Body Condition Scoring in Working Dogs

Body Condition Scoring in Working Dogs
By Katrina Crowe, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Huntly

We all know the value in using body condition scores (BCS) to assess our stock, however we often forget about one of our most important farm tools, the working dog. Body condition scoring in working dogs is a great way to guide you in knowing if you are feeding your dogs too much, not enough, or maybe need to switch them to a premium working dog diet, such as Royal Canin 4800.

The most widely used BCS system in dogs is a 9-point scoring system of the dog’s weight and body condition. The lowest score is “1” which is emaciated, and the highest is “9” which is obese. The ideal working dog BCS is 4-5. The chart below shows you how body condition scoring in dogs is carried out. The scoring is done in three steps:

  • Palpation of ribs, spine and hips. If your working dog is an ideal BCS, you should be able to feel your dog’s spine, ribs and hip bones easily, but with not too much fat covering. However, the spine, ribs and hip bones should not be visible from a distance – this would indicate a dog is underweight and needs to be fed more each day or to be put onto a premium working dog diet.
  • Look at your dog from the side. You should be able to see an “abdominal tuck” if your dog is an ideal BCS. A lack of an obvious abdominal tuck indicates your dog is overweight.
  • Look at your dog from above. A waist should be seen behind the ribs from above if your working dog is an ideal BCS. If you can’t see a waist, your dog is too fat. If you can see your dog’s ribs sticking out, it is too thin.

Steps 2 and 3 may be difficult with a long or thick coated dog, in this instance, you may need to use your hands to feel for an abdominal tuck and waist, or hold your dog’s hair out the way while you visualise it.

If you are at the start of a busy season, it may be better to aim to have your dogs at a BCS of 5, so that they have some reserves for the work that is ahead. A dog that has no body fat at all will lose muscle and may lack energy, which will affect their performance at work. A dog that is overweight while working will put increased strain on its joints, shortening its overall productive working life.

Maintaining an ideal BCS in your working dogs is like making sure the tractor has enough oil. If you need help assessing your dogs, ask your vet or technician to have a look at them while they are out on-farm, or give your nearest Anexa clinic a call for nutritional advice.


Date Added: Monday, 4th May 2020


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