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How To Find Your Dog's Body Condition Score

What Is a Body Condition Score?

Stepping on a scale is an easy way for people to monitor their weight, but routinely weighing your dog can be a hassle. What if there was a simpler method for determining if your dog is too skinny, too overweight, or just right? There’s called a body condition score (BCS).

The only tools you need to determine your dog’s body condition score are your hands and your eyes. A 1997 study first described a body condition score system for dogs that is the basis for the ones that are in common use today.

How Veterinarians Use Body Condition Scores for Dogs

Veterinarians check their patients’ body condition scores almost every time they see them. Monitoring for changes in both a dog’s weight and body condition score provides vets with more information than either measure does by itself.

Sometimes a dog’s weight will change for perfectly normal reasons. For example, puppies quickly put on weight as they grow. How can you know if a five-pound weight gain over three weeks is appropriate for a puppy? You check their body condition score.

On the other hand, a dog’s weight might be stable even when they’re actually losing body fat or muscle mass. This could happen if a dog has a disease such as congestive heart failure, which causes fluid to accumulate in the body. By looking at body condition score and weight, veterinarians can get the clearest picture possible of a dog’s physical status.

How To Find Your Dog’s Body Condition Score

Pet parents can also use body condition scoring as an easy way to monitor for changes in their dog’s weight. It won’t pick up small amounts of weight gain or loss, but trends do become obvious over time. Assessing a dog’s body condition score can also help you determine how much food you should offer—on the low end of the range recommended on a dog food’s label if they need to lose a little weight and on the high end if they need to gain.

Finding your dog’s body condition score might seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice, it will become easy:

  1. First, look at your dog from above. Does their waist (the area between their rib cage and hips) curve in, go straight across, or curve out?

  2. Next, look at your dog from the side. Does their abdomen (tummy) tuck up, go straight across, or droop down? Are their ribs, spine, and hips easily visible or covered with a little (or a lot) of fat?

  3. Then, run your hands across your dog’s ribs, spine, and hips. Are bones easily felt right under the skin, or are they covered by fat? Use your own hand as a guide. Make a fist and run a finger over your knuckles. This is what too little fat feels like. Lay your hand flat and feel your knuckles again. This is what a good covering of fat feels like. Flip your hand over and feel your knuckles through your palm. This is what a dog’s ribs feel like with too much fat covering them.

  4. Finally, assign your dog a body condition score using the following charts:

  • For Small Dogs:

  • For Medium Dogs:

  • For Large Dogs:

  • For Extra Large Dogs:

What Is a Good Body Condition Score for Dogs?

There are several different body condition scoring systems available for dogs. Some use a 5-point scale, but 9-point scales are the most popular. A good body condition score for dogs on a 9-point scale is a 4 or a 5. On a 5-point scale, this corresponds to a 2.5 or a 3.

In other words, dogs should be right in the middle or just slightly on the thin side of whatever body condition scoring system you use. Several studies have shown that dogs who are at a normal weight, or even a little skinnier than normal, live longer and healthier lives than dogs who are overweight or obese.

What Is a Bad Body Condition Score for Dogs?

Your dog is too skinny if their body condition score is less than a 4 out of 9. They will be considered emaciated if they have a score of 1 out of 9. BCS scores of 2/9 and 3/9 are considered very thin and underweight, respectively.

More commonly, dogs have body condition scores that are greater than 5/9. The Association of Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that in 2022, 59% of dogs in the United States were overweight. Here’s what body condition scores over 5 mean, according to the American Animal Hospital Association’s Weight Management Guidelines.

Body Condition Score - Percent Overweight

  • 6/9 - 10%

  • 7/9 - 20%

  • 8/9 - 30%

  • 9/9 - 40%

  • 9/9 - > 40%

How to Keep a Dog’s Weight Healthy

Does your dog have a body condition score of 4 or 5 out of 9? Congratulations! Keep up your good work and monitor for weight gain or loss by checking their BCS once a month.

If your dog is just a little underweight (BCS 3/9) or a tad overweight (BCS 6/9) and you know that they’re otherwise healthy, you may be able to manage the problem at home. Start by figuring out how many calories your dog takes in every day, including any treats or other extras. Manufacturers should provide the caloric content of a food or treat on its label.

Try increasing your dog’s caloric intake by 10% if they need to gain weight and decreasing it by 10% if they need to lose weight and reassess their body condition score in a month. If your dog’s BCS isn’t improving, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Of course, dogs who are severely underweight (a BCS of 1 or 2) or significantly overweight (a BCS of 7, 8, or 9) should be seen by a veterinarian. The doctor can rule out health problems as an underlying cause of your dog’s poor body condition score and recommend an appropriate diet.

Dogs Body Condition Score
Dogs Body Condition Score


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