Logo

Cat Body Condition Score Chart | How to Score Your Cat 1-9

Updated 

Sep 13, 2023
Cat Body Condition Score Chart | How to Score Your Cat 1-9
Although this article has been written by a veterinarian and is based on scientific research and expert knowledge, it is intended for informational purposes only. It does not replace consulting your own veterinarian and establishing a patient-doctor relationship. To support our efforts, this site contains affiliate links to products we recommend and find helpful, which may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read more.
Table of Contents

Introduction

The best way to tell if your cat is overweight or underweight is to body condition score (BCS) them using the 9-point scale, which involves looking at and feeling your cat, focusing on the ribswaist, and belly. They are then assigned a score, with 1/9 being severely underweight, 5/9 being ideal, and 9/9 being severely overweight. 

Putting your cat on the scales and only checking how much they weigh does not provide a complete picture. The average domestic shorthair cat weighs around 4.5 kg, but an ideal body weight can vary from 2.5-7 kg depending on the breed and individual. Therefore, you also need to perform a hands-on and visual assessment to estimate if they have extra or insufficient fat.

In this article, you will learn the following: 

  • How to perform a body condition examination
  • How to assign your cat a body condition score
  • How to estimate your cat's ideal weight

Once you have learned how to body condition score your cat, it's advisable to check and monitor both their weight and body condition at least once a month to help keep them healthy throughout their life. If they are unintentionally losing condition, they may have an underlying health issue. If they are unintentionally gaining condition, they may need to go on a diet. Whether you notice a trend upwards or downwards, it's always best to consult your veterinarian for advice.

Beurer Digital Pet Scales

Beurer Digital Pet Scales

  • Accurate, reliable, and comfortable digital scales
  • Easily monitor your cat's weight at home every 2-4 weeks
  • Gain valuable information about their health and detect potential issues early on

Cat Body Condition Score Chart

Although cat body condition score charts are extremely useful, they can also be overwhelming and confusing. The purpose of this guide is to simplify the assessment process and help you assign a score to your cat.

Thumbnail Image
Click to Enlarge

Step-By-Step Guide on How to Body Condition Score Your Cat

We've created a simple guide that will walk you through the steps to accurately score your cat. However, since learning a new skill can be challenging, it's helpful to practice body condition scoring your cat with your veterinarian or veterinary nurse during your clinic visits to improve your confidence.

Step 1. Feel and Look at Your Cat's Ribs

Gently run your hands along either side of your cat's chest. You should be able to feel their ribs with a light touch and even count the number of ribs they have (answer: 13). If you have to press hard to feel their ribs or you cannot feel them, your cat is overweight. However, if you can see their ribs, they are too thin.

Similarly, you should be able to easily feel the bony bumps along their backbone (known as the dorsal spinous processes), but they shouldn't feel overly prominent.

Note that with longhaired cats, you need to rely more on your hands-on assessment because it will be challenging to see the ribs even if they are underweight. Also, older cats may start to lose muscle condition, so their ribs may become easier to feel, even if they are overweight.

Cats that are too thin, emaciated, BCS 1/9, BCS 2/9
These cats are too thin. Their ribs can be seen, and their hipbones are protruding.

A useful way to help you understand how their ribs should feel is 'the knuckle trick'.

  1. First, make a fist and feel your knuckles; this is how an underweight cat would feel, very bony with your finger dipping between each rib space and no muscle or fat covering their ribs.
  2. Now open your hand so it's flat and feel your knuckles; this is how a cat with an ideal body condition score should feel, slightly padded, as their ribs are covered in muscle and a thin layer of fat.
  3. Finally, try to feel your knuckles from the opposite side of your hand, through your palm, which is much more difficult; this is how an overweight cat would feel as they have excess fat covering their ribs. 

Pet Body Condition Score - Knuckle Trick

Video: How to Assess Your Cat's Ribs by PetCoach

Step 2. Look at Your Cat's Waist From Above

To assess their waistline, your cat must be standing, and you need to look at them from above. Behind their ribcage, they should have an obvious waist that tucks in and is narrower than their chest, which gives them an hourglass figure. For longhaired cats, you may need to run your hands along their waist to evaluate their shape.

