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The Importance of Body Condition Scoring

 

 

Early in my career I had one consultation in which the necessity of understanding and performing body condition scoring in animals (by vets and owners) was made abundantly clear. I was called out to see a horse on welfare grounds, as it had been reported for poor condition, which the owner was reluctant to address. I attended the call-out with a senior colleague, and we spent some time in the paddock with the owner, discussing the reasons medical intervention is required in animals that are severely underweight. This was a frustrating conversation on both sides, with the owner refusing to accept that he needed to address the problem. The underlying issue in communication was made apparent when the owner in exasperation finally interrupted our repeated explanation.  “I don’t know why you keep talking about this! I mean, have you ever seen a horse as fat as that?” he demanded, pointing directly at the emaciated creature in front of us.

There was a lengthy pause as we struggled for the right response. “That horse?” my colleague eventually got out, as though there was some confusion. But then it dawned on us that although the horse was skeletal in appearance (with a BCS of 0), all the owner saw was the animal’s large pot belly that no doubt was associated with the underlying condition (and he assumed it was fat). Where we saw an emaciated horse with a likely significant disease process, he saw the fattest horse he had ever seen in his life. His reluctance to seek medical attention was less that he didn’t want to address the problem, and more that he couldn’t see there was a problem at all.

And this of course is the very reason we have standardised methods in place for making subjective assessments (like body condition, or pain) as objective as possible. Body condition scoring allows for an assessment of the amount and distribution of fat on the animal, and removes a lot of the observational bias that may arise due to the animal’s size, frame, fecundity, presence of wool/hair/fur/feathers, or distortion of shape due to disease (as per the pot belly in this case). It is vital for owners to be taught how to perform body condition scoring, so that they are better equipped to recognise and address a problem resulting in either over or under ideal body condition, that may affect the health and welfare (or productivity) of their animals.

In this video, livestock veterinarian Dr Jennie Mohler demonstrates a neat tip to help perform body condition scoring in sheep that is applicable across species.

About the Presenter

Dr Jennie Mohler BS, BVSc (Hon), BSc (Vet Research), MANZCVS (Dairy Medicine), PhD is a livestock veterinarian and lecturer at The University of Sydney. Jennie hails from a 30 000 cow family dairy operation in Southern Idaho, and has extensive experience and qualifications in the field of livestock medicine. She is therefore absolutely brimming with knowledge and practical tips, which she shares freely.  This, combined with her trademark wry sense of humour, makes her a great favourite amongst both her clients and students.

Need to know more?

Body condition scoring in all species follows a similar formula – there are specific regions of the body that are visually assessed and palpated, and a score from 0-5, 0-8 or 0-10 is applied depending on the result.

The following links offer helpful guides to standard body condition scoring in various common species:

 

Sheep: https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/management-reproduction/condition-scoring-sheep

 

Beef cattle: http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/handling-and-management/condition-scoring-of-beef-cattle

 

Dairy cows: https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/farm/animal-management/fertility/body-condition-scoring

 

Horses: http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/horses/condition-scoring-and-weight-estimation

 

Goats: http://www.luresext.edu/sites/default/files/BCS_factsheet.pdf

 

Pigs: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/agriculture/animals/pigs/feed-nutrition/how-much/scoring

 

Dogs: https://www.wsava.org/WSAVA/media/Arpita-and-Emma-editorial/Body-Condition-Score-Dog.pdf

 

Cats: https://www.wsava.org/WSAVA/media/PDF_old/Body-condition-score-chart-cats.pdf

 

Birds: https://lafeber.com/vet/body-condition-scoring/

 

Rabbits: https://lafeber.com/vet/body-condition-scoring-the-rabbit/

 

Guinea Pig: https://research.unc.edu/files/2012/11/Body-Condition-Scoring-Guinea-Pig.pdf

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