How Obesity is Causing Arthritis in Our Dogs

PetMD Editorial
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PetMD Editorial
Published: December 19, 2014
How Obesity is Causing Arthritis in Our Dogs

Arthritis is a common ailment affecting our pets today, especially middle-aged to senior dogs and cats. Like in people, one of the main contributors to arthritis in dogs and cats is excess weight putting stress on joints – and there is a lot of extra weight to go around. Over 50% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to the Association of Pet Obesity and Prevention 2013 survey. That's nearly 100 million pets that are more at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and yes, arthritis too.

What are the Signs of Arthritis in Pets?

Also known as degenerative joint disease, arthritis occurs when a joint is unstable. "This instability causes the bones to move abnormally — first rubbing against cartilage and then, when the cartilage erodes, rubbing bone against bone," says Ashley Gallagher, DVM. "The result is chronic inflammation and is just as painful as it sounds."

"The most obvious sign of joint disease is when a dog or cat starts limping," says Dr. Gallagher. "However, there are numerous other subtle signs that may indicate your pet is uncomfortable. Perhaps your dog doesn’t charge up the stairs like he used to. Maybe your older pet seems to be 'slowing down.'  Cats may start urinating or defecating out of the litter box because it is too painful for them to jump into it."  These are just a few examples.

Fortunately, research shows that a healthy body weight can help prevent arthritis from developing in the first place, even in breeds that are more predisposed to the ailment.

How to Combat Obesity (and Arthritis) in Pets

There are two main factors involved with preventing and combating obesity — exercise and diet. If you haven't done so recently, have a discussion about diet and exercise with your veterinarian. The exercise regimen and diet should be appropriate for your pet's lifestyle and life stage. Pets that are already having issues with excess weight or obesity must exercise moderately while consuming fewer calories.

An ideal way to achieve this is through a weight loss diet. These diets are specially formulated to contain the appropriate nutrient and caloric levels for your pet. Feeding your pet smaller portions of his or her "regular" diet is not likely to achieve the optimal plane of nutrition. Some weight loss diets are even formulated to help manage the inflation in joints in order to lessen the pain during play and moderate exercise time.

Preventing and combating obesity and arthritis in your pet isn't difficult but it does take effort and expert advice. Speak to your veterinarian if you have noticed any of the aforementioned signs of arthritis or believe your pet isn't at a healthy weight.

Not sure if your pet is overweight or obese? Try using petMD's Healthy Weight tool.


Mark E. Epstein. Managing Chronic Pain in Dogs & Cats. Part 1: The Two Most Important Tools in the Treatment of Osteoarthritis. Today’s Veterinary Practice. November/December 2013; 3(6): 20-23.

Ward, E. (2013, October). Fat Cats and the Fat Gap: Convincing Cat Owners to Begin a Weight Loss Program. VIN/AAFP Rounds presentation. Accessed on VIN January 14, 2014

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