Body condition scoring is a useful method to determine whether your dog, cat or rabbit is at a healthy weight. Our veterinary expert Brian Faulkner takes us through the 3 simple steps of body scoring your four-legged friend.
To get around this normal variation, vets use the body scoring scale, which works equally well for dogs, cats and rabbits. It runs from 1 to 9, where 1 is emaciated, 9 is obese and 5 is the ideal. If your pet scores below 3 or above 7, take them to the vet for a professional check-up.
Feel over the flanks and the ribcage gently, but firmly. The ribs should be easy to detect, but without excessive fat covering – like pencils in a soft pencil case. With rabbits, you should feel along the spine, too – it should be softly rounded to the touch, rather than sharp. Score 1-2 means that the ribs, shoulder blades and pelvis are visibly obvious, with no fat covering; score 8-9 means they cannot be felt at all.
Look at the waist from above and the abdominal tuck from the side. The abdominal tuck or belly should follow an upward curve, and not droop downwards. With emaciated pets (scores 1-2) the waist looks skinny and the tummy is held high. With scores 8-9, there is no apparent waist and the abdominal line hangs downwards. A pet with the right weight (score 5) will have a visible waist and a flat abdominal line.
Finally, check how much excess fat can be felt, and how much muscle mass is present, around the hindquarters. Emaciated pets have no fat beneath the skin, and a distinct lack of muscle. In obese pets, the muscle cannot be felt at all due to a thick layer of body fat. A pet in an ideal condition (score 5) will have little fat, and there will be adequate muscle mass along the back and legs.
Keeping your pets fit
Some dog breeds, like Labradors, Chihuahuas, Pugs and Bulldogs, are more easily prone to weight gain. Regularly monitor your dog’s weight and keep an eye on how much food they’re eating – especially when it comes to giving them treats. If your vet advises putting your dog on a diet, let everyone in the house know so no one will unknowingly slip them treats.
Keep your cat at a healthy weight by putting their feeding bowl in different places and making them ‘hunt’ for their food. You can also try ‘puzzle feeding’ with balls with holes in them that dispense kibbles one by one as the cat plays with it. You can also give your cat extra exercise by putting their litter tray and feeding bowl far apart from each other and getting them a ‘cat tree’. A remote-controlled mouse or fluffy fishing rod will also get your cat moving.
Excess weight can be very dangerous for rabbits, affecting their cardiovascular health and worsening arthritis. If a rabbit is unable to groom itself because of its weight, it could lead to potentially fatal consequences like flystrike.
Keep an eye on your rabbit’s weight and ensure they are fed a healthy diet of hay and greens. Try hiding their food in scrunched-up paper so they can use their natural foraging instincts for extra exercise.
Checking your pet's weight should form part of their regular health check-ups. By looking after your cat, dog or rabbit's weight, you are helping to ensure that they are fighting fit all year round.