Obesity in dogs - the body condition score


Obesity, i.e. being overweight, is a growing problem in dogs that can lead to a number of health problems and affects both the life expectancy and quality of life of the affected animals. The Body Condition Score (BCS) was developed to objectively assess the weight and body condition of dogs.

Definition of obesity in dogs

Obesity in dogs is defined as an excessive accumulation of fatty tissue in the body, resulting in a body weight that is 20% or more above ideal weight. Obesity can be the result of overeating, lack of exercise, genetic factors, or a combination of these factors. Because obesity increases the risk of various health problems, it is crucial to keep an eye on a dog's weight and take steps to reduce or control weight if necessary.

The prevalence of obesity in dogs varies depending on the study and region, but in general it is estimated that around 20-40% of dogs in Europe are overweight or obese. A study published in the journal "Preventive Veterinary Medicine" in 2012 analyzed the prevalence of overweight and obesity in dogs in the United States and found that about 34% of dogs were overweight and 5% were obese. Overall, 39% of the dogs were overweight or obese. In Europe, the numbers vary depending on the country and study.

Importance of the Body Condition Score in Dogs (BCS)

The Body Condition Score is a standardized scale used to objectively assess a dog's body condition and weight. The BCS helps veterinarians and pet owners monitor a dog's nutritional status and make adjustments to diet and exercise if necessary. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for maintaining a dog's overall health and well-being and minimizing the risk of weight-related health problems. It is based on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being severely underweight and 9 being severely overweight. An ideal BCS is between 4 and 5, meaning the dog is of appropriate weight.

The Body Condition Score (BCS) for dogs was originally developed in the 1990s by Dr. William E. Feeney, a veterinarian, and Dr. Peter J. Scarlett, a veterinary epidemiologist. Both were members of the Nestlé Purina Research Group. The BCS was later adopted and further developed by various organizations, including the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). The BCS is now used worldwide to better assess dogs' body condition and promote their health.

To determine a dog's BCS, look at the animal's body characteristics, such as the amount of visible fat, waist and ribs. Here is a brief description of the different points on the scale.

BCS 1: Severely underweight

All bony prominences such as ribs, the spine, lumbar vertebrae and the pelvis are visible and protruding from a distance. No fatty tissue is visible. There are clear signs of muscle loss. The condition in dogs is often referred to as cachectic, i.e. a state of extreme weakness and emaciation. 

Body Condition Score 1
Body Condition Score 1​​

BCS 2: Underweight

The ribs are slightly visible, the waist is severely constricted, and there is minimal fatty tissue, but body fat is not palpable. Muscle loss is minimal. 

Body Condition Score 2
Body Condition Score 2​​

BCS 3: Slightly underweight

The ribs can be felt when touched and visible without pressure. The waist is clearly visible with a pit in the stomach and there is little fatty tissue. The apex of the lumbar vertebrae is visible and the pelvic bone may be prominent.

Body Condition Score 3
Body Condition Score 3​​

BCS 4: Ideal weight

The ribs are directly and easily felt when touched without pressure, but are not visible when at rest because there is a minimal layer of fat. When breathing heavily (panting), the ribs are visible. The waist is clearly visible when viewed from above, and the pit of the stomach is also visible.

Body Condition Score 4
Body Condition Score4​​

BCS 5: Ideal weight

The ribs can be felt directly when touched, without excess fat. The posterior ribs are still noticeable. When viewed from the side, the pit of the stomach can be seen, even if a minimal layer of fat is noticeable on the stomach. When viewed from above, the waist is clearly visible.

Body Condition Score 5
Body Condition Score 5​​

BCS 6: Slightly overweight

The ribs are not direct and are rather difficult to feel under a thin layer of fat. The waist is difficult to see from above and there is a slight accumulation of fat on the stomach. The pit of the stomach is just visible. 

Body Condition Score 6
Body Condition Score 6​​

BCS 7: Overweight

The ribs are difficult to feel under a thick layer of fat. The waist is barely or only with difficulty visible from above and there is a noticeable accumulation of fat on the stomach. Fat also collects at the base of the tail. The pit of the stomach is barely visible. 

