Every time we go to our vet, I cringe a little when I see the chart on the wall. It has a series of top-down and side-view pictures of dogs at various levels of fitness. Upon further inspection, I find that there are also guidelines on how a dog should “feel” at each level.
Even before I started working with dogs, I always thought that body condition score or BCS(as the chart is known) was an awful benchmark to use for gauging our dog’s physical health. The main issue that I’ve always seen with the chart is how subjective it is. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a perfect summation of the flaw. I could look at a dog, feel his ribs, and come up with a 4 for the BCS, while you could do the same and come up with a 6. In my opinion, a method that inherently has so much variability is of very little, real world, value.
The subjective nature of BCS gets much worse when we consider the human emotional element. We all have an deep connection to our dog. Our own worth as a provider has a vested interest in her health and fitness. It is very difficult for some owners, myself included, to come to terms with the fact that their 4-legged companion is in poor physical shape. It is incredibly easy to rationalize a “higher than it should be” result when attempting to get a BCS score.
The (better) alternative
The most accurate form of body fat measurement is something called DEXA(dual-energy X-Ray absorptiometry). Unfortunately, I don’t have an absorptiometry machine lying so I had to find another method of attaining an accurate BF% for our crew.
After a bit of digging, I found a study that compared the various methods for body fat estimation. This turned me on to Hill’s Body Fat Index(featured at bottom of post) and the methods behind getting an accurate reading for the dogs.
It turns out that with a simple tape measure we are able to attain measurements that can be used to get us pretty close to our goal.
In the study(and in the BFI), the body measurements were within 1.5% of the DEXA tests, which is accurate enough for me to contend that this method is much,much better than using a subjective BCS score.
What to measure
There are 5 measurements that we need to use in our formulas.measurements
The green line- this is taken from the little point on the dog’s head to the base of her tail
Red line-Between the shoulder blades to the base of the tail
Blue line-Top of shoulder to floor
Black line-circumference around the pelvis (all the way around)
Yellow line-“Hock to Stifle” length, distance from joint to joint
*all formulas are taken from this paper and shown to be very close to the DEXA tests
In order to determine your dog’s BMI and BF%, take the measurements of the corresponding line colors from the image above. Convert them to cm or kg using the tool provided. Then plug them into the fields below.
The calculators can be found here