A better alternative to using Body Condition Score for dog fitness

dog-35553_960_720Every time we go to our vet, I cringe a little when I see the chart on the wall.  It has a series of top-down and side-view pictures of dogs at various levels of fitness.  Upon further inspection, we find that there are also guidelines on how a dog should “feel” at each level.

Even before I started working with dogs, I always thought that body condition score or BCS(as the chart is known) was an awful benchmark to use for gauging our dog’s physical health.  The main issue that I’ve always had with the chart is how subjective it is.  “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a perfect summation of the flaw.  I could look at a dog, feel his ribs, and come up with a 4 for the BCS, while you could do the same and come up with a 6.  In my opinion, a method that  has so much variability is of very little, real world, value.

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The subjective nature of BCS gets much worse when we consider the human emotional element.  We all have a deep connection to our dog.  Our own worth as a provider has a vested interest in her health and fitness.  It is very difficult for some owners, myself included, to come to terms with the fact that their 4-legged companion is in poor physical shape.  It is incredibly easy to rationalize a “higher than it should be” result when attempting to get a BCS score.

The (better) alternative

The most accurate form of body fat measurement is something called DEXA(dual-energy X-Ray absorptiometry).  Unfortunately, I don’t have an absorptiometry machine lying so I had to find another method of attaining an accurate BF% for our crew.

After a bit of digging, I found a study that compared the various methods for body fat estimation. This turned me on to Hill’s Body Fat Index(featured at the bottom of post) and the methods of getting an accurate reading for the dogs.

It turns out that with a simple tape measure we are able to attain measurements that can be used to get us pretty close to our goal.

In the study(and in the BFI), the body measurements were within 1.5% of the DEXA tests, which is accurate enough for me to contend that this method is much, much better than using a subjective BCS score.

Sex specific BF% was very close to DEXA BF% in this cited study

What to measure

black line
This is the pelvic circumference represented by the black line

There are 2 measurements that we need to use in our formulas.

  1. Black line-circumference around the pelvis (all the way around).  The tape should be snug against the skin but not overly  tight.  A good metaphor is the tightness of a man’s belt when worn properly.
  2. Yellow line-“Hock to Stifle” length, distance from joint to joint(see picture below for more information on this measurement)
yellow line
This is the Hock to Stifle length, measured from joint to joint



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 The calculations*

*all formulas are taken from this paper and shown to be very close to the DEXA tests

In order to determine your dog’s BF%, take the measurements of the corresponding line colors from the image above.  Convert them to cm(if needed) using the tool provided.  Then plug them into the fields below.



The results

After you have an idea of your dog’s BF%, look at the chart below to see his risk level.


Update: To clear up some confusion, The chart above is the body fat index by Hill’s.  The Body Condition Score chart can be found here

Update 2: We decided to take our post one step further and made Ideal weight calculators in this post!