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How to Calculate Your Dog’s Body Condition Score and BMI

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Managing your dog’s size and weight with a healthy diet and exercise is one of the best ways to mitigate health issues and extend the life of your pet. For dogs that are above or below a healthy weight, a veterinarian can outline a specialized plan that adjusts feeding and exercise and put your pet on a path to better health. But what if you’re not sure if your dog is at a healthy weight? This guide will explain how to inspect your dog’s body using what is called a Body Condition Score (BCS) and how to calculate your pet’s Body Mass Index (BMI). 

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Your veterinarian will analyze your dog’s weight during a routine checkup, but there are some easy measurements you can do at home to determine the status of your dog’s physique. We’ll explain to find your pet’s body condition score and calculate their BMI to help you better understand their weight and body size.

Finding Your Dog’s Body Condition Score

A body condition score (BCS) is a number assigned to your pet based on fat at a few key locations on their body. Using a body condition score chart is a quick and easy way to rate your dog’s weight. It is a simple trick that veterinarians and pet parents use to get a quick snapshot of a dog or cat’s body condition.

Unlike BMI calculations, a body condition score does not require specific details, such as the dog’s age, breed, height, or even exact weight. Instead, it is a visual inspection you can use to give a dog a rating between 1 and 5, or 1 and 9, with scores closest to the middle being the healthiest. These instructions use a 1-9 scale.

Instructions

For long hair breeds, a visual inspection may be difficult. If you have a fluffy pooch, follow the below steps during your dog’s next bath when hair is wet and flattened against the body, or skip ahead to Step 2 using your hands to feel your dog’s physique.

 

Have your dog stand on all four legs. From there, position yourself above your dog and look straight down. Note how much visible fat you see protruding from either side of the dog’s torso. If you see your dog’s ribs, instead of torso fat, make a note, as this will also be useful for assigning your dog a rating.

From the same position, gently run two fingers across the sides of your dog’s chest and ribcage. Note whether or not you can feel the ribs and if you can count them. You can also run your fingers across the dog’s back to see if you can feel individual vertebrae.

Compare your findings with the chart below and try to find a number that most accurately reflects what you discovered when you inspected your dog.

Body Condition Score Reference Chart

Rating Description
1/9 Dog’s ribs, pelvic bones, and vertebrae are very prominent and ribs are easy to count. Dramatic waistline and severe tummy or abdominal tuck, minimal fat covering
2/9 Dog’s ribs, pelvic bones, and vertebrae are very prominent and ribs are easy to count. Dramatic waistline and severe tummy or abdominal tuck
3/9 Rib cage and vertebrae are easy to feel and somewhat visible
4/9 Rib cage and vertebrae are easy to detect by touch, somewhat difficult to note visually
5/9 Ribs, pelvic bone, and vertebrae can still be detected with a light touch, but it is obvious there is a thin layer of fat concealing them, making it harder to note the ribs visually
6/9 Slight excess fat covering over ribs and backbones, somewhat difficult to feel individually, even with a light touch. Waist is still visible, but not prominent
7/9 Ribs are covered with a fairly heavy fat deposit, which requires finger pressure to feel the ribs. Slight abdominal tuck, but very subtle
8/9 Ribs, pelvis, and backbones concealed by a thick layer of fat. Requires significant pressure to feel the ribs and they are very difficult to count
9/9 Ribs and vertebrae almost impossible to feel beneath a heavy fat covering. Tummy droops downwards and protrudes outward over the waist. Noticeable fat deposits can even be felt on the legs, face, and where the tail meets the body

A rating between 1 and 3 is considered underweight for a dog, 4 to 6 is considered quite good- with 5 being the ideal weight. Anything beyond a score of 7 is considered overweight.

 

How to Use a BMI Calculator for a Dog

Another way to quickly check if your dog’s current weight is a concern is to calculate your dog’s body mass index or BMI. Essentially, BMI is a measure of body fat calculated against the dog’s weight and height. Calculating your dog’s BMI will help you determine if your dog is underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

Tractive, a popular pet GPS brand, offers a free BMI calculator on their website. Simply type in your pet’s measurements, age, and breed to receive your dog or cat’s BMI and index range in seconds.

To calculate BMI, you will need to know your dog’s weight. If you have a bathroom scale, one of the easiest ways to check your dog’s weight is to stand on the scale while holding the dog. After you have noted the total weight, simply step on the scale without the dog. Subtract your own weight from the first number and that should give you a fairly accurate read of your dog’s body weight.

How to Help Your Dog Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you have performed a BMI calculation and you’ve found your dog’s body condition score, the next step is maintaining a healthy weight or helping them achieve a healthy body weight.

Speaking with a veterinarian is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help your dog achieve or stay at a healthy body weight. If your dog is underweight, a veterinarian will provide strategies for weight gain, such as a high-calorie diet. If, on the other hand, your dog is overweight, a vet can suggest strategies for helping your dog maintain a more active lifestyle and likely a weight-loss diet plan.

Hello Ralphie veterinarians know how important body weight is for a dog’s overall health and are here to answer questions and help you develop a strategy. You can schedule a time to speak with a vet online or read more helpful weight management articles on our blog. Be sure to check out:  

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