dog sitting on scale

How to use a body condition score before your dog goes from fit to fat.

An astounding 54% of dogs in America are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity. That’s right! A whopping one-third of American pets fall into that category.

And while most people don’t seem too concerned with their pet’s weight (I mean, they’re just dogs right), this can lead to some serious health problems down the line.

Here, at The Progressive Pup, your dog is an equal member of your family! You love them unconditionally and we want the very best that life has to offer them. Sometimes that unconditional love means you might be ignoring that your dog’s weight is beyond what would be considered healthy. Let’s get familiar with an easy at-home method to access your dog’s weight called a canine body condition score.

The state of pet obesity today.

I will be honest, I was shocked that more than half the population of the dogs in the U.S. are considered overweight and a whopping 25% or more of them obese. How does that happen? Let’s discuss a couple of reasons.


Yes, love can innocently be the reason your dog is overweight. Most of our human brains are conditioned to think that food equals comfort and love for our dogs. And I agree that providing the healthiest diets for our dogs is definitely a better way we can show love for our dogs. It should not be about quantity, but rather quality.

If you are not yet feeding fresh whole foods, you also might associate table scraps with a luxurious treat for your dog. But if we don’t measure or adjust our dog’s diet to accommodate for the high-level training treats or occasional pupcino,  then we will surely end up with a few unwanted pounds on our dogs

Lack of exercise during certain seasons of the year.

Depending on where you live, you may experience extreme hot and cold temperatures throughout your seasons. It can be challenging to keep an exercise routine for your dogs during those times.

But dogs, like humans, will conserve their energy during those hot and freezing temperatures, it’s just natural. So be aware of their energy requirements and adjust total calorie intake during those seasons. You could also work with a Canine Fitness Trainer for an exercise program you can do inside when the elements are extreme.

Different life stages call for different calorie requirements

I turn 50 years old next year and boy has my own aging process taught me a lot about a changing metabolism. Don’t hate me. I used to be one of those people who could eat anything and not gain weight. That was until I turned 30. Every additional decade has proven more and more challenging to control my weight.

Same can be true for our dogs. Fine-tuning your dog’s diet will be a lifelong journey. It is not your veterinarian’s responsibility to tell you your dog needs to lose weight. In fact, I don’t think those crucial conversations are really happening. Your responsibility as your pet’s guardian to be knowledgeable of what a healthy weight for them looks like.

Different dogs will need different calorie requirements based on their activity level, breed, and age.  And this might be a controversial statement but not every calorie is really the same.  Think about it, is 1 calorie of dry kibble really going to “look” the same as 1 calorie of fresh whole food.  They may equal the same energy output but I definitely believe the body is going to process, utilize, and store it differently.

Other health issues

Maybe you’ve done “all the things” and you can’t pinpoint a lifestyle reason for your dog being overweight or obese. There could be other health issues causing the situation and you should consult with your veterinarian as well as partner with a canine nutritionist to help with the diagnosis.

Why should you care about your dog’s Body Condition Score?

Diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and cancer….do I have your attention now?

Many of these diseases are linked to our dog’s weight which is directly linked to the kinds and amounts of food that we make available to nourish their bodies.

Next time you think it is too expensive or time-consuming to feed your dog a healthier diet, then think again. and monitor Stop and consider the vet bills or the quality of life your dog will have if they are diagnosed with any of the diseases I listed above. Now does it sound worth it to invest in your dogs healthy diet?

What is a Body Condition Score for your dog?

I don’t know about you but I don’t have a scale at home that I can weigh my large lab shepherd mix.  So a body condition score (BCS) is a simple and effective way to start determining whether a dog’s weight is ideal.

There are two recognized BCS scales available. One scale ranges from 1-5 and the other from 1-9. Neither one is more right or wrong.  No matter which scale you choose it will help you grade your dog’s physic from too thin to obese.

Let’s get started. Here is the Purina BCS scale. It is really one of the better ones that I’ve seen illustrating the different scores. And maybe I love it too cause it features a labrador.

If you have never done this before, in order to evaluate our dog’s BCS all we are going to need is our eyes or a camera for visual observations. As well as our hands for palpation or touching our dogs.

How to consistently measure your dog’s BC score

Step#1 The dorsal view

While your dog is standing, observe your dog’s body shape from a “birds-eye view”.  This is called the dorsal view

Ideally, your dogs should have a tuck at the waist that is visible from above. Do you notice anything that looks unbalanced from side to side?

Also, be aware of the width at the shoulders vs the width of the hips. If the width of the shoulders is substantially wider than the hips this could indicate muscle wasting in the rear and overuse of the front/chest muscles for mobility. This could be more common in senior dogs as they start to transfer more weight forward

Step#2 The side view

With your dog still in a stand position, it is helpful to take a picture of your dog from the side.  And that includes both sides.

