Overcoming Obesity and Osteoarthritis in Dogs

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    How is Osteoarthritis Related to Obesity in Dogs?

    Because of their extremely distinct causes, osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity create diagnostic difficulties that are very difficult to overcome. In the early stages of OA, there are frequently no clear clinical symptoms. Overweight and obesity symptoms may be obvious, yet they are often ignored or disregarded as unimportant. In order to initiate diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative efforts that may otherwise be lost, obesity must be diagnosed.

    Obesity in dogs significantly increases the risk of joint pain and damage in dogs thus leading to OA. Dogs who are either overweight or obese for a significant amount of time have traumatized their joints before any clinical signs of OA appear. The damage of OA takes years to even show up in diagnostic x-rays due to joint degradation.

    While it’s always been believed that the OA formed from obesity was due to joint wear and tear, that’s recently been disproven. It is now believed that the fat tissue is physiologically active, secreting hormones and other substances that both cause and exacerbate inflammation, as we now know.

    When fat cells release the hormone leptin, it infiltrates joints and promotes inflammation. Leptin may also play a role in the bone alterations linked with OA. Finally, inflammation can alter the body’s reactions to other hormones like cortisol and insulin, further disrupting the body’s attempts at self-regulation and affecting the amount and severity of pain dogs experience. The key takeaway is that fat causes inflammation, inflammation is a component of the pain associated with OA and degenerative joint disease, and being overweight or obese adds to the vicious cycle.

    What is Osteoarthritis?

    Canine Osteoarthritis affects both dogs and humans alike and is the most common form of arthritis affecting nearly a quarter of a million dogs worldwide at any given time. It is a progressive, chronic joint condition marked by the weakening of joint cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule, and the forming of new bone around the joint (osteophytosis), both of which contribute to pain and limb dysfunction. 

    What are the Signs of Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

    Osteoarthritis can often be undetectable until it becomes severe. It’s important to know what to look for in OA, especially if your dog is prone to it. This includes overweight dogs and elderly dogs. Signs of OA in dogs include:

    • Irritability
    • Lethargy
    • Stiffness, lameness or limping
    • Reluctance or difficulty standing 
    • Weight gain
    • Pain when touched
    • incontinence.

    Your vet should be contacted if you think your dog is suffering from OA to start the next steps.

    Photo Credit: Adequan® Canine

    What are the Stages of Osteoarthritis?

    Osteoarthritis presents itself in four different stages. 

    Stage 1: The affected dog exhibits early symptoms which may be difficult to recognize. They are most prevalent in puppies who are still developing or young adults, and are often intermittent, lasting only a few seconds or minutes. 

    Stage 2: The affected dog continues to have intermittent symptoms which are termed the initial flare-ups.These warnings are sporadic, lasting only a few hours, and are simple for owners to reason and ignore. This stage is most common in puppies and young adult dogs.

    Stage 3: The third stage consists of performance impairment in the affected dog. It’s easier for the owner to recognize this stage, which is marked by exercise intolerance and increasing loss of capacity to execute activities of daily living. This is a common stage in the development of adult dogs. 

    Stage 4: The affected dog experiences significant loss of mobility, strength and fitness. This state is the most difficult stage for the parent of the affected dog.

    How is Obesity in Dogs Defined and Diagnosed?

    Age, breed, neuter status, and whether dogs eat wet, homemade, or canned food as the main nutrition source, and “other” foods such as snacks or table scraps are all risk factors for obesity in dogs. At 9 to 12 months, dogs that were overweight were 1.5 times more likely to become obese adults. In the overweight and obese canine population, Golden retrievers, Rottweilers, pugs, and Labrador retrievers that are over-represented. Weight management should be taught to owners of dogs at risk for obesity and OA.

    About 56 percent of dogs were clinically overweight or obese in 2018, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). In one long-term research study, overweight or obese dogs had a higher prevalence of OA than ideal-weight canines (83% compared to 50% ). Due to the results of this study, we may safely assume that many arthritic pets are overweight or obese, and vice versa. It’s not easy to manage these comorbid conditions.

    Body weight and body condition score (BCS) are recorded at every examination as the first step in diagnosing overweight/obesity. The animal’s weight is not determined just by its body weight. This is a subjective assessment of an animal’s body fat that considers the animal’s frame size in addition to its weight, putting body weight in perspective for each patient’s frame size and weight.  

    If you are unsure if your dog is overweight or obese, you can check with a pet weight calculator or consult with your veterinarian.

    Photo Credit: Unknown

    What Are The Signs of Obesity in Dogs?

    It should be fairly simple to notice if your dog is gaining weight but it could be harder in certain breeds, especially those who have a lot of fur. We can often start to see a dog gaining weight in their waistline or tuck. These are the common signs of obesity in dogs:

    • Waistline, ribs or spine not being visible anymore
    • Sagging
    • Lethargy
    • Reluctance to go for walks or walking slower
    • Unable to get in and out of cars or off tall surfaces
    • Larger, rounder face

    What are the Risk Factors Associated with Obesity and Osteoarthritis?

