Two dogs walking through a park with their owner.

Weight Loss Is a Key Part of Arthritis Management

Extra body weight and arthritis in dogs seem to go paw-in-paw — and for good reason. Consider these facts:

  • Nearly 59 percent of dogs are considered overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s most recent survey.
  • Arthritis is the most common form of degenerative joint disease in adult dogs, affecting one in five dogs (20 percent).
  • Extra pounds put added stress on dogs’ joints, especially joint cartilage and ligaments.
  • Fat cells secrete hormones such as leptin and other chemicals that cause and heighten inflammation throughout the body and in joints.
  • Arthritis is the leading cause of chronic pain in dogs.
  • Both obesity and arthritis contribute to reduced activity in dogs and ultimately can result in reduced quality of life.

The good news for dog parents is that veterinarians have learned a lot about canine arthritis, inflammation and chronic pain during the past 30 years. Read on to learn more about arthritis in dogs and, more importantly, what you can do to help your dog.

It’s not about “getting old”

Aging isn’t a disease, and dogs don’t slow down, appear stiff or seem less interested in play just because they’ve gotten older. There’s an underlying reason why — such as arthritis — dogs move or behave differently.

Arthritis is a complex, progressive condition that occurs when cartilage in one or more joints breaks down. It’s also associated with low-grade inflammation. Most arthritis in dogs develops secondarily to developmental orthopedic diseases such as cranial cruciate ligament disease, hip dysplasia (abnormal growth or development), elbow dysplasia or patellar luxation (kneecap dislocation).

No single cause of arthritis in dogs has been identified. In fact, a combination of factors contributes to arthritis development and progression for most dogs:

  • Body conformation; in other words, how a dog is “built”
  • Body weight and condition, since being overweight or obese is highly correlated with arthritis
  • Abnormal joint development (e.g., hip dysplasia or patellar luxation)
  • History of injury, such as past bone fractures, ligament damage, muscle injury, previous joint infection or cartilage damage
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Nutritional history, especially early nutrition and feeding practices, growth rates and exercise levels

Different signs can be seen at different times

Dogs with arthritis can display different signs and symptoms. They also don’t show all the signs all the time. According to veterinarian Robin Downing, a board-certified veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Windsor, Colorado, some of the more common signs of arthritis in dogs include:

  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Walking stiffly
  • Lameness (or limping) in one or more legs
  • Lagging behind on walks or limping after exercise
  • Reluctance to go up and/or down stairs
  • Hesitant to jump up or down, whether onto or off of furniture or into or out of a vehicle
  • Stiff, swollen or sore joints
  • Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body
  • Unexpected aggression towards other dogs or towards people

Managing arthritis in dogs uses a variety of practices

Arthritis is a painful, progressive disease that can’t be cured — but it can be managed. In fact, your veterinarian has a number of options and tools that can help manage arthritis pain, slow disease progression, restore mobility and improve your dog’s quality of life.

Veterinarians now know they get the best results for their arthritic canine patients when they develop a treatment plan that combines several different approaches. Effective arthritis management carefully balances nutrition, weight management (if the dog is overweight), activity, muscle development and medications to control pain and inflammation and to slow cartilage breakdown. Some veterinarians may also incorporate some types of physical medicine, such as physical therapy, low-level laser treatments, acupuncture and others.

Getting your dog’s weight under control

Helping your dog reach a healthy weight and maintain an ideal body condition is one of the most important things you can do to help manage his or her arthritis, improve and maintain joint health, and improve quality of life. Weight loss helps reduce the physical and mechanical stresses placed on joints. Second, when the lost weight is fat, fat cells produce fewer hormones and chemicals that promote inflammation which contributes to pain and discomfort.

Recent studies confirm the importance of weight management as part of an arthritis treatment program. Some of the most compelling evidence comes from a 14-year study of Labrador retrievers. In that study, dogs fed to maintain a lean body condition (body condition score, or BCS, of 4 to 5 on a 9-point scale) developed arthritis and other chronic diseases about two years later than control-group dogs (BCS of 6 to 7). Researchers also noted that the heavier dogs had more visible signs of aging, such as graying muzzles, impaired gaits and reduced activity, at an earlier age than lean dogs.

In another study, overweight dogs with signs of hip arthritis — back leg lameness — were placed on a weight loss program. Not only did the dogs lose between 11 and 18 percent of their initial body weight, but their lameness was significantly improved. And in a study of obese dogs with signs of arthritis, dogs that completed a 16-week weight loss program lost at least 6 percent of their initial body weight. This weight loss was also associated with a significant decrease in lameness.

There is also evidence of improved quality of life when obese dogs lose weight. This includes improvement in activity and signs of decreased chronic pain.

Talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s weight and arthritis risk

A few extra pounds and a little slowness or stiffness may not seem like cause for concern. But as this information shows, too much weight can negatively affect your dog’s ability to move and his or her quality of life. Fat itself contributes to inflammation, inflammation is part of the pain associated with arthritis, and being overweight or obese adds to both. Talk with your veterinarian. A diet such as Diamond CARE Weight Management Formula for Adult Dogs just may be what the doctor orders for weight loss that positively affects your dog’s health and quality of life.

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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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