Have you heard of a body condition score (BCS) for dogs and cats? It’s a scale that is commonly used by veterinarians and other professionals to rate the overall condition of a pet as it pertains to weight and nutrition. Though this might sound dull, it’s actually a great way for pet owners and vets to easily see where a pet stands and either make adjustments to weight or help us diagnose an underlying health problem.
We get it. It’s easy to not fully realize how underweight or overweight a dog or cat actually is simply because we get used to seeing them a certain way every day. They might be slightly underweight or incredibly obese, but the health problems that can be associated are substantial and sometimes deadly.
If a dog or cat is underweight, it can just be an indicator that they need to be fed more– and possibly better–food. But it might also be a symptom of possible conditions ranging from hyperthyroidism to cancer.
Taking those two possibilities as examples, we can see the importance of keeping a close eye on body condition score. Thyroid conditions are usually easy to treat with an affordable daily medication and greatly improve quality of life. And we all know that any type of cancer has the best prognosis the earlier it is caught.
If a dog or cat is overweight, it’s probable that the excess weight is caused by a diet that is too high in calories for the level of exercise of the pet. While less common, it could also be caused by hypothyroidism or even Cushing’s disease, as just two examples. The critical thing to note about the dietary cause, though, is that obesity wreaks havoc in the long term, just as with humans. Just like with people, obesity is linked to diabetes, aches and pains from extra stress on joints, weakened cardiovascular function, etc. Preventing years of pain from joints or the challenge of daily insulin injections is so worth it for our furry family members! For dogs, in particular, a good deal of difference can be made just by feeding healthier treats that you probably have in your kitchen already!
There are two commonly used body condition scoring systems. One ranks a scale of 1-9, and the other ranks 1-5.
Note that 1 is the poorest condition. This pet would be emaciated. Five/nine is very obese and all too common. This pet is easily out of breath, the heart is working harder, and development of diabetes would be no surprise. Any potential orthopedic issues would be exacerbated by the extra weight, as well.
The ideal body condition score for dogs and cats is in the middle of each scoring system. You should be able to feel the ribs without obvious fat over them. You should be able to see the waist behind the rib cage, and the abdomen should tuck up when viewed from the side. Of course, this varies a bit by breed. A Boxer will have a more tucked-appearing abdomen than a Labrador Retriever! Please feel free to ask your vet for guidance on your pet’s target weight.
Can you feel your dog’s or cat’s ribs with your hands? Are you concerned about their weight or unsure? We’d be happy to talk to you about it during a Wellness Exam!
Prevention and early detection are key to maintaining your pet’s good health, which is why it’s important to share this easy, visual tool.