While we’re all so hot and heavy on the topic of pain, I thought it might be an opportune time to discuss the issue of pain relief when it comes to chronic arthritis and orthopedic injury. But this time I’m not going to wax poetic on the merits of Metacam or write with revolutionary zeal on the miraculous mix that is Rimadyl and Tramadol.

No, today I think I’ll dedicate to the phenomenal power of “simple” weight loss. Note that I did not modify this method with a descriptor devoid of quotation marks. And that’s because you and I both know that weight loss is never easy—not in real life, anyway.

The reality, however, is that weight loss can be as effective as medication in relieving the pain of orthopedic injuries—even more so when a pet is obese. Even surgery is often no match for the analgesic properties inherent in the diminished strain on joints that comes with weight loss.

In fact, I had a vet surgeon tell me this week that he’s as evangelical on weight loss as he is on orthopedic surgery—especially when it comes to cruciate ligament tears, hip disease, chronic medial patellar luxations and other joint ailments. When a pet is 20% overweight or more, he explains that appropriate weight loss will reduce the pain on a level commensurate with a $2500 TPLO surgery (cruciate repair) or an $8000 total hip replacement.

Consider this entry all this week’s most popular posts rolled into one. Here’s why: You can actually get much further when it comes to saving yourself money (not to mention avoiding your next “inevitable” veterinary nightmare) by investing time and energy in the painful (for us) pain-relieving process of weight loss.

Yet I still can’t talk most of my clients into accomplishing the obvious. Description of quantities fed typically come in the guise of hand gestures: “Doc, she only eats this much.” And most claim to assiduously shun all treats. As to exercise, they’re typically more forthcoming: “She’s a couch potato, Doc, what am I supposed to do?”

Contrary to my previous posts on this subject, I have recently adopted a more empathetic stance on the issue of obesity when it comes to certain pets. I do understand that some pets are just “born to be fat.” But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be done about it.

Cutting food rations, switching to a higher quality diet, pain control (through drugs and/or nutraceuticals) and adopting a structured exercise regimen are all necessary components for the seriously weight challenged. In fact, I have yet to meet a patient who did not lose weight when remanded to my care for a month.

My most recent success was an obese, double-cruciate-afflicted Shiba who lost twenty of his sixty pounds while under our roof. He can walk now, whereas in the early days of his stay he had to be slung around with a towel wrapped under his burgeoning belly.

In extreme cases like this, it’s either emergency weight loss or euthanasia. Sad to say that in spite of such dire warnings, client compliance is never a given. Would that everyone had the funds to mitigate pain through meds and surgery, but when all else fails or can’t be managed financially, tried and true weight loss measures are always there to make life livable again.