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Cut the Fat

This may be one of the most important things that you read about treating your dog’s arthritis. As I mentioned, I visited the Obesity Clinic at the University of Liverpool School of Veterinary Science earlier this week. Seems a bit sad that there is a need for such a clinic, but 60% of dogs are overweight, with a high percentage of those actually being classified as obese! Studies have shown that owners underestimate their dog’s body condition score. You can find some very good information about body condition scoring systems at the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s website.

A few years ago, a canine lifetime study was conducted by a major pet food company. Paired littermates were put in one of two groups. One group ate whatever they wanted during meal time. The other group was restricted to 75% of what their littermate ate. The results were staggering. The dogs that ate more were not only overweight, but they had a higher incidence of osteoarthritis, and the severity of arthritis was much worse compared to their littermates that were of normal body condition.

Feeding puppies appropriately is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING you can do to help reduce the chances of developing arthritis.

Appropriate diet and body condition scores are not only important in puppies, but in older dogs as well. If a dog is overweight and has arthritis, weight loss can be as effective as medication. Yes, WEIGHT LOSS CAN BE AS EFFECTIVE AS MEDICATION in reducing clinical signs and symptoms of arthritis. It’s hard to understand why weight loss is not taken more seriously in some cases of arthritis management. There are no side effects to proper weight loss, less medication is needed (lower cost of treatment, fewer side effects), you further save money by feeding less dog food, your dog will feel more energetic and playful, and the risks of other health conditions associated with being overweight are reduced. Then why is it so hard to institute weight loss?

Many owners don’t know where to start. Understandable. Start with a visit to your veterinarian and specifically request a weight loss program. Weight loss greater than 1-2% per week may actually be detrimental because muscle mass may be burned as calories if the diet is too restrictive. A weight reduction food may be in order, and regular low-impact exercise will certainly help weight loss and the clinical signs of arthritis. Another factor involved is the human-animal bond. Let’s face it – we love it when dogs sit pretty with their ears up and are attentive while they wait for their treats. And treats are OK, as long as you factor them in to the daily calorie count. Remember, everything that goes through the lips ends up on the hips. Consider setting a few kibbles aside from their daily amount and using them as treats. Substitute non-food related activities to increase the interaction and bonding with your dog, such as a nice walk, playing, or brushing. Pretty soon, your dog won’t even miss the treats as long as they have your attention. And walking is good for weight loss, too!

Remember the study we talked about earlier? Another finding was that dogs that were of appropriate body condition lived nearly 2 years longer. So let me put it very bluntly, because this is important. If you don’t want your pet to live longer, if you want them to be in more pain and have more weight-related medical conditions, and if you want to spend more money on medications, tests, treatments, and dog food, by all means, let them become overweight. But if you want your pet to live longer, be less painful, have fewer medical conditions, and spend less money, work with your veterinary team to help achieve a proper body condition score.

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