The dog body condition score (BCS) is the term used when your veterinary professionals assess your dog’s weight relative to the size of their frame and what their ideal weight should be for their height, breed, age, and health status. Some veterinary professionals use a BCS dog scale of one through five and others use one through nine. Either one works as long as it is understood what the ranges used are.
Many factors play a role in the canine body condition score. Some breeds are expected to carry more weight than others based on their height. For instance, a Labrador retriever will weigh more than a Greyhound of the same height. Young and elderly dogs may be more slender than middle aged dogs of the same breed.
Why is Body Condition Score Important for Dogs
Male and female dogs in a breeding program should be assessed for their ideal dog body condition. Reproduction is a “luxury of the body” meaning that only after the most important body functions are prioritized reproduction can occur. The brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys are going to take precedence over the production of sperm, eggs, and pregnancy maintenance.
Male and female dogs who are underweight will not be as successful in a breeding program as those at ideal weight. And being overweight is also less likely to lead to healthy breedings. Males who are overweight will not produce sperm as well, as their excess body condition may not allow the testes to be at the ideal body temperature to make and store sperm. Females who are overweight have more inflammatory products in the uterus, interfering with good placental and fetal development. And overweight females are more likely to need a C-section to adequately deliver all the pups.
The dog ideal body condition for a non-breeding dog is important for overall health and longevity. An overweight dog, like a person, is more likely to have heart problems, diabetes, and orthopedic conditions. An underweight dog may be unhealthy due to needing more calories for optimal health.
What is a Good Body Score for a Dog?
Dogs, both male and female, should ideally be at a canine body condition score (BCS) of 4, 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 9. For a breeding female dog, too low a score means she is underweight and won’t be likely to conceive and carry a nice size litter of puppies to term due to inadequate nutrition. Too high a score of 7 to 9, means she is overweight and is more likely to have complications delivering the puppies. Additionally, studies show that obesity causes inflammatory changes in the uterus, making it less likely she will exhibit optimal fertility.
Breeding male dogs need to produce sperm and be physically capable of mating to the female. As he does not have a pregnancy, he is not as likely to have a weight problem interfere with pregnancy.
How Do you Calculate BCS in Dogs?
The best way to determine the dog body score is by touching the dog along the rib cage. Short-coated breeds can be evaluated visually. Long coated breeds should have their BCS evaluated by feeling along the ribs and backbone before breeding. The amount and type of dog food should be adjusted several months before breeding.
An ideal dog BCS of 4 to 6 is assessed by feeling the ribs and comparing them to your hand. The ribs and backbone should not feel or look bumpy like your knuckles when you make a fist – that is too thin. The ribs and backbone should not feel soft like the heel of your hand just above your wrist – that is too heavy. The ribs and backbone should feel like the back of your hand just above your wrist – as you can feel the four ridges of bone on the back of your hand, the ribs should be easily felt but not easily seen.
Using a scale to weigh your adult dogs on a weekly basis allows you to manage your dog’s weight. By doing so, you may pick up earlier changes in the health, feeding, and well-being of your dogs. Small dogs are best weighed on a baby scale on a countertop. Larger breed dogs should be weighed on a platform scale. Young pups should be weighed on a baby or food scale that can toggle back and forth between pounds/ounces and kilograms/grams. For particularly wiggly pups, using a mesh bag and a fish scale (the kind you weigh fish with by suspending them) for best accuracy.
If you have questions on controlling proper dog weight, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.