What is the body condition score?
The body condition score (BCS) is used by veterinarians to assess the assess fat reserves on the body of animals and is the animal equivalent of the body mass index (BMI) used to evaluate humans. This quick and easy tool can give the veterinarian an insight into the nutritional status of a cat by using palpation as well as visual evaluation to assess the cat.
Although there is considerably less variation in size between different cats compared to dogs, using weight can be misleading and doesn’t take into account the size or build of a cat. In most cases, an adult British Shorthair or Norwegian Forest cat will not weigh the same as an adult Singapura or Devon Rex who are smaller and finer.
A body condition of 15-25% fat is ideal, 26-35% is overweight, and 40% or more is obese.
What is the veterinarian checking?
The veterinarian uses palpation as well as visual assessment from above and the side to evaluate the body condition score.
- Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, and pelvis: The ribs cannot be visually distinguished, but can easily be felt with the fingertips.
- Abdominal tuck: A cat who is a healthy weight will have an obvious waist and tummy tuck.
- Waist: The waist should be visible behind the ribcage.
- Fat: How much fat is beneath the skin.
Body condition scores are graded in two scales; from 1 to 9 or from 1-5. Each point on the body condition scale correlates with a percentage of body fat.
- 1-3 or 1-2: Underweight
- 4-5 or 2.5-3: Ideal
- 6-9 or 3.5 to 5: Overweight
- 1/5 or 1/9 – Emaciated: Ribs and pelvic bones are visible from a distance on cats with short coats, lumbar vertebrae, and wing of ilia easily palpated, absent fat pads, severe abdominal tuck, pronounced loss of muscle mass.
- 1.5/5 or 2/9 – Very thin: Ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones are visible, no palpable fat, minimal loss of muscle mass.
- 2/5 or 3/9 – Thin: Ribs visible on short-haired cats, obvious waist, marked abdominal tuck, minimal fat covering.
- 2.5/5 or 4/9 – Ideal: Ribs can be felt with a slight fat covering, minimal abdominal fat pads, obvious waist, and tummy tuck.
- 3/5 or 5/9 – Ideal: Well-proportioned, ribs are not visible but can be easily felt, the waist can be seen behind the ribs, and tummy tuck present but not severe.
- 3.5/5 or 6/9 – Overweight: Slight fat layer over the ribs make them easier to palpate, waist and abdominal fat pad present, waist discernible when viewed from above, minimal abdominal tuck.
- 4/5 or 7/9 – Heavy: Heavy fat layer over the ribs, difficult to feel the vertebrae or pelvis, absent waistline, abdominal tuck slightly visible.
- 4.5/5 or 8/9 – Obese: Ribs not palpable due to excess fat, waist, and abdominal tuck not evident, rounding of the abdomen.
- 5/5 or 9/9 – Severely obese: Ribs and vertebrae are not palpable under a thick layer of fat, no visible waist or abdominal tuck, extensive fat deposits, abdominal distention.
What can cause a cat to be underweight or overweight
There are many possible reasons why a cat may be underweight or overweight which must be determined so that you and the veterinarian can work together to correct the issue.
- Lack of food or poor-quality food
- Issues with other pets (bullying, competition with food)
- Dental issues which make eating painful
- Malabsorption disease
- Certain medications
- Inactive lifestyle
Why is the body condition score important?
There are a number of serious and potentially life-threatening diseases associated with both under-nourished and overweight cats including cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and mobility issues that impact the cat’s quality of life.
How to measure your cat’s body condition score at home
While nothing beats the expertise of a veterinarian, we are with our pets much more and monthly health checks at home can help to pick up issues between annual or bi-annual veterinary visits. A cat’s coat can mask significant weight loss and a hands-on examination can potentially pick up issues early.
The body score system starts at the front and makes its way to the rear by evaluating the fat cover over the ribs, along the belly, vertebrae and the base of the tail.
Ribs: Feel the ribs using the tips of your fingers, it should be possible to feel the ribs without pressing hard, but they should not be easily visible.
Waist: Stand above the cat and look for the waste which tucks in behind the ribcage.
Abdominal tuck: The abdomen tucks upwards in front of the hind legs, you can see this on the photo below, note the loose skin underneath the abdominal tuck which is the primordial pouch. The primordial pouch is a normal part of a cat’s anatomy and it should not be mistaken for fat.
Vertebrae: Feel along the cat’s spine, it should be possible to feel the vertebrae, but it should neither be prominent or under a thick layer of fat.