Body And Muscle Condition Scoring

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Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is used in Veterinary medicine to assess the current status of an animals general body fat mass contained within the body through external visualisation and in some instances palpation of the ribs and waist areas to attribute a score to the animal at the time of assessment [1]. BCS generally occurs on animals coming into the Veterinary practice during consults but can also be used to assess an animals condition entering a shelter or rehoming situation. A score is given during each consultation or check-up so that a general understanding of the animals weight situation is gained. This helps staff to give advice to clients or can be used to direct feeding information for that animal.

There are various scales for measuring and visualising body weight (BW) and scoring helps to inform current status and changes over time on both cats and dogs. Different scoring methods (scales of 1-5 or 1-9)[2,3,4] all have their merits and may be situationally used; however, it is important to choose and use one system consistently across the healthcare team so that any disparities are minimised.

Limited studies have identified that the ideal score for most animals is around 2.5-3 out of 5 or 4-5 out of 9 [1]. Scoring systems are broken into numbers based on a visual look and palpation of the area; palpation is key, especially in long haired or fluffy animals that may not exhibit obvious visual attributing factors.

An emaciated animal will show obvious exposed ribs and a very pronounced waist. Such animals would be given a 1-2 of 5 or 1-3 of 9 score. Those that are considered ideal have ribs that can be visualised and or obviously felt in fluffy/long haired animals and have a defined waist that can be viewed when looking down on the lumbar spinal area. Obese animals will have no defined ribs or definition around the lumbar area – often considered a ‘coffee table’ due to the pronounced square look when the spine is viewed from above. These animals would receive a 4-5 of 5 or 6-9 of 9 score, resulting in the animal being considered overweight/obese and in need of reduced calorie intake or use of manufactured weight loss food being provided, as well as education being provided to the owner.

As suggested an increased BCS can affect an animals wellbeing, so too can a low BCS. Especially in animals suffering disease processes that inhibit weight gain resulting in starvation or even cruelty cases; these animals must be fed a carefully monitored and prepared/manufactured diet to gain/regain weight in a modified manner.

Education is key, as ideal BCS can be considered underweight by some owners. Appropriate education on the relation of increased disease risk across different life stages to increased BCS is important for owners to be made aware of so that they can instigate changes for the welfare of the animal. A muscle condition assessment informs the healthcare team of muscle loss that may have derived from acute or chronic disease processes including aging (cachexia or Sarcopenia), for example starvation or where the body is breaking down its own proteins (muscle) or due to the aging process as compared to a healthy animal. The loss of muscle mass adversely affects the animals ability to heal wounds, maintain strength and immune system functions within the body and early identification of muscle loss and wasting can offer valued intervention [1].

MCS is carried out through palpation over the temporal bones, scapulae, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones [1,2] as well as visual examination. A MCS is carried out by gently grasping the skin and muscle between the thumb and index finger in a pinch gesture (without the pinch). A normal score is where no skin/muscle comes together when grasped, mild muscle loss is where a slight raising occurs of the skin and muscle, moderate muscle loss is indicated by a closer rise in both skin and muscle and severe muscle loss can be noted by an obvious grasp of skin [2].

It is important to note that an animal can be overweight and have substantial muscle wastage; for this reason, BCS and MCS are not directly related. MCS should be carefully carried out and evaluated to identify animals that may appear normal however have minimal muscle and excessive fat stores particularly around the abdomen and rib areas. Muscle wasting should be accurately palpated and again is important in fluffy or longer haired animals where visualisation is obstructed.

Further evaluation of the animals diet, feeding habits and environmental factors are warranted in animals identified with nutrition related issues from the BCS or MCS. The healthcare team should aim to review current gathered history and expand via obtaining additional information in order to develop a plan to address the noted problem. Various forms exist, both standard and in depth and are available for practice use. They are directive and useful for gaining further information from pet owners [7,8]. Incorporating the Resting Energy Rate (RER) and Daily Energy Rate (DER) via calculations will equate to the overall calories required for the animal based on its life stage and/or disease process and should be recalculated once the animals ideal body weight is reached.

BCS is an integral aspect of the clinical assessment and by integrating a MCS into the order too will help the team to maintain awareness of animal nutrition and relevant wellbeing. Managing health and disease includes proper nutrition management. Where the healthcare team embraces the importance of nutrition, allowing clients, the practice and the profession as a whole to provide optimal healthcare to their pets. Pet owners are informing themselves with a deeper understanding due to vast resources being available; this provides an excellent opportunity to ensure correct education is provided to them via the practice. Utilisation of Veterinary Nurses and Technicians is paramount to success, as they can deliver much of this information, freeing up Veterinarians within the team.

1. Cline, M. G., Burns, K. M., Coe, J. B., Downing, R., Durzi, T., Murphy, M., & Parker, V. (2021). 2021 AAHA nutrition and weight management guidelines for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 57(4), 153-178. Available at:
2. Canine and Feline Body Condition Score and Muscle Condition Score (1-9). Available at: Accessed November 28, 2022.
3. Canine Body Condition Score (1-5). Available at: Accessed November 28, 2022.
4. Feline Body Condition Score (1-5). Available at: Accessed November 28, 2022.
5. Freeman LM, Michel KE, Zanghi BM, et al. Evaluation of the use of muscle condition score and ultrasonographic measurements for assessment of muscle mass in dogs. Am J Vet Res 2019;80:595–600. 15. 
6. Freeman LM, Michel KE, Zanghi BM, et al. Usefulness of muscle condition score and ultrasonographic measurements for assessment of muscle mass in cats with cachexia and sarcopenia. Am J Vet Res 2020;81:254–9.
7. American College of Veterinary Nutrition. ACVN Diet History Form. Available at:  Accessed November 28, 2022. 
8. World Small Animal Veterinary Association. Short Diet History Form. Available at: Accessed November 28, 2022.