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Monday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Obesity revisited: the body-conditioning score

Aaah … the winter ends. I know I've gained weight and I don't need to step on a scale to confirm it. My pants are more difficult to button, the top button of my shirt chokes me and my belt won't close to the same loop as back in September.

Managing obesity in pets is just as important as in people, and it shouldn't be addressed only at annual exams. Obesity is defined as excessive deposits of adipose (fat) tissue. Overweight is defined as 10 to 20 percent above ideal body weight, and obesity is defined as more than 20 percent above ideal body weight. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 25 to 44 percent of dogs and 15 to 25 percent of cats are obese.

For pets, obesity is not so much an issue of self-esteem as in people, but it can lead to all sorts of disease. Obesity can lead to growth abnormalities (especially related to the bones and joints) in younger pets, arthritis in older pets, glandular diseases (diabetes and Cushing's disease or an overactive adrenal gland), respiratory diseases and heart issues. Studies have proven that dogs and cats that were fed less and were not obese throughout their lives lived years longer than dogs that were free fed (given as much as they wanted) and developed obesity during their lives.

There are so many different breeds (not to mention mixed breeds) to contend with that trying to tell you, as the pet owner, that your dog or cat should weigh this much or that much would be incorrect. Therefore, veterinarians have come up with a body-conditioning score, or BCS for short, to standardize things. A body conditioning score is just as accurate for a dachshund as it is for a Great Dane. So, "How does it work?"

There are two scales used to measure or determine a pet's BCS. One is a scale from 1 to 5, and another is a scale from 1 to 9. I prefer the 1 to 9 scale because it gives me more flexibility, but both are accurate. On both scales the lower numbers describe pets that are underweight or do not have adequate fat stores. The middle numbers describe pets of adequate or ideal body condition, and the higher numbers describe pets that are overweight or obese.

Of course the follow-up question is, "Doc, how do we assess our pet's body condition?" That is a good question. How to actually measure a BCS is very straightforward when I have pictures or can use a pet in the exam room to demonstrate. However, I am hoping my explanation can give everyone a general idea and then you can consult with your veterinarian at your next visit.

• Looking from above the pet one should be able to easily feel but not see the ribs. If the ribs are visible then the pet is too skinny. If you're not sure your pet has ribs because you can't feel them, then the pet is obese.

• Second (also looking from above), your pet should have a waist. This means that where the rib cage ends it should go in and then come back out again by the hips (sort of an hourglass appearance). Therefore, if your pet has no waist and starts to look like a sausage all the way back, then it is obese.

• Lastly, look at your pet from the side. Where the sternum or breastbone ends to the groin or lap area the pet should have a waist or appear slightly tucked up. Cats can have a small fat pad in that area and still be of an ideal body condition.

So, remember to check with your veterinarian at your next visit on how to perform an accurate body conditioning score. That way we can all look good in our bathing suits this summer.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 13 years and is pictured with his son Matthew, as well as the newest member of the family, Jasmine, a Labrador retriever.

Matthew Kearns, DVM