Fit, Fat or Floofy?
Posted in Chiropractic Treatments for Dogs

Fit, Fat or Floofy?  An Introduction to Body Condition Scoring For Dogs.

The Canine Body Condition Scoring System, known as ‘BCS’, was first developed by the nutritional scientists of the American animal food giant Purina (now Nestle Purina Petcare, an American subsidiary of the Swiss holding company Nestle).

Following the growing body of research demonstrating the alarming variations in the understanding of ideal body weight for pet dogs, coupled with increasing concerns over the prevalence of obesity within the domestic, canine population and the related co-morbidities such as heart disease, osteoarthritis and diabetes,  the BCS system was developed as a way for pet owners, pet professionals and veterinary professionals to standardise the assessment of the amount of body fat your dog has on their body, of which there are two types;

  • Type 1; Subcutaneous fat, which is a layer of fat that can be seen and felt underneath your dog’s skin
  • Type 2; Visceral fat, which is the fat that sits within the body cavity itself, accumulating around the internal organs, including the heart, stomach, kidneys and liver

Both types of fat have a negative impact on your dog’s health, a layer of subcutaneous fat will act as a thermal layer, reducing your dog’s ability to cool down effectively, while visceral fat is known to be the most dangerous as it can impact the efficiency of the internal organs.

The Gold Standard

This canine BCS system has pretty much become the gold standard protocol, now used internationally due to its simple accessibility. Based on a scale from 1 to 9, the dog is scored depending on several assessed factors. The system relies on a visual impression of the dog and a hands-on (palpation) assessment of the dog’s ribcage and abdomen.

The optimum BCS a dog should be is 4 or 5 out of 9, this would be expressed as 4/9, or 5/9. A dog scoring between 1/9 to 3/9, would be classed as underweight, with 1/9 being a severe case of malnourishment. A dog with a BCS of 6/9 to 9/9 would be considered above ideal weight at 6/9 to morbidly obese at 9/9.

Like everything in life, the Purina BCS it isn’t fool proof. It is open to bias and scoring does depend on an individual’s skill in understanding the principles of body fat/muscle ratios and how well the person assessing the BCS understands canine anatomy and how to palpate (feel) it.

For example, in all breeds, the ribcage should be easily felt through the skin at the point in line with and below the dog’s elbow, but in some breeds, for example Sighthounds, the ribs should be visible to the naked eye. Or let’s take the French Bulldog, while the BCS system would state that there should be a visual tuck of the abdomen behind the ribcage, in this breed, depending on the dog’s length of back and how well sprung the ribcage is, there will be no visual abdominal tuck present at a 4 or 5/9 BCS.

I’ll conclude this blog on an introduction to Body Condition Scoring by reminding you to let go of any bias of your personal opinion of what a fit and healthy dog looks like!

Remember to hold a “Dog Centred” approach to your assessment by looking beyond the breed and gender, seeing every dog as an individual, understanding their history, their pre-existing conditions, their age, behavioural nature and personality. The Purina Body Condition Scoring System, is a great start to supporting your dog to optimised health.


A link to the Nestle Body Condition Scoring Chart for Dogs can be found here;


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