How to Tell if Your Dog or Cat is Overweight: 3 simple steps

What's their body condition score?

Wondering if your pet is a healthy weight or actually fat?  Find out for yourself with the simple act of body condition scoring and be certain your pet is the healthiest version of themselves they can be.


Body condition scoring is an incredibly useful tool used to determine if a cat or dog is thin perfect or fat.  Best of all it is easy, quick to do and free.  It is also a test that we should all be doing in our pets and being honest with ourselves when we work out our own pets individual condition score.  The body condition score is a hands on test that need take no more than a minute.  It involves no special equipment and is a test that our pets will not know is taking place.  We simply answer 3 questions:

1.  Can I feel my pets ribs?

2.  Do they have a waist from above?

3.  Does my pet have a tummy tuck?

These answers allow us to score an animal on a scale of 1-9 which we average to give their overall body condition score.  One means an animal is emaciated and 9 means they are morbidly obese with the ideal score being a 4 or 5.

Can I feel my pets ribs (easily)?

Let us consider each of these questions in turn.  Firstly are my pets ribs easy to feel without having to press on the area?  This is one of the first parameters to disappear in an overweight pet so if you are having to apply pressure to feel the ribs then your pet is certainly overweight regardless of whether they are a dog or a cat.  A gentle pressure would indicate a condition score 6, moderate pressure a 7 and by condition score 8 the ribs are only able to be felt with very firm pressure.

Does my pet have a (clear) waist?

The next question to answer is: does my pet have a clear waist when viewed from above? This is the next attribute to suffer with a clearly visible waist disappearing at around body condition score 7.  Ideally we want to feel an hourglass shape as we run our hands from the back of the ribs down to the pelvis.  Using our hands rather than just looking is important in very hairy breeds where coat length and type can obscure true body shape.  If rather than an hourglass your pets abdomen is more of a rectangle then they are overweight, at a condition score 7.  If the waist is actually becoming round then they are obese and at least a condition score 8.  

Is there a tummy tuck?

The final parameter is tummy tuck which we determine by viewing our pet from the side.  In long haired breeds it is again beneficial to feel for tummy tuck.  Abdominal tuck is the last attribute to vanish in dogs so if it has gone then your pooch is obese with a condition score of 8 or 9.

The situation is slightly different for cats in that they only have a tuck when they are a condition score 4 or less.  What we can use however is the presence of an abdominal fat pad.  This is the area of blubber that develops at the back of the abdomen between the back legs in overweight and obese cats.  It generally becomes noticeable at condition score 6 or 7, is prominent at a score of 8 and grows larger as more weight is gained.    In most obese cats this will be an area that is clearly visible when a cat is walking, with the fat pad swaying from side to side.

There are clearly some breed differences in that a greyhound is unlikely to ever lose their tummy tuck and a bulldog may lose their waist a little earlier, but in general this tool correlates very well with more advanced tests to determine body fat levels and best of all its free and can be done by anyone.


The Underweight Pet

You’ll notice that I haven’t talked about underweight condition scores.  The reason for this is that only a tiny percentage of the pet population will fall into this category. Generally speaking though, if you can see the ribs and if the bones of the spine and pelvis or hips are clearly visible then your pet will be underweight.  If they are eating well, not losing weight and generally happy, increasing their food by 25-50% should result in a weight gain.

If they have a poor appetite, if they are losing weight, if their stools are a strange colour or consistancey, if they are drinking or toileting more or if they seem unwell for any other reason then they must be checked out by your vet to make sure there is not an underlying cause of this poor body condition.  If increasing the diet doesn’t help then even otherwise healthy seeming pets should also be examined thoroughly by their vet.

The Results

Has your pet come in at a perfect 4 or 5?  With up to 40% of our pets being overweight you are not alone if your pet is a little on the heavy side.  To rectify this, help improve your pets quality of life and extend their life expectancy head over to the our pets health obesity dangers and weight loss strategies videos and articles to get started on the road to a happier healthier pet today.

If your pet is a healthy weight, brilliant, lets make sure we keep it that way by regularly condition scoring them and acting if things change.  If your pet is overweight then you have just completed the first step of any weight loss program, recognising the problem, and they are already on the way to a healthier, happier life.

If you have any questions, weight loss tips you would like to share or anything you would like covered in future videos then please leave a comment below.  Also sign up to our newsletter to be sure not to miss out on our future videos and articles.  By signing up you will also get a free copy of the Our Pets Health Ultimate Weight and Diet calculator - don't miss out!

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