Body condition scoring as a predictor of body fat in horses and ponies

Alexandra H.A. Dugdale, Dai Grove-White, Gemma C. Curtis, Patricia A. Harris, Caroline M.C.G. Argo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


Body condition scoring systems were originally developed to quantify flesh cover in food animals and are commonly used to evaluate body fat in Equidae. The relationship between concurrent estimates of body fat content (eTBF%, deuterium oxide dilution; range, 2.7-35.6%) and subjective appraisals of body 'fatness' (body condition score, BCS; range, 1.25-9/9), was investigated in 77 mature horses and ponies. Univariate (UVM, r2=0.79) and multivariable (MVM, r2=0.86) linear regression models described the association, where BCS and eTBF% were explanatory and outcome variables, respectively. Other measures (age, sex, breed, body mass, ultrasound-generated subcutaneous and abdominal retroperitoneal fat depths, withers height, heart and belly circumferences) were considered as potential confounders but only height, belly circumference and retroperitoneal fat depth remained in the final MVM.The association between BCS and eTBF% was logarithmic. Appraisal of the transformed regression (UVM), actual eTBF% values and 95%CIs of the model forecast, suggested that the power of log-transformed BCS as a predictor of eTBF% decreased as BCS increased. The receiver operating characteristic curve for the prediction of horses with an eTBF% of >20%, suggested that the UVM correctly classified 76% of horses using a 'cut-off' of BCS 6.83/9 (sensitivity, 82.5%; specificity, 70.8%). Negative values for eTBF% were obtained for two thin ponies which were excluded from analyses, and caution is advised in the application of deuterium dilution methodologies where perturbed tissue hydration could be predicted. The data suggest that BCS descriptors may warrant further consideration/refinement to establish more clinically-useful, sub-classifications for overweight/obese animals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-178
Number of pages6
JournalVeterinary Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Body condition score
  • Body fat content
  • Deuterium oxide dilution
  • Equine obesity


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