Body Condition Scales

A general awareness of body conditions is helpful for non veterinary medical professionals in order to describe the conditions of animals that may require  further investigation or immediate intervention.

Maltreatment is only one explanation for the bond condition of animals,  other factors which affect body condition are:

  • Medical conditions which adversely impacts their body fat retention, such as a pancreatic disorders  or a thyroid imbalances which can result in weight loss or gain
  • Old age contributing to  a loss of muscle mass

“Body condition scores” are Likert-type measurement scales that assesses the amount of body fat ( “condition”) an animal is carrying. These scales are useful for field assessments as indicators of how an animal is coping with its environment, as well as providing some insight into the care the animal is receiving.

Numerous scales exit and generally the endpoints are the extremes of condition and indicate poor welfare; the middle tends to represent “ideal” weight/body fat percentage. Varying scales are are available with a range of scales most commonly five point or nine point.


  • Body condition scores alone cannot tell the whole picture of an animal’s welfare and should be used in conjunction with other indicators/assessment measures.
  • They are meant  encompass the entire range of possible body conditions.
  • Extremes likely to result in immediate and observable dangers to the animal (potential death from starvation, impaired mobility, respiratory distress, fatigue, pain, and/or physiological damage to internal organs).
  • It is necessary to be familiar both with the species to be assessed as well as the scale itself for accurate assessment.
  • An assessor must also be aware of cultural norms when using these instruments, (e.g. American pets tend to be overweight as a matter of course. A horse in racing condition  or a working dog is likely to be leaner than the average horse or companion dog).

Ultimately, the key to determining the suitability of the environment and/or care the animal receives lies in a comprehensive assessment, which may need to include a veterinary medical history to determine if poor body condition is a result of a legitimate medical issue or has arisen through poor care and management of the animal.