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How to Find Your Dog's Body Condition Score | Pupford

September 27th, 2023

Filed under Health + Wellness

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Hello, fellow dog lovers and fur parents! Today, we're diving deep into a topic that's not just important but essential for our four-legged family members—Body Condition Scoring (BCS).

Think of it as a wellness check you can do at home, a way to keep tabs on your dog's health that goes beyond the numbers on a scale. Let's embark on this educational journey together!


First, let's demystify what the Body Condition Score (BCS) means.

The framework for the modern Body Condition Scoring systems we use to keep our fur babies in tip-top shape was laid out in a groundbreaking study in 1997.

It's a system that veterinarians and dog experts use to evaluate your dog's overall health based on their physical appearance and how they feel to the touch.

The scoring ranges from 1 to 9, where 1 signifies your dog is severely underweight, and 9 indicates obesity. The sweet spot? A score of 4 or 5 tells you your dog is in tip-top shape.

How do you assess? Well, there are two types of assessment you can do.

  • Visual Assessment: This involves looking at your dog from different angles. From above, you should notice a waistline; from the side, their belly should tuck up rather than hang down.
  • Tactile Assessment: This is all about getting hands-on. Gently feel your dog's ribs, spine, and hips. You should be able to feel these bones easily, but they shouldn't be visible to the eye.

Related Reading: The Sneaky Side of Calories in Dog Treats


how to accurately find dogs body condition score

So, you've got the basics of Body Condition Scoring down, but did you know that several factors can influence your dog's score?

That's right!

Your pup is unique, and various elements come into play when determining their overall health. Let's dig into the nitty-gritty, shall we?

  1. Breed: Different breeds have different body types and metabolic rates. For instance, a Greyhound is naturally leaner, while a Bulldog might be thicker. Knowing your breed's specific needs can help you better understand their ideal BCS.
  2. Diet: Ah, the power of good nutrition! The type of food, portion sizes, and feeding frequency can all impact your dog's body condition. Premium-quality dog food that's appropriate for your dog's age, size, and activity level is a game-changer.
  3. Age: Just like humans, dogs' nutritional needs change as they age. Puppies and senior dogs have different caloric and nutrient requirements, which can affect their body condition. Always consult your vet for age-appropriate dietary advice.
  4. Spay/Neuter Status: Did you know that spayed or neutered dogs may have slightly slower metabolisms? This can make them more prone to weight gain, so you might need to adjust their diet and exercise routine accordingly.
  5. Exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, while an active life can keep your dog lean and healthy. Regular walks, playtime, and even doggy sports can make a world of difference in your pup's BCS.
  6. Food Motivation: Some dogs would do anything for a treat, and it turns out, there's a genetic reason for that!


Some dogs have a genetic variant in the POMC gene, often dubbed the "munchies" gene.

This gene is associated with food motivation. If your dog has one or two copies of this variant, they will likely have a more voracious appetite than their counterparts.

This means you'll need to be extra vigilant with their diet to prevent obesity. Tailoring your care to these individual factors ensures that you're hitting all the right notes in the symphony of your dog's well-being.


how to figure out dog body condition score when they have a lot of fur

You might wonder, "Why all this fuss about a score?"

According to studies, a staggering 56% of dogs in the U.S. are either overweight or obese.

This isn't just a cosmetic issue; it's a health crisis.

Excess weight can lead to various medical problems, from joint pain to heart disease.

On the other end of the spectrum, a dog that's too lean could be at risk for nutritional deficiencies and decreased immunity. That's why understanding your dog's BCS is like holding the key to a treasure chest of well-being.


Measuring your dog's BCS is as simple as giving them a good pet but with a bit more attention to detail. Here's a breakdown:

  1. Ribs: Start by standing behind your dog and placing your hands on either side of their ribcage. Your fingers should touch the ribs without pressing too hard. If you have to press firmly to feel them, it's time to consult the vet.
  2. Waist: While you're standing above your dog, look for an hourglass figure. This is easier to spot in short-haired breeds, but a gentle touch can reveal a lot, even if your dog is fluffy.
  3. Abdominal Tuck: Finally, observe your dog from the side. Their belly should slope upwards as it goes from their ribcage to their hind legs. A hanging belly indicates that your dog might be carrying extra weight.
body condition score for determining healthy weight for a dog

The BCS chart above uses a 9-point scoring system that categorizes our four-legged friends into three main groups: underweight, ideal weight, and overweight.