    Osteoarthritis in dogs can be caused by age, breed, genetics, developmental orthopedic illness, trauma, and obesity, among others. In golden retrievers and Rottweilers, radiographic incidence of canine hip dysplasia, a primary cause of OA, has been recorded as high as 70%. Environmental variables such as nutrition and lifestyle can have a major impact on the prevalence and severity of OA related to canine hip dysplasia.

    An obese dog is more likely to have cruciate ligament rupture, the most prevalent cause of OA in canines. Fat dogs are more likely to suffer a torn cruciate ligament than normal-weight dogs by a factor of 2 to 3. 

    As a result of lameness, overweight cats were three times more likely than optimal-weight cats to be brought to a veterinary facility. As a result of their obesity, obese cats were five times more likely to develop lameness, which required medical attention. 

    Obesity is the only risk factor for OA that can be controlled.

    What is the Treatment for Obesity in Dogs?

    For many pet owners, understanding the link between maintaining an ideal weight for their pet and reducing their pet’s risk of sickness may be a powerful incentive. The benefits of keeping a healthy weight are abundant and obvious. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential. As a result of the author’s observations, a high BCS is likely to have an adverse effect on a pet’s susceptibility for OA and the severity of the condition. Weight loss should be a primary treatment for overweight dogs with OA, rather than a secondary one. 

    Dogs have similar amounts of physical activity as their human owners. As an alternative to food rewards, owners should try to react with playtime or praise as a form of positive reinforcement. Exercise should be introduced to all overweight or obese individuals as soon as possible. Establishing an on-site obesity treatment center can assist in establishing individualized patient programs and promoting owner compliance with them.

    Photo Credit: RyanJLane/Getty Images

    What is the Treatment for Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

    Physical Therapy

    Unfortunately, the damage caused by OA is irreversible but treatment plans help reduce pain and improve quality of life. Certain treatments can be done at home such as helping your dog lose weight if they are overweight and keeping up with low impact exercises such as short walks. Your veterinarian may suggest regular appointments with a rehabilitation center (link to centers near you). Acupuncture, hydrotherapy, chiropractic, laser therapy, regenerative medicine, and medicinal massage are other alternative treatments that require seeing a specialist but luckily these options have become more common and are more available in most areas! 


    On top of the treatment plan given by your vet, certain supplements may assist in the lessening of pain in your dogs. If your dog is predisposed to arthritis such as their breed or weight, your vet may suggest starting supplements before the onset of canine OA. Here are the top type of supplements to look for:

    • Glucosamine is the most common type of supplement for joint problems in dogs. It’s a naturally occurring compound in both human and animal’s bodies but the supplement helps keep up with cartilage health. It reduces pain and stiffness in arthritic joints by reducing inflammation, inhibiting cartilage loss, and improving cartilage repair.
    • Chondroitin is often given in combination with glucosamine and promotes water retention and elasticity in cartilage. It can be given by itself in which the dosing is the same as glucosamine. 
    • Green Lipped Mussel (GLM) is a supplement taken from a mussel native to New Zealand. There isn’t too much information on GLM but omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory and joint-protecting properties, are found in it. 
    • Hyaluronic Acid is a kind of sugar. It is a major component of synovial fluid, which helps to maintain joint viscosity, maintain joint lubrication, and absorb stress in joints. 
    • Antioxidant vitamins C and E destroy free radicals, they help dogs move around more easily! 
    • Glucosamine Acetylated can be for good joint structure and function.
    • Manganese is a vital nutrient, manganese is involved in various chemical reactions in the body, including the production of bones. To maintain bone and cartilage as well as collagen, manganese is essential in joints. Manganese is an essential component of cartilage and is essential for chondrocyte survival.


    Nutrition has a role in controlling joint disease, just as it does with many other diseases. Nutrients can influence some of the underlying processes in arthritis. These include regulation of inflammation and cartilage repair, as well as antioxidant protection. A healthy diet can minimize or eliminate the need for traditional medicines, some of which have harmful side effects. Certain nutrients, whether supplied independently or as part of a diet focused at controlling OA, must be understood by veterinary nurses.

    How Do You Overcome Obesity and Arthritis in Dogs?

    Exercise and food are the two most important variables in avoiding and fighting obesity. Have a conversation with your veterinarian about changing your dog’s diet and exercise if you haven’t done so previously. Your pet’s exercise routine and food should be tailored to his or her lifestyle and life stage. Exercising modestly while consuming fewer calories is suggested for pets who are already overweight or obese and trying to lose weight.

    There are also specialized diet foods for dogs which are made up of the appropriate nutrients and caloric levels for losing weight. A diet for your dog shouldn’t consist of just feeding them less of their normal food as they are missing out on certain nutrients. There are even diet dog foods that assist in reducing the inflammation of the joints that can be brought on by obesity. By assisting with the joint inflammation during the weight loss journey will make exercising easier on your dog. 

    In the end, working on your pet’s weight and their battle with arthritis shouldn’t be difficult and is also 100% preventable in most standard cases of obese dogs. The only times this may not be preventable may be due to a condition like thyroid disease in which dog’s should be on medication to help control their weight. 

    If you believe your dog should be on a diet, confirm with your veterinarian that they should lose weight and to work on a treatment plan with them in a way to effectively and safely help them lose weight. 

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