscle mass. A body condition score of one means the dog is emaciated.

A dog has a body condition score of 2 out of 9 if you can easily see their ribs, spine, and pelvic bones.
A body condition score of 2/9 or 1.5/5

Body condition score of 2/9 (or 1.5/5): Your dog has a body condition score of two if you can easily see their ribs, spine, and pelvic bones. They have no palpable fat. There may be some evidence of other bony points and minimal loss of muscle mass.

Body condition score of 3/9 (or 2/5): Your dog has a body condition score of three if you can easily feel your dog’s ribs and there is little to no fat covering them. You can see the hints of their lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones. Your dog has an obvious waist and abdominal tuck, meaning that their abdomen appears tucked behind the rib cage.

“Ideal” body condition scores

An ideal body condition score for dogs is four or five on the nine-point scale, or a three on the five-point scale.

A body condition score of 4/9 or 2.5/5

Body condition score of 4/9 (or 2.5/5): Your dog has a body condition score of four if you can easily feel their ribs, with minimal fat covering them. Your dog’s waist is easily visible when you’re looking at them from above. If you’re looking at them from the side, you can see an abdominal tuck.

Profile and top view of a dog with a body condition score of 5 out of 9. Their waist can be seen from above, and their ribs can be felt easily, without excess fat covering them.
A body condition score of 5/9 or 3/5

Body condition score of 5/9 (or 3/5): Your dog has a body condition score of five if you can easily feel their ribs without extra fat covering them. You can see your dog’s waist from above, and you can see their abdomen tucked up when looking at them from the side.

A body condition score of four is very similar to, but slightly thinner than, a body condition score of five. Both are considered ideal, so don’t worry if your dog seems to be in between. “You can think of a dog with a body condition score of four as having the physique of an Olympic athlete,” says Dr. Dockweiler. 

“Over ideal” body condition scores

The WSAVA considers body condition scores of six to nine to be “over ideal” for dogs, meaning that they have some amount of excess fat.

Body condition score of 6/9 (or 3.5/5): Your dog has a body condition score of six if you can feel their ribs with slight excess fat covering them. When looking at your dog from above, you can see their waist, but it might not be obvious. When looking at them from the side, you can see their abdomen tucked up a bit.

Profile view and view from above of a dog with a body condition score of 7 out of 9. A dog with a body condition score of 7 has a layer of fat covering their ribs and may not have a visible waistline or abdominal tuck.
A body condition score of 7/9 or 4/5

Body condition score of 7/9 (or 4/5): Your dog has a body condition score of seven if you can still feel their ribs, but with difficulty. They likely have a heavy layer of fat covering the ribs. You can see fat deposits over the lower part of their spine and the base of their tail. They may not have a visible waistline, and may or may not have an abdominal tuck.

Body condition score of 8/9 (or 4.5/5): Your dog has a body condition score of eight if you can’t feel their ribs, and you notice heavy fat deposits over the lower part of their spine and the base of their tail. You can’t see their waist when looking at your dog from above, or their abdominal tuck when looking at them from the side. You may notice that their belly bulges out from the rest of their body (abdominal distension).

Profile and view from above of a dog with a body condition score of 9. A body condition score of 9 means that the dog has visible fat deposits and abdominal distension.
A body condition score of 9/9 or 5/5

Body condition score of 9/9 (or 5/5): Your dog has a body condition score of nine if you see large fat deposits in the region between their neck and abdomen, over their spine, and at the base of their tail. You may also see fat deposits on their neck and limbs. You don’t see a waist or abdominal tuck, and their belly bulges out from the rest of their body (called “abdominal distension”).

How to measure your dog’s body condition score

To measure your dog’s body condition score, follow these steps:

  1. First, take a look at your dog from above and note their body shape, bones, and amount of fat on either side. Can you easily see their waist?
  2. Next, look at your dog from the side. Do you notice an abdominal tuck? Does their belly curve up closer to their hind legs, or does it hang lower to the ground?
  3. Gently run your hands along your dog’s back and the sides of their rib cage. Can you feel the ribs easily, or are they covered by a layer of fat?
  4. Feel your dog’s hips. Can you feel the points of their hip bones? Do you notice any fat or muscle around them?

Body condition score and obesity

Unfortunately, pet obesity is a growing problem in the United States. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, as of 2018, 55.8% of dogs were classified as clinically overweight or obese by their veterinary healthcare professional.

Obesity can increase a dog’s risk for other health conditions, including:

  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Skin conditions
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Decreased life span

Knowing your dog’s body condition score can help you monitor their overall health and prevent obesity. If you notice any changes in your dog’s eating habits, including sudden weight gain or weight loss, talk to your veterinarian.

Factors affecting body condition score in dogs

There are several factors that can affect a dog’s body condition score, including:

  • Breed
  • Diet
  • Age
  • Spay/neuter status
  • Exercise
  • Food motivation

Some dogs have a variant in the POMC gene associated with food motivation. This genetic variant, sometimes called the “munchies” gene, is one of the variants for which Embark tests. Dogs with one or two copies of this genetic variant are likely to have bigger appetites than other dogs. They need carefully structured diet plans to avoid obesity.

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If your dog has high food motivation, there are several ways you can help them slow down their eating pace.

Why does Embark ask about my dog’s body condition score?

If you’re an Embark customer, you’ll see a question about your dog’s body shape and silhouette in the Annual Health Survey in your Embark account. We encourage you to let us know about your dog’s body shape when filling out the health survey. This information helps our scientists make discoveries that help all dogs live healthier lives. Thank you for contributing to research!

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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