Body Condition Score 7
Body Condition Score 7​​

BCS 8: Severely overweight

The ribs can only be felt under strong pressure under a thick layer of fat. There are generally fat deposits in the loin and base of the tail area. There is no discernible waist when viewed from above. There is a large accumulation of fat on the stomach. This means that the pit of the stomach cannot be seen. 

Body Condition Score 8
Body Condition Score 8​​

BCS 9: Obese

The ribs cannot be felt under a very thick layer of fat on the ribcage, spine and base of the tail. You can even see pockets of fat on the limbs. The waist is not visible and there is a massive accumulation of fat on the stomach, which means that the pit of the stomach is not present but sticks out to the side. 

Body Condition Score 9
Body Condition Score 9​​

The subtleties are sometimes not always that easy to distinguish, especially if your dog has long fur. 

It's important to check your dog's body condition score regularly to ensure he's maintaining a healthy weight. If you have any concerns, speak to your veterinarian.

Check your dog regularly and pay attention to the following points:

Ribs can be felt directly when lightly stroked

The pit of the stomach is significantly higher than the chest

When viewed from above, your dog has a noticeable waist

Causes of Obesity in Dogs


The most common reason for dogs to be overweight is overfeeding. Whether this is incorrect feed manufacturer information or people giving the dog too much food out of pity or other reasons. Excessive calorie intake through large portions of food or additional snacks and treats is one of the main causes of obesity in dogs (German et al., 2010). An unbalanced diet that is too high in fat and/or carbohydrates can also contribute to weight gain (Kienzle & Bergler, 2006). First of all, stick to the manufacturer's instructions when it comes to the food you feed your dog. Monitor your dog's weight and shape and as soon as you notice that your dog is gaining weight, either switch to a less fatty type of food or reduce the amount little by little. 

The fat content in meat can vary greatly depending on the type of animal and the cut of meat. So be sure to check the food manufacturer's label to see whether the fat content of the food is high or low.

Lack of exercise

An inactive lifestyle can lead to weight gain in dogs because they do not burn enough energy to compensate for the calories consumed (Courcier et al., 2010). Regular exercise is crucial for weight control and overall health of dogs. A healthy dog ​​should have the opportunity to exercise outside for an hour a day so that he is adequately physically exercised. If it's raining or generally bad weather, it's okay to give your dog less exercise - especially since some dogs become real sissies in bad weather. Nevertheless, make sure your dog has a balanced lifestyle. 

Genetic factors

Some dog breeds have a genetic predisposition to obesity, such as the Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund and Beagle (Mao et al., 2013). Short-snouted dog breeds such as the Pug also tend to be very overweight due to their clumsy movement and breed-related factors. The genetic component can influence metabolic rate, feeding behavior and fat distribution. So if you have a dog at home that tends to be overweight due to its breed, you should pay more attention to its weight. 

Hormonal disorders

Hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's syndrome) can cause weight gain in dogs (Teng et al., 2017). If a hormonal cause is suspected, a veterinary examination should be carried out. Your veterinarian can take further measures to help your dog lead a healthy lifestyle. 

Age and gender

A dog's age and gender can also play a role in obesity. Older dogs tend to be less active and have slower metabolisms, which can increase the risk of obesity (Courcier et al., 2010). Research has shown that female dogs are more likely to be overweight than male dogs (Mao et al., 2013).

Castration and sterilization

Spayed and neutered dogs are at higher risk of becoming overweight because their metabolic rate decreases and appetite may increase (Edney & Smith, 1986). To prevent weight gain after castration or neutering, you should adjust the amount of food and make sure your dog gets enough exercise.

Health consequences of obesity in dogs

Obesity in dogs can lead to various health problems that can affect quality of life and shorten life expectancy. Being overweight is not only unhealthy, but also very dangerous for dogs. 

