Managing Your Pet Weight To Help Alleviate Joint Pain

Obesity is a complex disease with influences of genetics, environmental factors, and other diseases. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54% of the pets in the United States are overweight or obese. Why does this matter? Pets that are overweight or obese are at risk for several diseases, including osteoarthritis (OA). Obesity is ultimately caused by consuming more calories than needed. The excess calories are stored are then stored as fat. Hormones and chemicals related to inflammation are released from this fat, causing chronic diseases such as OA. Cartoon cats with a fancy for pasta are not aspirational for our pets. Just like people, a weight loss journey is never all that simple and easy. However, in the end will lead to a more enjoyable life for your companion.

How Do I Know If My Pet is Overweight?

One of the first steps to evaluating a pet that is overweight or obese is a thorough physical examination and laboratory tests. Your veterinarian will help you evaluate your pet’s Body Condition Score (BCS) which evaluates body fat by observation and palpation. There is a 5-point scoring system and a 9-point scoring system. For most pets a body condition score of 3 on a 5-point system and 5 on a 9-point system is a good goal.

Some signs your pet is at a healthy weight are:

  • Dogs: Ribs are easily felt with little fat covering. When viewed from above a waist can be seen. From the side, a stomach tuck is present.
  • Cats: Ribs are easily felt with little fat covering as well. The lower spine can be clearly seen. There is an obvious waist behind the ribs with minimal stomach fat.

Tips for Weight Management

Below are some ways that can help make your pet’s weight management more beneficial and easier for the both of you:

  • Weight loss foods high in protein will help encourage weight loss and a lean body while those high in fiber will keep your pet feeling full while consuming fewer calories.
  • Be sure to calculate treats within your pet’s diet plan, save 10% for treats.
  • Some good options are: low calorie treats and certain fruits and vegetables.
  • Supplements may also be used for treats to simultaneously reward you pet and create healthier joints (Examples: Flexadin Advanced, Flexadin Plus, etc.)
  • Incorporating an exercise plan is important to help your pet lose weight and relieve joint pains. Walking is always a convenient and inexpensive way to exercise. Duration, frequency and intensity can all be adjusted based on the individual pet’s needs.
  • Typically a pet needs to eat 20% to 30% fewer calories than it would need to maintain weight.
  • Monitor weight loss. Weigh your pet every week or so and write down the number. If weight loss stops, reevaluate what you’re doing.
  • Underwater treadmill walking has also been successful for many obese cats and dogs that have a difficult time walking on their own. (Check for availability in your area.)
  • Don’t expect a rapid drop in weight, but slow and steady weight loss. Pets will gradually lose weight overtime with the slowest being in cats.

Feeding a weight loss food, using supplements to maintain healthy joints, and exercising several times a week are all key parts to a good weight management program. However, the most important step each pet owner needs to take is recognizing that there is a problem and to take action. We sometimes use excuses of “she’s just fluffy” or “he’s big boned” but honesty is needed to recognize positive changes that will better the quality of your pet’s life. It isn’t easy but helping your pet lose weight and maintaining an ideal weight will make them feel better in the long run.

The Benefits Of Walking Your Dog

It’s no secret that regular physical activity is beneficial to the health of both people and animals. Maintaining mobility is especially important for pets with osteoarthritis (OA). The great thing about walking is that the duration, frequency and intensity can all be adjusted based on the individual pet’s needs. Plus, dogs make great exercise partners and can help motivate owners to get moving!

  • Walking is a great way to bond with your dog.
  • Exercise, including walking, helps with weight control. Since dogs with OA often need better management of their weight, walking is an important part of a weight loss plan.
  • Walking gives you the chance to get in tune with nature! Too little stimulation can contribute to a number of behavioral problems, and a daily (or frequent) walk can reduce boredom, provide interesting sensory interactions and opportunities for socialization. If your dog is not used to being around other pets use caution if you meet other dogs on your walk and use a leash when necessary.
  • The positive impact of dog walking motivates some people to get moving themselves. Having a dog as a walking buddy overcomes some of the barriers of finding an exercise partner. A dog always has time, as opposed to a friend who might not be able to schedule time. Dogs can also make walking more fun and help a person stick with the exercise program. Dogs love routine and once you get into a walking routine, your furry companion will likely not let you forget your daily walk.
  • The key is consistent and controlled exercise. High intensity activities over a short period are more likely to cause injury.

