Health & Nutrition

Overweight? Underweight? Understand Your Dog’s Body Condition Score

french bulldog stretching indoors

Dr. Francis states that “Obesity is one of the diseases we see in veterinary medicine that is both 100% preventable and 100% treatable.”

This article primarily focuses on dogs with overweight body conditions because only about 1% of dogs in America are underweight. However, we will include some tips for helping underweight dogs gain weight at the bottom of this article.

Why a Healthy Body Condition Score (BCS) Matters for Your Dog

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, excess weight can put dogs at risk for a large number of health issues. Including:

  • Osteoarthritis & Orthopedic disease
  • Insulin resistance, Type II diabetes and Kidney disease
  • High blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease
  • Many forms of cancer
  • Chronic inflammation and skin disorders
  • Diminished quality of life, and the need for significantly earlier treatment of conditions.

Based on that list, it’s clear to see that maintaining a healthy weight for your dog makes a huge impact on their overall health. A good place to start is by understanding your canine’s body condition score.

2018 U.S. dog obesity survey2018 U.S. dog obesity survey

In APOP's 2018 clinical survey, 56% of dogs and 60% of cats were classified as clinically overweight (body condition score (BCS) 6-7) or obese (BCS 8-9) by their veterinary healthcare professional (compared to 54% of dogs and 59% of cats in 2016). That equals an estimated 50.2 million dogs and 56.5 million cats are considered overweight, based on 2018 pet population projections provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

We love all dog body types equally, and whether you have a new puppy, an adult dog, or a senior dog, our experts can help you understand their ideal body weight We will also be your dog’s #1 cheerleader when it comes to helping them live their healthiest and best version of themselves! With that in mind, let’s talk about your dog’s body condition score.

How Do I Find My Dog’s Body Condition Score?

You should have an open dialogue with your dog’s vet about their body weight and body condition score. If you don’t have an appointment coming up, you can start with a quick and easy at-home assessment of your dog’s body condition score. Since all dogs are not created equal using a body condition score can be a better tool at assessing ideal weight rather than a number on the scale. Do this monthly so you’ll be able to notice changes with your dog over time.

Follow these 3 steps:

  1. Ribs – Kneel behind your dog and run your hands over their ribcage. Can you feel their ribs easily?
  2. Waistline – From behind, gently run your hands down your dog’s waistline, from their ribcage to their hipbones. Does their waistline tuck in like the shape of an hourglass?
  3. Belly – In the same position, run your hands along your dog’s belly, from their ribcage back up toward their hipbones. Is their tummy tucking up?
body condition score for dogsbody condition score for dogs

Underweight Body Condition Score

1. Ribs, spine, pelvic bones, and more are evident from a distance. No body fat. Obvious loss of muscle mass.

2. Ribs, spine, and pelvic bones are easily visible, and there’s some evidence of other bony prominence. No tangible fat and some muscle mass loss.

3. Ribs are easily felt and may be visible with no fat around them. Tops of vertebrae are visible, pelvic bones are becoming prominent, and there’s an obvious tuck to the waist.

Ideal Body Condition Score

4. Ribs are easily felt with minimal fat covering them. Waist and abdominal tuck are easily noted.

5. Ribs are felt with no excess fat covering them. Waist can be seen from above and an abdominal tuck is seen from the side.

Overweight Body Condition Score

6. Ribs can be felt with some excess fat covering them. Waist can be seen from above, but it isn’t prominent. Some abdominal tuck is present.

7. Ribs can be felt with difficulty due to excess fat covering them. There are noticeable fat deposits at the lower back and base of the tail. Waist is absent or barely visible, and some abdominal tuck is present.

8. Ribs can’t be felt under the fat, or they can be felt with significant pressure. There are heavy fat deposits at the lower back and base of the tail. No waist and obvious abdominal distension (enlargement or stretching) may be present.

9. Massive fat deposits at the neck, spine, base of tail, and even the legs. Obvious abdominal distension.

5 Steps to Help an Overweight Dog Lose Weight

Just like with humans, it can be difficult to help your overweight dog shed the pounds. But with a multi-pronged approach and the motivation to help your dog be happy and healthy, it can be done!

  1. Make a game plan for weight loss. Now that you know your dog’s body condition score, take a step back and assess the whole picture of your dog’s weight. How often do you feed them? Do they get table scraps? What about treats? (those calories can really add up!) Are you measuring their food or simply filling up the bowl? Then, make a plan to reinforce healthy habits like exercise.
  2. Determine exactly how many calories your dog actually needs. A healthy weight starts with the right food and the right amount. With a personalized blend of food from Just Right, we use details you provide about your dog to calculate their ideal daily calorie count. We also give you exact measuring instructions and a scoop to make measuring easy. Plus, as your dog’s weight changes, their nutritional plan can adjust, too.
  3. Identify the best exercise for your dog. Every dog is unique, so every dog will have different exercises that are best for them depending on breed size, age, fitness level, and interest. Discover something you’ll both enjoy! Exercise doesn’t always have to be physical – check out some of our favorite brain games to play with your dog that’ll increase quality time spent together between long walks.
  4. Re-learn how to feed your dog (yes, really). Whether it’s breaking daily feeding up into smaller, more frequent meals or getting a handle on who is giving out extra dog treats, even small changes can make a big difference.
  5. Use food as a reward instead of treats. Most owners are surprised to learn how many calories can be in a treat or chew toy! Consider training treats (a few calories per treat) rather than larger treats (which can sometimes be up to 70 calories per treat!) Additionally, instead of adding extra heft to your dog’s waistline with treats for good behavior, try taking kibble from his bowl as a reward instead.
  6. Manage expectations. Weight loss won’t happen overnight. Slow and steady wins the race. It took a long time to put the weight on, so it will take just as long to lose it!

How to Help an Underweight Dog Gain Weight

While excessive weight gain is a much greater problem for pets, an underweight body condition can still be damaging to a dog’s health. If it’s a matter of your dog being disinterested in food, there could be a variety of explanations: they could be stressed and adjusting to a new environment, they could be a picky eater, or they might have an underlying health condition.

Talking to your veterinarian can help you get to the root of the problem and develop a tailored plan for helping your dog gain weight. Typically, dogs will eat when they’re hungry, and there are plenty of tips for picky eaters. However, if your dog is eating but isn’t gaining weight, talk to your veterinarian immediately.

On the Road to Your Dog’s Ideal Body Condition

It might be a journey to get your dog to their ideal body condition, but it's not one that you have to take alone. Talk to your veterinarian. You can also reach out to our Customer Care Team. We’ve walked plenty of dog owners through what personalized nutrition can mean for their dog’s healthy goals. With the right game plan and nutrition that’s tailored to help your dog maintain an ideal body condition, you’re well on your way toward helping them live their happiest, healthiest life.