Joint and bone problems

Obesity can lead to joint problems such as arthritis and hip dysplasia because the extra weight puts strain on the joints and leads to inflammation and pain (Kealy et al., 2000).

Cardiovascular diseases

Obesity can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in dogs because the heart has to work harder to support the excess weight, putting strain on the cardiovascular system (Adams et al., 2017).


Overweight dogs are at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus because their bodies may not produce enough insulin or respond effectively to insulin (Nelson et al., 1990).

Difficulty breathing

Obesity can also cause breathing problems because the extra fatty tissue can narrow the airways and increase the load on the respiratory system (German et al., 2010). The resulting risk is particularly high for dogs with short snouts because these dogs can sometimes collapse under normal stress and slightly warmer outside temperatures. 

Reduced life expectancy and quality of life

Obesity can shorten the life expectancy of dogs as it leads to various health problems that reduce the quality of life and reduce a fat dog's chances of survival (Kealy et al., 2002).

3 tips for preventing and treating obesity in dogs

Prevention and treatment of obesity in dogs typically requires a combination of dietary changes, increasing physical activity, and behavioral changes. It is always advisable to consult a veterinarian to create a customized plan tailored to your dog's needs and health status.

Tip 1: Nutrition management

Reducing calories is often the first step in treating obesity. This can be achieved by reducing the amount of regular food or switching to a specially formulated diet food. Fat is important for dogs, but a low-fat type of meat such as dog or turkey or white fish (e.g. cod) can be lower in fat and help your dog achieve a healthy weight with the same amount of food. It is important that the food, despite reduced calories, provides all the necessary nutrients.

Choosing the right food

Choosing the right food is an important aspect of preventing and treating obesity in dogs. Choose a food that provides all the necessary nutrients but helps control calorie intake. Dog foods high in protein and low in fat can help promote satiety and help maintain muscle mass during weight loss. Some dog food brands offer special diet foods designed specifically for weight loss. These foods often have a reduced calorie content and are high in fiber to keep the dog full without providing too many calories.

It is also important to check the ingredients list of the food. High-quality ingredients, such as lean meats and healthy vegetables, are preferable. Legumes offer your dog a good source of carbohydrates and still additional protein. Food that contains a lot of sugar or fillers should be avoided.

When it comes to treats, make sure that they have as much meat as possible. Some manufacturers use e.g. B. Dextrose water (sugar icing) to make treats look particularly beautiful and shiny. 

Control of feeding quantity

In order to control the feeding amount, we recommend that you pay attention to the recommended feeding amounts on the food packaging and adjust them if necessary. These recommendations are often given based on the dog's ideal weight, not its current weight. So if your dog's ideal weight is 25kg, but your dog currently weighs 30kg, then follow the feeding recommendation for 25kg in order to reach the target weight. 

It may also be helpful to divide the daily feeding amount into several small meals per day to control the dog's hunger and reduce begging. Being hungry is frustrating. It's no different with our dogs. Instead of twice a day, you can offer your dog four small portions. We always advise against significantly reducing the amount of food, as this can lead to stress in the dog, which has a negative impact on its general well-being. It's better to eat small portions more often than to eat a lot at once. 

The exact amount of food a dog needs can depend on many factors, including its size, breed, age and activity level. Observe your dog and his figure to adjust his needs.

Feed cellulose

Food cellulose can temporarily help to reduce your dog's weight because it has a satiating effect, but is excreted by the dog and therefore no calorie intake takes place. Feed cellulose, also known as dietary fiber or roughage, plays an important role in dogs' diets. Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate found in the cell walls of plants and not digestible by dogs is. Nevertheless, it has several important functions in a dog's diet:

  1. Promotes intestinal health: Cellulose can help normalize bowel movements and support digestive health. It can help with both constipation and diarrhea by drawing water into the intestines to soften stool or absorbing excess water to firm stool (Journal of Animal Science, 1990).

  2. Weight management: Because cellulose no calories contains, it can contribute to that Feeling of satiety without adding additional calories to the dog's diet. This can help prevent or treat obesity (Journal of Animal Science, 1991).

