Managing your fur kids weight

It is sometimes difficult to determine what your fur kids' ideal weight should be. We discuss this topic in detail.
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One method is to keep track of the puppies growth chart, typically when the dog or cat is at one year old. You can then record your fur kids weight at the time of its first booster to provide a baseline for future references. However, as their pet parents, our fur kids are all unique. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalization. For dogs and cats overfed as pups and kittens, the weight at one year is likely to be excessive and large or giant breed dogs will not reach their mature weight until they are 18 months old or later. Even within a breed there will be variations in “frame size” and it is particularly difficult to establish an ideal weight for mixed breed types.

The body condition scoring system (BCS) is a visual assessment tool to help you manage your fur kids’ nutritional status. The tool allows you to compare your fur kid shape with an ideal shape and indicating whether your fur kid is under- or overweight. It is somewhat subjective, particularly in dogs where breed shapes vary a great deal, but is a useful tool in describing to pet parents the concept of ideal weight.

Body condition scoring is used to evaluate the relative proportions of animal fat, called adiposity, at specific body locations and compare those to a lean musculoskeletal system. We recommend that once you have determined your feeding schedule and weekly menu for the adults, you visually monitor your fur-kids’ health using the body condition score method described below, and adjust your schedule accordingly.

The body condition score consists of five or nine groups. For general purposes five divisions are sufficient, ranging from emaciated to obese. These groups are illustrated below for dogs.

The 9-point BCS scale ranges from 1 point (scrawny) to 9 points (obese), as follows:

  • (1 – 3) Ribs, spine and bony protrusions are easily seen at a distance. These pets have lost muscle mass and there is no observable body fat. Thin, withered, bony, and starved in appearance.
  • (4) Ribs, spine and bones are easily felt. These pets have an obvious waist when viewed from above and a stomach tuck. Thin, lean or skinny appearance.
  • (5) Ribs and spine are easily felt but not necessarily seen. There is a waist when viewed from above and the tummy is raised and not sagging when viewed from the side. Normal, ideal and often muscular in appearance.
  • (6 – 8) Ribs and spine are hard to feel or count underneath fat deposits. Waist is distended or often pear-shaped when viewed from above. The stomach sags when seen from the side. There are typical fat deposits on the hips, base of tail and neck. Overweight, heavy, husky or stout.
  • (9) Large fat deposits over the chest, back, tail base and hindquarters. The stomach sags prominently and there is no waist when viewed from above. The chest and tummy often appear distended or swollen. Obese.
Body Condition Score Severely Underweight

Under Ideal (Too Thin) (1-3)
1. Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all bony prominence observable from a distance. No noticeable body fat. Obvious loss of muscle mass.
2. Ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones easily visible. No real fat. Some evidence of other bony prominence. Minimal loss of muscle mass.
3. Ribs easily observable and may be visible with no noticeable fat. Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones becoming prominent. Obvious waist and stomach tuck.
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Ideal Weight (4)
4. Ribs easily noticeable, with minimal fat covering. Waist easily noted, viewed from above. Stomach tuck evident.
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Ideal Weight (5)
5. Ribs noticeable without excess fat covering. Waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above. Stomach tucked up when viewed from the side.
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Over Ideal (Too Heavy) (6-8)
6. Ribs observable with slight excess fat covering. Waist is visible viewed from above but is not prominent. Stomach tuck apparent.
7. Ribs observable with difficulty (obscured); heavy fat cover. Noticeable fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent or barely visible. Stomach tuck may be present.
8. Ribs not visible under very heavy fat cover, or observable only with significant pressure. Heavy fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent. No stomach tuck. Obvious belly distension may be present.
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Over Ideal (Too Heavy) (9)
9. Massive fat deposits over thorax, spine and base of tail. Waist and stomach tuck absent. Fat deposits on neck and limbs. Obvious belly distension.

The BODY CONDITION SYSTEM was developed at the Nestle Purina Pet Care Center. Refer to www.wsava.org (The World Small Animal Veterinary Association) or (Nestle).

We have adopted a simple system to help you manage your observations as they apply to BCS. Using your hands, we will demonstrate the three common conditions below.

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Too thin or Underweight (Condition 1 – 3)
Lightly run your finders of your knuckles as you make a fist. If you imagine those knuckles were your dog / cat’s ribs, this would be too thin.
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Too fat or Overweight (Condition 6 – 9)
Put your palm up, finders extended facing the ceiling or sky. Run your finders of the base of your fingers – this is too heavy.
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Ideal Weight (Condition 4 – 5)
Turn your hand over, palm facing down and feel over your knuckles. When your pet’s ribs feel like this, it’s just right.

Additional Articles and Videos

Good reference articles and videos further reading available at:

  • How Much Food to Feed Your Dog by Dr Peter Dobias (Dr Peter Dobias);
  • The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats (AAHA) (requires Adobe PDF Reader);
  • Nestle PURINA Body Condition System Chart for Dogs (UNC) (requires Adobe PDF Reader);
  • WSAVA Body Condition Score for Dogs (WSAVA) (requires Adobe PDF Reader);
  • Body Condition Scoring System for Cats and Dogs by AAHA (AAHA) (requires Adobe PDF Reader);
  • Nestle PURINA Body Condition System Chart for Cats (UNC) (requires Adobe PDF Reader);
  • WSAVA Body Condition Score for Cats (WSAVA) (requires Adobe PDF Reader) ;
  • Dog Size-O-Meter from the PFMA in the UK;
  • Cat Size-O-Meter from the PFMA in the UK;

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