If your cat doesn't tuck in at their waist or the area of their waist extends outwards, they are overweight. If your cat has a very narrow waist, they are too thin. 

Body Condition Score - waist from above, ideal vs overweight car
Look at your cat from above when they are standing. A cat with an ideal body condition will have an obvious waist, where it tucks in and is narrower than their chest. If a cat is overweight, it may be difficult or impossible to see their waist.

Video: How to Assess Your Cat's Waist by PetCoach

Step 3. Look at Your Cat's Belly From the Side

Look at your cat's belly from the side while they are standing or walking. They should have an abdominal tuck, which means the abdomen should travel slightly upwards from the back of the ribcage towards the hind legs. When viewed from the side, the belly should not hang down below the ribcage. 

If a cat is too thin, they will have a pronounced or severe abdominal tuck. An overweight cat will have a round belly, and an obese cat will have a belly that distends below their ribcage towards the ground. 

There can be loose skin around the thighs, chest, and belly that can obstruct your view, and longhaired cats can also be challenging to visually assess for a tummy tuck. Therefore, it's helpful to run your hand underneath the belly along the abdominal wall, from the ribcage towards the rear legs. Assess if the abdomen tucks slightly upwards and doesn't drop below the ribcage.

Body Condition Scoring - Abdominal Tuck vs Distended Abdomen Images
When viewed from the side, if a cat has an ideal body condition, there will be a slight upward slope of the belly from the end of the ribcage to the hindlegs (the belly tucks in), known as an abdominal tuck. If they are overweight, there will be no tuck, or the belly will distend outwards.

Body Condition Scoring - Abdominal Tuck vs Distended Abdomen Radiograph

Step 4. Feel for a Belly (Abdominal) Fat Pad

Most cats have a primordial pouch, which is loose skin hanging from their belly. It is normal anatomy, often extending below the ribcage, and can be seen in cats of all shapes and sizes. 

Having a primordial pouch does not mean your cat is overweight. What's important is to feel inside the primordial pouch, between and just in front of their rear legs. It should contain squishy fat, known as the caudal abdominal fat pad.

Cats with an ideal body condition score should have a small amount of fat inside their primordial pouch, approximately the size of a kiwi fruit. If the amount of fat is much larger, they are likely overweight, and if you can't feel a fat pad, they are underweight.  

Body Condition Scoring - primordial pouch
The primordial pouch is the loose skin that hangs from the belly and is a normal finding in cats of all shapes and sizes.

Video: How to Assess Your Cat's Abdominal Fat Pad by PetCoach

Step 5. Feel for Fat Pads on the Rest of Your Cat's Body

Finally, feel the rest of your cat for squishy fat pads under the skin, focusing on the lower back, limbs, and face. If they have fat pads on their lower back, they are likely obese. If they have additional fat pads on their face and limbs, they are likely morbidly obese.

Body Condition Scoring - morbidly obese
A morbidly obese cat with fat pads on the shoulders, lower back (tail base), and around the face.

Video: How to Perform the Complete Body Condition Score Exam

Step 6. Assign Your Cat a Body Condition Score

Now that you are comfortable performing a body condition assessment, you need to assign your cat a score. Read the descriptions below and view the images to see which best suits your cat.

If you prefer to see all the images and descriptions together, view the Body Condition Chart for Cats. You can also use the Cat Body Condition Score Flow Diagram below to help guide you.

