Body condition score & other tools to manage your pet's weight

15 September 2023 - 4 min read
A cat and a dog eat out of the same bowl

Maintaining a healthy weight is as crucial for our furry friends as it is for us. Just like in humans, obesity in cats and dogs can lead to a variety of health issues. 

As responsible pet parents, it's crucial to monitor our cats' and dogs' weight as a part of their overall well-being. In this article, we'll delve into the significance of tools for managing your pet's weight, focusing on the Body Condition Score (BCS) and other useful methods.

Why do I need tools to help my cat or dog lose weight?

As our beloved pets' caretakers, we want them to lead happy and healthy lives. 

However, improper weight management can put them at risk for and/or worsen a range of health problems.

For dogs, this will include things like:

For our feline friends, the list includes:

  • joint issues (like arthritis);

  • feline diabetes;

  • heart disease;

  • feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD);

  • certain cancers;

  • and, similarly, a decreased quality of life. 

Therefore, understanding and effectively utilising tools to assess and manage your pet's weight can make a marked impact on their well-being.

What is a body condition score for cats and dogs?

One of the key tools in evaluating your pet's weight is the Body Condition Score - or BCS. 

Unlike a simple weight measurement, BCS takes into account your pet's size, shape, and overall physique. It helps determine whether your cat or dog is overweight, underweight, or at an ideal weight.

Subjective in nature, BCS involves evaluating your pet's physical attributes and scoring them on a scale of 1 to 9, with 5 being the optimal score. 

A score of 1 indicates the pet is noted to be extremely underweight, while 9 signifies that the pet is obese. 

With thanks to Royal Canin, we can show you what some of the commonly used BCS charts for both cats and dogs look like.

A body condition scoring chart made for a medium dog - it goes from 1 (too thin) to 9 (obese) A body condition scoring chart for a cat - that goes from 1 (too thin) to 9 (obese).When determining a BCS, the following aspects are considered:

Ribs: Ribs should be easily palpable, with minimal excess fat covering them.

Waist: When viewed from above, your pet's waist should exhibit an hourglass shape.

Abdomen: When observed from the side, the abdomen should be tucked up, without excessive tummy fat.

Body Condition Scoring for cats and dogs serves as a valuable tool among many for assessing a pet's weight and overall health. It provides insights beyond a mere number on the scale and allows you to take proactive steps to maintain or improve your pet's condition.

On a rough scale, BCS can also be used to estimate a pet's overall body fat percentage.

How else can I tell my pet's weight?

There are several methods and tools to gauge your pet's weight and overall body condition.

Body weight

Regularly measuring your pet's weight is a fundamental practice to keeping them healthy. However, keep in mind that weight can vary, especially among mixed breeds. It should be used in conjunction with other assessment methods for a comprehensive view of your pet's health.

You can weigh your pet at home, or get someone from a veterinary practice to do it for you. Typically your vet office will weigh your pet each time it goes in for a visit. Take note of this number and keep track of it. You can also ask the vet nurse or vet you are seeing that day if they feel that weight is appropriate for your pet.

Fat percentage

Body fat percentage is another metric that provides insight into your pet's body composition. 

Practically speaking, this is most commonly estimated in conjunction with giving your pet a body condition score. While there will be variation within a BCS level for any age or breed, typically body fat percentage is well estimated based on a dog's BCS. For example, a dog with an ideal BCS of 4-5/9 will have a body fat percentage of 20% on average. This percentage may be lower for a young or very naturally lean breed, vs. higher for an older dog of the same breed.

Your pet’s measurements

Measuring specific areas of your pet's body, such as around the head and limbs, can offer additional clues about their body condition and weight. Taking these specific measurements can help predict what is a healthy weight range and body condition for a pet of that frame size.

DEXA scan

The gold standard in assessing body composition, a Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (or DEXA) scan provides precise data on bone density, muscle mass, and fat distribution. 

While much less commonly used in veterinary medicine due to its expense, a DEXA scan offers detailed insights for accurate assessment.  These more advanced tools may be used at veterinary school teaching hospitals or high-tech veterinary referral facilities.

Helping cats and dogs lose weight

Incorporating a combination of these tools enables a comprehensive evaluation of your pet's weight and health status. This multifaceted approach helps your vet make a plan for your individual pet that allows for measurable assessments when it comes to weight loss. It also helps owners visually see and understand where their pet may be in the scheme of their weight journey. 

Just like humans, pets require diligent weight management to lead healthy lives. The tools discussed here provide a holistic approach to evaluating your pet's weight and overall health. By utilising these tools and seeking guidance from accredited pet health resources, you can do your best to assure that your furry companions enjoy as long, happy, and active lives as possible.

How pet insurance can help

Diagnosing, treating, and managing obesity-related health conditions can be complicated and costly, but dog insurance and cat insurance may help! Just make sure you insure your dog when they’re young so that chronic conditions may be covered instead of being considered pre-existing conditions.

Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.