Does your dog’s tummy tuck up past the rib cage?

Notice if your dog’s spine or what we’ll refer to as their top line is flat, roached, or dipping. If your dog has a neutral or flat back that is great.  A dip in the top line can be due to weak core muscles if carrying extra weight.  And a roach or rounded back can indicate pain or muscle tightness.  If you notice any roaching I would personally advise having your dog checked out by a veterinarian or rehabilitation vet.  What is important here is to understand your dog’s “normal” neutral back.

Step#3 Use your hands

Run your hands over the rib cage.  Can you easily feel the ribs? There should be a very thin layer of skin, muscle, and fat over the ribs but you should easily feel from rib to rib

Using light pressure also feel along your dog’s spine.  Not directly down the dorsal line but 2-3 inches on both sides of the spine.  This area should also be covered with appropriate muscle and minimal fat allowing you to feel the presence of the spine without pressing too hard.

Last feel for your dog’s pelvis landmarks:  the point of the hip and the point of the buttock.  These bony landmarks should be easy to locate on a dog with an ideal weight.  But the entire pelvis area should also have good muscle coverage

Here is a simple video from Purina. I have mentioned a few other things I like to evaluate as part of the body conditioning score that is not covered in this video including the spine and the pelvis landmarks. But this video is very well done in how to use your hands to palpate during the evaluation.

What do we do with this information?

Now is not the time to be afraid or ashamed if you have a dog that is overweight or even obese.

What it is time for,  is to take action in improving your dog’s health TODAY!.

You are an informed pet parent, you can monitor your dog’s weight easily at home, and you can decide to help your pet live a long, healthy life at an ideal weight. Your dog did not put this extra weight on overnight so we want to work slowly to also decrease their weight until it is ideal.

Improve the quality of foods in your dog’s diet.

If you are a kibble feeder start incorporating fresh whole foods into your dog’s diet slowly by replacing some of their kibble.   Maybe start with a little bit of broccoli or cauliflower lightly cooked and chopped. Buy the best ingredients you can afford and start slow.

Slowly reduce the quantity you feed your dog daily

I’m a fresh food feeder and I use a scale to weigh my dog’s food for every meal. This makes it super easy and accurate to adjust when I need to.  Whether you measure their meals by volume (2 cups) or by weight (8 ounces)  know the quantity you are starting at so it will make it easier to adjust in the future.

Outside of their meals, how much food are they consuming?

This is probably a big one we all miss.

If you are not sure how many rewards your dog might be receiving during a day, do a little 24-hour exercise. Don’t consciously change any of your habits or training schedule. Place an extra bowl near where you generally store the treats. Each time you OR another family member reward your dog, then place the same quantity of treats in the extra bowl. For example Fluffy gets one treat – one treat gets placed in the bowl on the counter. At the end of the day, you should have an equal representation of how many treats you feed your dog that day in the extra bowl.

Reward for movement

Training rewards are not used only for stationary or position training. Use food in a way that encourages your dog to move its body. A fun and simple game could just be moving from mat to mat. I refer to this as target drills. Not only does this build value for your dog going to its mat or target but also gets them moving.

There are also some fun treat dispensing toys or puzzles toys on the market that will require your dog to move the object.  They can be both physically and mentally challenging for your dog.  Use the smallest treats you can find or try making your own. (***treat balls we use, others on the market***)

Increase your dog’s daily activity time

Get that body moving. It can be as easy as taking an extra walk once a day or even just adding 5 – 10 minutes to your current walk routine.

Please be aware if your dog is overweight or obese you want to start or increase activity very slowly and wisely. Don’t start throwing the ball for a game of fetch right away. This could lead to some injury and set your dogs weight reduction efforts back.

Work with a Canine Fitness trainer

If you want some extra guidance and coaching a great choice would be to work with a Canine Fitness trainer as part of your dog’s weight loss program.  They can help you take additional body measurements and create a custom, safe exercise plan for your dog that matches your goals and lifestyle

Let’s change what’s normal

Having an overweight dog has happened to me and it has probably happened to all of us in our journey of becoming a more aware and knowledgeable pet parent. And somewhere along the way fat pets, including dogs, have become the norm in our culture. Let’s stop normalizing fat or obese pets. And start to normalize dogs that are fit and trim. This might be challenging, but it starts with you and me.

Be brave, but be kind, and help a friend who also may have a dog that would benefit from a healthier weight. An at home body conditioning score evaluation is fast, inexpensive and tells us more about how your dogs carries their weight than just a number on a scale.

I would love to work with you and your dog on a weight loss fitness program. Please feel free to submit a discovery form on my website at or you can email me at