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The Body Condition Score (BCS) for your Cat

With humans, doctors use the so-called Body Mass Index to determine if we are under- or overweight. For our pets there is a somewhat different metric - the Body Condition Score (BCS). BCS helps you or your vet to determine if your cat is in a good shape physically, that is, whether kitty is fit or fat. BCS is a somewhat subjective rating based on criteria which we will describe further below. From these you can determine the perfect weight for your particular cat.

First though, let's address the question of why, if the Body Mass Index is good enough for humans,why can't it be used for pets? Indeed, though the the Body Mass Index is far from perfect, it would be more scientific. However, our furry companions differ greatly in size and shape even among different breeds, let alone species, so the Body Mass Index is not actually useful. Hence the reason for developing the BCS.

There are two main BCS scales which are in use; scale 1-5 and 1-9. On both scales the 1 refers to animals which are definitely too thin and the top number (5 or 9) to animals which are obese. For home assessment the scale 1-5 is probably more useful and this we discuss in more detail below. The larger scale incorporates more subtle changes body weight and therefore is prefered by some vets. If, in your home assessment, you think your cat falls into one of the two extremes it is important to consult the the vet.

Here's how to score your cat

To determine where your cat fits on the BCS look at 5 major physical markers

  1. How does the cat look from above?
  2. How is she from the side?
  3. Can I feel the spine and how does the spine feel under your fingers?
  4. Can I feel the catís individual ribs, and how do they feel?
  5. Does the cat have a waist, and how apparent are her hip bones?

By looking at the cat from above and from the side you can determine her overall shape. So for example, when the cat is seen from above are any bones sticking out? (e.g. shoulder blades, spine or hips). Looking at the cat from the side, are the ribs visible? Does the cat's tummy curve sharply upwards behind the ribs, or is there the gentle curve of a well-shaped waist or is the midsection bulging out? Many cats accumulate fat in their abdominal pads, so looking at a cat's waist is a good clue as to her overall condition.

(These abdominal fat pads are symmetrical deposits of fat that occur commonly in adult cats. They tend to be more prevalent in overweight individuals, but they can also occur in cats with ideal weight. Abdominal fat pads often develop either at maturity or after a cat is spayed or neutered.)

Following your visual assessment, the next thing is to feel the cat. Start with the back. You should be able to feel the spine by gently pressing your fingers along the middle of the catís back. Ideally, the spine should be covered by a thin layer of fat allowing you to just feel some of the bumps of the vertebrae.Next check the ribs on both sides. By gently digging in your fingers you should feel each individual rib with some fat covering. The ribs should not be visible but easily detected by touch.Pay attention to how soft the fat layer feels.

Ok now that the visual and physical assessment is done, have a look at the points below to see where your cat fits in.

Scale 1-5

1. The cat is very thin at the point of being emaciated.
The ribs are very visible with no palpable fat, the vertebrae can be seen from above or easily felt - again without the softness of surrounding fat. There is a very sharp upwards curve below the ribs. The catts hips are bony and sticking out.
2. The cat is underweight.
The ribs, backbone and pelvis are easily palpable with minimal fat detected and the bones are somewhat visible under the skin. The upward curving waist behind the ribs is still very obvious. There is minimal abdominal fat.
3. The cat's weight is ideal.
The bones are not visible but easily palpable under a thin layer of fat. There is a gentle curve behind the ribs which makes the waist visible. Abdominal fat pads are not pronounced.
4. The cat is overweight
The ribs, backbone or pelvis are difficult to feel because of a pronounced fat layer covering them. The tummy tuck is only slightly visible. There is an obvious rounding of the abdomen when looking from above. The abdominal pads are moderately large, and as a result the tummy looks somewhat saggy.
5. The cat is obese
The ribs and backbone cannot be felt because they are covered by a thick layer of fat. Havy fat deposits covering the whole cat are easily visible from above and the side. Face and limbs are also enlarged due to fat deposits. Extensive abdominal fat pads.

Once you have scored your cat using the BCS score, weigh the cat. This will later help to establish the ideal weight for your cat. Weighing your cat on a bathroom scale is not accurate because those scales are not normally designed to handle relatively small weights such as a cat's. To get a more accurate reading weigh the cat while holding her, then get on the scales alone and subtract your own weight. You can double-check your home readings with your vet for more accuracy.


The information supplied here is intended as a guideline only.

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