BCS 1/9 = Emaciated

  • Ribs are visible (may be more difficult to see if longhaired)
  • The backbone and hipbones protrude and are easily seen  
  • Extremely narrow waist
  • Very severe abdominal tuck
  • Unable to feel any fat on the entire body
  • Overall muscle mass is minimal to non-existent 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 1/9

BCS 2/9 = Very Thin

  • Ribs are visible (may be more difficult to see if longhaired) 
  • Very narrow waist
  • Severe abdominal tuck
  • Unable to feel any fat on the entire body
  • Overall muscle mass is poor 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 2/9

BCS 3/9 = Thin

  • Ribs are not visible but easily felt with minimal fat covering
  • Narrow waist
  • Moderate abdominal tuck
  • No fat pad felt on the belly 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 3/9

BCS 4/9 = Lean

  • Ribs are not visible but easily felt with minimal fat covering
  • Prominent waist
  • Slight abdominal tuck
  • No fat pad felt on the belly 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 4/9

5/9 = Ideal

  • Ribs are not visible but easily felt with a slight fat covering
  • Well-defined waist
  • Slight abdominal tuck
  • Small fat pad felt on the belly

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 5/9

6/9 = Slightly Overweight

  • Ribs felt with a slight excess of fat covering
  • Subtle waist
  • No abdominal tuck
  • Small fat pad felt on the belly

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 6/9

7/9 = Overweight

  • Ribs are difficult to feel with moderate fat covering
  • Waist difficult to see 
  • Rounding of the belly (no abdominal tuck)
  • Moderate fat pad felt on the lower belly 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 7/9

8/9 = Obese

  • Unable to feel ribs due to excess fat 
  • No waist 
  • Obvious rounding of the belly 
  • Significant fat pad felt on the belly
  • Fat pads also felt over the lower back area 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 8/9

9/9 = Morbidly Obese

  • Unable to feel ribs due to heavy fat cover 
  • No waist 
  • Belly distended 
  • Extensive abdominal fat pad felt on the belly
  • Fat pads are also felt on the lower back, face, and limbs 

Cat Body Condition Score (BCS) 9/9

Body Condition Score Flow Diagram

Use the Cat Body Condition Score Flow Diagram to help assign a score to your cat. Always check the result with the description and images above, as well as with your veterinarian. 

× Modal Image1
Thumbnail Image
Click to Enlarge

How Much Should My Cat Weigh?

Once you know your cat's body condition score, you can use the table below to help estimate their ideal weight. For each body condition score (BCS) increment above 5/9, there is an estimated extra 10% of body weight. For example:

  • A cat with a BCS of 6/9 is approximately 10% overweight (slightly overweight)
  • A cat with a BCS of 7/9 is approximately 20% overweight (moderately overweight)
  • A cat with a BCS of 8/9 is approximately 30% overweight (obese)
  • A cat with a BCS of 9/9 is approximately 40% overweight (morbidly obese)

Use the calculator below to estimate your cat's ideal weight based on their body condition score and current weight. Unfortunately, no validated calculations are available for estimating a cat's ideal body weight if they are below 5/9. Always check with your veterinarian for advice on your cat's ideal weight.






When Should You Seek Veterinary Care?

If your cat has a body condition score of 1/9 or 2/9, you should take them to the vet urgently. If your cat has a body condition score of 3/9 or 4/9, ensure their worming is up-to-date. You should also take them to the vet for a general health check, to discuss nutrition and perform any recommended diagnostic tests.

If your cat has a body condition score of 6/9, reduce the amount of food you feed by 10% and stop giving treats and titbits. If your cat has a body condition score of 7/9 or above, you will need to work closely with your veterinary team for safe and effective weight loss, and they will likely need to be placed on a therapeutic diet for weight loss. For further information, read The Ultimate Weight Loss Plan for Cats.

Read our effective and safe weight loss diet plan for fat cats

Older Cats and Cats With Chronic Diseases

If you have an older cat or a cat with a progressive disease, such as chronic kidney disease, heart disease, or cancer, a slightly higher body condition of 6/9 may be beneficial. Chronic, progressive diseases will cause your cat to lose weight, and having extra reserves may improve survival time. Older cats will also naturally lose weight as they age. Always consult your veterinarian for advice on a healthy body condition score for your cat.


Tuft+Paw
Tabcat
Catastrophic Creations
RyerCat
Vetster