  3. Control of blood sugar levels: Fiber, including cellulose, can help control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1988).

It's important to note that although cellulose has health-promoting properties, too much of it can cause digestive problems, including bloating and diarrhea. It is therefore important that the intake of fiber in a dog's diet is balanced. As always, you should consult a veterinarian or pet nutritionist.

Tip 2: Exercise and physical activity

Exercise plays a central role in the prevention and treatment of obesity in dogs. Regular physical activity helps burn calories, boost metabolism, and maintain muscle mass, all of which can contribute to your dog's weight loss.

The type and intensity of exercise can vary from dog to dog, depending on factors such as age, breed, health and individual preferences. Walks, games like fetch or hide-and-seek, swimming or jogging training can all be effective forms of exercise for dogs. 

Individually adapted movement

It is important that the exercise is adapted to the individual dog. Older dogs or dogs with health problems may require gentler or shorter exercise sessions, while younger or more active dogs may benefit from more intense or longer exercise. We recommend that you contact an animal physiotherapist if there are any special issues. They can show you targeted and individual exercises for your dog, especially if your dog is overweight or has health problems.

Increasing activity in everyday life

In addition to scheduled exercise times, there are many ways to increase your dog's physical activity in everyday life. This could include letting the dog climb stairs instead of using the elevator, engaging the dog during chores or yard work, or rewarding the dog with playtime and exercise time instead of treats. For example, set a common step goal and try to stick to it every day. 

Tip 3: Collaborate with experts

Working with your veterinarian, physiotherapist and dog nutritionist is important because each of these experts is a specialist in their field and this allows you to provide the best possible care for your dog. Blood counts and other diagnostic tests help control vital processes in the dog's body. Regular health checks are important to monitor the dog's progress and identify potential health problems early. During these checks, the veterinarian can evaluate the dog's body condition score, monitor its weight and investigate any health problems. If a dog already has health problems that may contribute to weight gain, such as: B. hormonal disorders, it is important to treat them. A veterinarian can recommend appropriate treatment and monitor how it affects the dog's weight and overall health.

A nutritionist will be able to create a nutrition plan for your dog that will keep him full for a long time with as few calories as possible. In this way, despite a calorie deficit, all nutrients can be filled and the dog does not have to suffer from hunger frustration, which has a negative impact on his general behavior. Finally, in animal physio you will learn which exercises are particularly effective and gentle for your dog, because overweight dogs in particular should perform movements that are gentle on the joints. 

This way you can ensure that your dog's health and well-being is maintained throughout the entire process.

Dicker Hund beim Tierarzt auf der Waage

Vitomalia's conclusion

Unfortunately, more and more dogs are struggling with obesity. This is a serious problem because too many kilos can cause serious damage to the dog's health. Obesity occurs when dogs consume more food and therefore energy than they can use through exercise and their normal body functions. Many things play a role here, for example too much or the wrong food, too little exercise, certain illnesses, age, gender and whether the dog is neutered or not.

To determine whether a dog is overweight, you can use the so-called “Body Condition Score”. This is a simple method that involves looking and touching the dog's body to assess whether it is too thin, just right, or too fat.

If you notice that your dog is too fat, you should come up with a strategy to combat it. This mainly means that the dog gets an appropriate amount of food that is not too high in calories and that he gets regular exercise. A veterinarian should also examine the dog regularly to ensure that it is healthy and losing weight. Nutritionists and animal physiotherapists can also support you.

Ultimately, preventing obesity is the best strategy. This requires awareness of the problem, appropriate feeding and exercise, and regular monitoring of your dog's body condition.

How do I know if my dog is overweight?

The Body Condition Score (BCS) is a method to evaluate the dog's body condition. By looking at and feeling the dog, you can judge whether it is too thin, just right, or too fat. Your dog should have ribs that are easy to feel, a noticeable pit in the stomach and a narrow waist, then he is ideal weight.

What risks does obesity pose for my dog?

Obesity can lead to various health problems, such as joint problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a shortened life expectancy. It is important to control the dog's weight to minimize these risks.