Let's break it down:

  1. Underweight/Underideal (Score 1-3): If your dog falls into this category, it's a sign that they might not be getting enough nutrients or calories. Their ribs, spine, and other bones are easily felt or visible. While being lean is one thing, being underweight can lead to health issues like decreased immunity and energy.
  2. Just Right/Ideal (Score 4-5): This is the best zone for dogs! If your pup scores a 4 or 5, give yourself a pat on the back (and give them a belly rub). Dogs in this range have a visible waist, and their ribs are palpable but not visible, covered by a thin layer of fat. This is the sweet spot where most dogs should aim to be for optimal health.
  3. Overweight/Overideal (Score 6-9): If your dog's score is in this range, it's time for some lifestyle changes. Dogs in this category often have no visible waist, and their ribs are hard to feel under a layer of fat. Being overweight can lead to various health problems, from joint issues to heart disease.

The Body Condition Score chart is your one-stop shop for instantly assessing your dog's health.

Pro Tip: For our fluffy and long-haired friends, the tactile test is your best friend. Sometimes, all that fur can act like a natural "cloak," hiding the true body condition underneath.


If you're a proud parent of a puppy, you might be wondering how all this applies to your young furball.

Puppies are growing rapidly, and their body condition can change almost overnight! Before they reach four months, puppies often have a more rounded appearance. But once they hit around the four-month mark you can start applying the same BCS principles you'd use for an adult dog.

Keeping an eye on their body condition from a young age sets the stage for a lifetime of good health.


give your dog treats that only make up 10 percent of their daily calories

Let's talk about something that's crucial for your pup's long-term health—maintaining a healthy weight. Carrying extra pounds isn't just a fashion faux pas for our four-legged friends; it's a health hazard.

Excess weight puts a strain on virtually all of your dog's organs, leading to a domino effect of health issues that could even be life-threatening. So, keeping your dog active and within a healthy weight range isn't just a good idea—it's a life-saving mission!

Here's how you can help your dog reach their ideal weight. But before we talk about maintaining a healthy weight, let's discuss how to get there in the first place. Whether your dog is underweight or tipping the scales, achieving that ideal weight often involves a multi-pronged approach:

  • Special Diets: Sometimes, reaching that perfect weight might require a specialized diet. Consult your vet for recommendations for your dog's specific needs.
  • Feeding Schedules: Consistency is key! A regular feeding schedule can help control your dog's metabolism.
  • Activity Plans: Exercise isn't just for humans; your dog needs it too! Whether it's daily walks or weekend hikes, physical activity is essential.
  • Tech-Savvy Monitoring: Consider using an activity monitor designed for dogs to keep track of your pup's movements. It's like a Fitbit, but for Fido!

Once your dog has reached their ideal weight, the journey isn't over—it's just shifting gears. Here's how to keep that momentum going:

  • Regular Weigh-Ins: Make it a habit to weigh your dog regularly. This will help you catch any weight changes before they become a problem.
  • Portion Control: Adjust your dog's food portions based on factors like age and activity level. More exercise might mean a little extra kibble but always consult your vet.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Opt for high-quality, nutritious dog food and be mindful of treats. Always look for high-quality premium treats for your pup.
  • Mealtime Consistency: Stick to regular mealtimes to help regulate your dog's digestive system.

Understanding your dog's Body Condition Score is more than just a number game; it's a loving gesture to say, "I care about you, from your wet nose to your wagging tail." It empowers you to make informed decisions, contributing to your dog's happiness and longevity.

So go ahead, give your dog that extra belly rub today, but also take a moment to assess their body condition. They might not say it, but their healthier, happier life will be thanks enough!

Ready to take the next step in your dog's health journey? Check out our Preventative Care Program. 

Preventative care for your pet is critical to maintaining their health and avoiding unwanted and life-threatening illnesses. Learn more!


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