Is Your Pet Too Bony? Try This Backbone Test

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: January 9, 2016

Updated: May 18, 2021

Our mission is to help save dogs' and cats’ lives through our educational content. To support our efforts, this page may contain affiliate links. We earn a commission for qualifying purchases – at no cost to you.

small dog is skinnyTake a second and try this right now – Run your hand down your pet's back. Start up by the base of their neck and gently run your fingertips down the length of their spine, towards their tail. I know it’s a strange request but bear with me. You’ll see why it’s important shortly.

How easily can you feel your pet's backbone?

If those bones (they’re called the vertebral bodies and processes) are very prominent and easy to feel, then your pet may have decreased muscle mass and one of a host of the underlying conditions that can lead to such muscle loss.

To assess your pet's body condition use these charts:

Body condition chart for dogs

Body condition chart for cats

Some of the conditions and problems that can result in decreased muscle mass in cats and dogs include:cat body condition test their back and ribs

Of course, such muscle mass loss could also be related to your pet’s diet — specifically poor-quality diets, or them just not taking in enough calories. But if your pet is on a good quality diet and they are eating, then it’s far more likely that their weight and muscle mass loss is due to one of the conditions in the list provided above and truly does mean that a visit to your veterinarian is in order. Certain conditions are more or less likely depending on your pet’s appetite, energy level, thirst, age, and a host of other factors. Your veterinarian can help you work through your pets’ specific situation and lay out a plan to help you arrive at the correct diagnosis and determine the safest, most effective, and most practical treatments for them.
dog and cat with bony back

See, feeling your pet’s backbone wasn’t such a strange suggestion after all. Was it?

Oh, and PS — if those vertebral bodies and processes are really difficult to feel, then your pet likely has the opposite problem… obesity (which should be taken care of right away, and prompt a visit to your vet).

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

Must-have digital books for dog and cat owners