Shape of you
About Body Condition Score
Like many dog parents, I tried to gauge how healthy Bailey’s weight was when she was growing up, by referring to a dog weight chart I found online. There was one problem, though — Bailey is an Indie, and there is no standard age-weight chart for one.
Like our lovely Indies, many dogs don’t fit squarely within one breed. Because of unregulated and illegal breeding practices, even so-called pure-breed dogs may have traces of other dog breeds in their genetic makeup. Their ideal height and weight can be affected by this. Even if you use the most dominant breed visible in the dog for reference, weight can be an inaccurate marker for health in mixed breed dogs. Furthermore, a dog’s growth is not determined solely by the breed. Other factors like environment, nutrition, care, etc., also affect it. In such circumstances, dog parents can turn to a uniform and easy-to-follow system called BCS — Body Condition Score.
What is BCS:
Body Condition Score is a system of gauging your dog’s weight based on evaluating the fat distribution across key areas along your dog’s body. The BCS system is easy to follow at home and allows you to keep a check on your dog’s health weight-wise without making frequent trips to the vet or coaxing your dog to get on a weighing scale.
BCS can be scored on a 5 or 9 point system. On both the scales, a lower number like 1 indicates that your dog is severely malnourished whereas, a higher number like 5 or 9 (based on the scale) indicates obesity. The ideal BCS range is around the middle of the scale — 3 on a 5 point scale and 5 on a 9 point scale. When referring to your dog’s Body Condition Score, make sure you mention which scale the particular score is on. A 5 on a 5-point scale means an obese dog, whereas, on a 9-point scale, it is an ideal size.
How to assign a Body Condition Score:
To assign a Body Condition Score, you need to see and feel your dog while your dog is standing (like in the chart above), and give a score on the 5 or 9 point chart based on the number your dog corresponds to.
Look at your pet from the top and the side. When looking from the top, you will look at the part between your dog’s rump and the middle of the spine. Does your dog’s waistline curve inwards to make an hourglass shape?
When looking from the side, you will look at the same area, but you will look for whether your dog has a tucked-in tummy or a sagging abdomen. Your dog’s abdomen should slant upwards when you move from the rib cage towards the hind legs.
Once you have looked at your dog and noted the body shape, you can feel around your dog’s rib cage and take notes. Place your thumbs along the spine and spread your fingers over the rib cage. You should be able to feel the ribs under a layer of fat. If you have to apply pressure to feel the ribs, your dog is on the obese side. If you cannot feel any fat and feel the ribs sticking out, your dog is on the underweight side.
Pet your dog from the neck to the tail to feel the spine; move your fingers along the rump to feel the pelvic bones. Like the ribs, you should be able to feel these under a layer of fat. They should neither stick out nor be difficult to feel.
Use your hands to gauge how bones should feel in dogs across the BCS scale. Ribs on dogs lower on the BCS scale feel like your knuckles when your fist is closed tightly. Ribs on dogs at an optimal level on the BCS scale feel like your knuckles do when your hand is resting on a surface. On dogs higher up on the BCS scale, ribs will feel like the knuckles on the underside of your palm (hold your palm open and run your fingers just below the base of your fingers).
Assigning a score:
On a 5 point scale, these are the descriptions:
1: Malnourished — The bones stick out and are visible. There is an extreme dip in the waistline (from the top) and tummy (from the side). Loss of muscle mass.
2: Underweight — The bones are easy to feel, but the dip in waistline and tummy is more than the ideal extent.
3: Ideal weight — The bones can easily be felt under a layer of fat. The waistline has an hourglass shape, and the tummy has an upwards slant. Both have gradual curves.
4: Overweight — Bones are under a thick layer of fat and require pressure to feel. The inwards curve on the waistline is not apparent. A slight upward slant is visible from the side.
5: Obese — Bones cannot be felt underneath the fat. The waistline protrudes outwards, and from the side, the slant is downwards or is replaced by a sagging belly. Fat deposits on the face, legs and rump.
A 9-point scale is beneficial in identifying subtle changes in your dog’s body. You will notice the same descriptions, between which there will be slight differences. A 9-point scale may have the following descriptions:
1: Extremely malnourished — The bones stick out and are visible. There is an extreme dip in the waistline (from the top) and tummy (from the side). Loss of muscle mass.
2: Malnourished — The bones are visible with a severe dip in the waistline and an upward slant in the abdomen. Slight loss of muscle mass.
3: Underweight — The bones are easy to feel, but the dip in waistline and tummy is sharp.
4: Slightly Underweight — The bones are easy to feel under very little fat. A dip in waistline and upward slant in the tummy is evident, but they have a sharper curve than ideal.
5: Ideal weight — The bones can easily be felt under a layer of fat. The waistline has an hourglass shape, and the tummy has an upwards slant. Both have gradual curves.
6: Slightly overweight — The bones are a bit difficult to feel. The upward slant of the abdomen and dip in the waistline is less prominent than ideal.
7: Overweight — Bones are under a thick layer of fat and require pressure to feel. The inwards curve on the waistline is not apparent. A slight upward slant is visible from the side.
8: Obese — Bones can be felt under extreme pressure. The curve in the waistline and slant in the abdomen is not apparent.
9: Extremely Obese — Bones cannot be felt underneath the fat. The waistline protrudes outwards, and from the side, the slant is downwards or is replaced by a sagging belly. Fat deposits on the face, legs and rump.
Uses of BCS:
A dog’s Body Condition Score gives a pretty standard idea of the weight. If needed, it can be used to manage your dog’s weight through their diet and keep track of their growth. Based on the BCS assigned and taking into account the dog’s breed, level of activity, age, medical conditions and other factors, your veterinarian and/or nutritionist will recommend changes to your dog’s diet.
BCS may be difficult to gauge accurately in puppies — there’s a reason we have the term ‘puppy-fat,’ and that fat has a place in puppies’ bodies. As dogs grow up, this fat is distributed across the body, and they become leaner and gain muscle mass. However, you should still watch out for obesity in your puppy. Overweight puppies, especially of large breeds, are more likely to suffer joint injury and develop arthritis later in life. Puppies being scored on the BCS scales should be evaluated for the waistline and abdominal curves despite the puppy fat. Your veterinarian will be able to assess your puppy’s body condition more accurately.
Dogs come in a variety of sizes. Some breeds are naturally skinny or small, and some have massive amounts of fur around their bodies. While BCS is a standard reference, the exact state of your dog’s health, weight-wise, can be found out by taking body fat percentage into account along with BCS. This keeps people from labelling naturally skinny breeds as underweight and small or furry dogs as overweight. Senior dogs may have a higher fat percentage with the same BCS as dogs lose lean muscle mass as they grow older.
Indian pet parents are as dedicated to feeding their wards as any Indian parent (we’ve all had a couple of extra chapatis at their insistence!). As a result, we see chubby and obese dogs all around. Unfortunately, obesity is particularly challenging to manage in dogs. It can cause issues in their joints and internal organs, and increase the risks if they have to be put under anaesthesia or undergo surgery. Understanding BCS provides you with a free and easy to use tool that can help you gauge your dog’s body condition and ensure long-term health.