Illness severity scores are gaining increasing popularity in veterinary medicine. This article discusses their applications in both clinical medicine and research, reviews the caveats pertaining to their use, and discusses some of the issues that arise in appropriate construction of a score. Illness severity scores can be used to decrease bias and confounding and add important contextual information to research by providing a quantitative and objective measure of patient illness. In addition, illness severity scores can be used to benchmark performance, and establish protocols for triage and therapeutic management. Many diagnosis-specific and diagnosis-independent veterinary scores have been developed in recent years. Although score use in veterinary research is increasing, the scores available are currently underutilized, particularly in the context of observational studies. Analysis of treatment effect while controlling for illness severity by an objective measure can improve the validity of the conclusions of observational studies. In randomized trials, illness severity scores can be used to demonstrate effective randomization, which is of particular utility when group sizes are small. The quality of veterinary scoring systems can be improved by prospective multicenter validation. The prevalence of euthanasia in companion animal medicine poses a unique challenge to scores based on a mortality outcome.