How can I help my dog ​​lose weight?

A combination of a calorie-controlled diet, regular exercise and, if necessary, medical treatment can help with weight loss. If you are very overweight, we recommend working together with veterinarians, nutrition experts and animal physiotherapists.

What food is best for an overweight dog?

There are special diet foods for overweight dogs that have a reduced calorie content. We generally recommend that you choose low-fat meat or fish such as chicken, turkey or cod.

How much exercise does an overweight dog need?

The amount of exercise needed can vary depending on the dog. If your dog is overweight, do not start jogging with a lot of running movements because this has a negative effect on the joints. Increase your workload slowly and steadily by increasing the number of steps you take on walks.

Can spaying or neutering cause weight gain?

Yes, after spaying or neutering, the dog's metabolism can slow down, which can lead to an increased risk of weight gain. An adapted diet and sufficient exercise are therefore particularly important.

How often should I check my dog's weight?

It is recommended to check your weight regularly, ideally every few weeks. In dogs with short fur, changes are immediately noticeable. For dogs with long fur, we recommend that you feel the dog every 1-2 months and classify it according to the body condition score.



Adams, V. J., Watson, P., Carmichael, S., Gerry, S., & Penell, J. (2017). Exceptional longevity and potential determinants of successful ageing in a cohort of 39 Labrador retrievers: results of a prospective longitudinal study. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 59(1), 29.


Courcier, E. A., Thomson, R. M., Mellor, D. J., & Yam, P. S. (2010). An epidemiological study of environmental factors associated with canine obesity. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(7), 362-367.


Edney, A. T., & Smith, P. M. (1986). Study of obesity in dogs visiting veterinary practices in the United Kingdom. The Veterinary Record, 118(14), 391-396.


German, A. J., Holden, S. L., Wiseman-Orr, M. L., Reid, J., Nolan, A. M., Biourge, V., ... & Morris, P. J. (2010). Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss. Veterinary Journal, 185(3), 308-314. 


Journal of Animal Science, 1990. Dietary fiber for dogs: III. Effects of beet pulp and oat fiber additions to dog diets on nutrient intake, digestibility, metabolizable energy, and digest mean retention time.

Journal of Animal Science, 1991. The effects of diet on the proportion of insoluble and soluble dietary fiber on fecal weight, viscosity and nutrient digestibility in dogs.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1988. Effects of dietary fiber on the glucose tolerance of dogs.

Kealy, R. D., Lawler, D. F., Ballam, J. M., Mantz, S. L., Biery, D. N., Greeley, E. H., ... & Stowe, H. D. (2000). Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 217(11), 1678-1680.


Kienzle, E., & Bergler, R. (2006). Human-animal relationship of owners of normal and overweight cats. Journal of Nutrition, 136(7), 1947S-1950S.


Kealy, R. D., Lawler, D. F., Ballam, J. M., Lust, G., Biery, D. N., Smith, G. K., & Mantz, S. L. (2002). Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220(12), 1818-1820.


Lund, E. M., Armstrong, P. J., Kirk, C. A., & Klausner, J. S. (2006). Prevalence and risk factors for obesity in adult dogs from private US veterinary practices. International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine


Mao, J., Xia, Z., Chen, J., & Yu, J. (2013). Prevalence and risk factors for canine obesity surveyed in veterinary practices in Beijing, China. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 112(3-4), 438-442.


Nelson, R. W., Reusch, C. E., & Feldman, E. C. (1990). Relationship between glycemic control and the development of complications in well-regulated diabetic dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 197(3), 354-356.


Raffan, E., Smith, S. P., O'Rahilly, S., & Wardle, J. (2015). Development, factor structure and application of the Dog Obesity Risk and Appetite (DORA) questionnaire. PeerJ, 3, e1278.


Teng, K. T., McGreevy, P. D., Toribio, J. A., & Dhand, N. K. (2017). Risk factors for underweight and overweight in dogs in metropolitan Sydney, Australia. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 144, 102-111.