It’s good for you too!

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation recently announced the results of a study that explored what happened when participants were sent emails with incentives to walk. Pet owners were sent reminders about the benefits to their dogs of walking, and non-dog owners were reminded of the benefits to themselves. Although both groups increased their walking times, the dog owners accumulated significantly more walking minutes per week than the non-dog owners! The powerful human-animal bond can help change behavior in a positive fashion.*

A positive exercise experience is a happy and healthy one

Walking is a good exercise even for pets with OA, but be sure to keep the experience a positive one. Some pets will benefit from being on supplements or pain relieving medication before starting an exercise program. Make a pledge to take more walks together and reap the benefits of better health. Talk to your veterinarian about how to get started and then hit the trail!

*Randomized Controlled Theory-Based, E-Mail-Mediated Walking Intervention: Differences Between Dog Owners and Non-Dog Owners. Richards, E. A., N. Ogata, and C.-W. Cheng. Clinical Nursing Research (2016): 1-21. 1 July 2016

Osteoarthritis? That Doesn’t Sound Good!

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive condition that causes joint inflammation, cartilage damage, pain, and disability. Ouch! OA can be managed though. A well rounded approach to managing OA may include weight management, exercise, modifying the environment, drugs, and supplements.

What in the world is UC-II®? 

UC-II® is a proprietary form of undenatured type II collagen* that works in a completely different way than traditional oral supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. As joints suffer wear and tear, small bits of type-II collagen can be released from the cartilage into the joint fluid, triggering the immune system to react, causing pain. UC-II® targets the dog’s immune system in the digestive tract in a process called oral tolerization. By exposing the digestive tract to even more collagen, UC-II® “teaches” the immune cells to ignore the loose type-II collagen, thus lessening the pain response. The process works much in the same way an allergy can be treated by exposing it to small amounts of the allergen over time, building up tolerance.

The efficacy and safety of UC-II was demonstrated in a trial in dogs with OA. In the study, lameness and pain were evaluated after the dogs were given UC-II® for 90 days. The dogs receiving UC-II® had significant declines in lameness, overall pain, and pain during manipulation. No adverse effects were noted and no changes were seen in serum chemistry measurements, suggesting that UC-II® was well tolerated.

Other Helpful Supplements for Osteoarthritis

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega 3 fatty acids are a collection of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They have anti-inflammatory properties and are vital to healthy joints. They are not produced naturally in the body and food or supplements are good sources to add them. Omega 3 fatty acids aid in joint health by lessoning the inflammation that often accompanies OA. Many over the counter pet foods add omega 3 fatty acids to the food. However, due to regulatory restrictions, they are not allowed to add the therapeutic levels of omega 3’s recommended for osteoarthritis management.
  • Glucosamine/ Chondroitin – Glucosamine and chondroitin are substances that occur naturally in connective tissue and provide building block material for the components of healthy cartilage and its structural integrity. They are in many joint health supplements.
  • Methyl-Sulfonyl-Methane (MSM) – Methyl-sulfonyl-methane is a source of sulfur required for the formation of collagen. Sulfur is found in almost every cell in the body, and higher concentrations are found in joints, hair, skin and nails. MSM is an antioxidant and enhances the structural integrity of connective tissue including cartilage.
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are reactive substances created by metabolic processes.

Leverage your veterinarian as a source of information

Your veterinarian is the best person to discuss any questions you have about managing your pet with OA. Several years ago a study was done to evaluate the quality of information regarding OA in dogs that was available online. At that time they determined the quality of information available on the web was questionable. Although many of the sites had some conventional information that was reasonably accurate, the information was often incomplete, of minimal use, and often considered counterproductive. Your veterinarian and health care team will be able to provide guidance on the best options for your pet.

Helping your Pet with Osteoarthritis Live Relatively Pain Free

Osteoarthritis can be managed with a multi-modal approach. Work with your veterinarian to find the best supplement for your pet. Those recommendations may change as the disease progresses or your pet’s health changes. In addition to supplementation, weight reduction, controlled exercise and modifying the environment are beneficial. These methods along with drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories will help break the negative cycle and allow your pet to live a long, happy and relatively pain free life!

*UC-II® is a trademark of InterHealth N.I.