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Cat Body Condition Score: What Is It & How To Work It Out

Written by: Chris Dinesen Rogers

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat owner talking to his pet

Cat Body Condition Score: What Is It & How To Work It Out


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Almost 75% of American adults are overweight or obese, but this problem isn’t confined to people. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), roughly 61% of cats and 59% of dogs also have this health issue1. The risks to humans and our pets are the same, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and a reduced quality of life.

The sobering yet encouraging thing about obesity is that it’s preventable and treatable. The healthcare industry uses the body mass index, or BMI, to qualify as being underweight, normal, or overweight in humans. However, with pets, the different anatomies and breed variations make it impossible to determine this based on height and weight, so a different method is required. Veterinary medicine uses the body condition score (BCS) for cats and other pets. It’s an easy tool to use for professionals or the average Joe. Its value lies in its visual component, which makes it simple to determine whether a pet is at a normal weight, underweight, or too heavy.

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How Does It Work?

The BCS is a 9-point system, with 5 being ideal. Images give clear examples from a lateral and overhead view, and each stage includes a description. It uses some medical terminology, but the three pieces make it easy to connect the dots. It also includes specific information for short- and long-haired pets.

It’s worth noting that the BCS looks at both ends of the spectrum, from too thin to too heavy. Both present health risks. The descriptions reference the ribs and lumbar vertebrae for professionals or owners to palpate. Seeing and feeling these structures is a red flag for an animal that is too thin and perhaps undernourished. It also makes it evident that some fat is healthy.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t mention the primordial pouch. You may notice this loose flap swaying to and fro as your kitty runs. This is not necessarily a sign of obesity and is normal even in wild cats. You’ll notice it after your pet ages to around 6 months old. Both males and females will develop this skin pouch.

The shape of your pet’s body is more telling than the size of the belly pouch. The BCS includes descriptions of how the body varies through the various points. These three viewpoints allow owners to make an accurate assessment of their pet’s weight based on the definition of their waist and the fat covering their ribs.

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What Are the Different Types of Body Condition Scores?

The APOP provides additional information for scoring your cat’s weight status based on three points of interest. These reiterate the BCS with the waist watch, tummy test, and rib run. It also acknowledges the factors that may influence weight, such as spay/neuter status, genetics, and activity level. Illness may also have a temporary effect on your pet’s weight. The takeaway is that weight management and solutions must consider the animal’s medical history and environment.

Where Is It Used?

Your vet can provide an assessment as part of a routine exam. Your vet may also give you a diet plan with a recommended follow-up. It may involve a diet change with a switch to a weight-management formula or a different type of food to help an underweight cat put on weight and get into a healthy or normal body score. You can also get a BCS handout from the WSAVA or American Animal Hospital Association websites.

Consulting your vet is essential when dealing with obesity because of other complications. Overweight pets are at risk of developing fatty liver syndrome or hepatic lipidosis if they suddenly get an extreme dietary restriction. An animal losing weight rapidly can overwhelm their liver, interfering with its healthy functioning.

Consulting your vet is essential when dealing with obesity because of other complications. Overweight pets are at risk of developing fatty liver syndrome or hepatic lipidosis if they suddenly stop eating for a few days. An animal losing weight rapidly can overwhelm their liver, interfering with its healthy functioning. Cancer, kidney disease, and diabetes are potential causes of this condition.

The takeaway is that diet and weight management have serious implications for your cat’s health. If weight loss is required, it should be done gradually. Ruling out other possible reasons for the extra pounds is vital for your kitty’s quality of life. Remember that felines often hide signs of health problems, making being proactive an essential part of pet care.

maine coon cat at the vet with owner
Image Credit: Gorodenkoff, Shutterstock

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are Spayed and Neutered Cats at Greater Risk of Obesity?

Research has confirmed an association between these procedures and weight gain. Spaying and neutering have a significant impact on a pet’s metabolism and appetite. However, age and sex don’t affect the outcomes significantly.

How Many Calories Should My Cat Get Daily?

We mentioned the other variables that can affect daily caloric intake. A general rule of thumb for a 10-pound cat is 180–200 calories for weight maintenance. You may lower it to spur the journey toward better health if your pet is overweight with your vet’s guidance. Remember to include everything your cat eats when coming up with a diet plan, including treats. The latter should make up less than 10% of their daily caloric intake.

Are Pet Obesity Figures Improving?

The percentage of overweight cats has increased since 2018. The goal of the APOP has been to raise awareness to promote better treatment and management. You needn’t feel embarrassed to broach the subject with your vet. Keeping your kitty’s weight under control is vital for their health and well-being.

Are There Other Ways to Tell If My Cat Is Overweight?

Your kitty’s activity level is an excellent indication of their weight status. It’s harder to get around if your pet is overweight, just like it is for a human. You may notice your cat is reluctant to jump because it’s challenging. Arthritic or senior pets may also become less active and at risk for obesity. Your vet may recommend a dietary change in these cases to manage your kitty’s weight.

cream colored maine coon cat jumping over the couch
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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The body condition score gives pet owners a valuable tool for assessing their weight status. Knowledge is power. Once you have determined where your kitty stands, you can make the appropriate changes to their diet and activity level. The former will have the most significant effect. However, the latter is vital for your cat’s mental health. After all, weight management is a critical part of a pet owner’s responsibility.

Featured Image Credit: Aziz Acharki, Unsplash

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