Obesity likely contributes to the progression of osteoarthritis in dogs. In a study of 48 Labrador Retrievers, a control-fed
group was allowed food ad libitum, while a limit-fed group was fed 25 percent less than the control-fed group. The hip, shoulder,
elbow, and stifle joints monitored over an eight-year period. Radiographic signs of osteoarthritis were significantly less
common in the limit-fed group, with osteoarthritis of the hip occurring in 15 of 22 in the control group and in only three
of 21 of the dogs in the restricted fed group. Similar trends were apparent in the shoulder joint. Additionally, weight loss
results in less joint pain and a decreased need for medication to treat osteoarthritis. Weight reduction of 11-18 percent
of the initial body weight of obese dogs resulted in significantly improved hind limb lameness associated with hip osteoarthritis.
Another study investigated 16 moderately overweight to obese dogs which were clinically lame from hip dysplasia. Dogs were
113-129 percent of optimal body weight with body condition scores of 6 to 8 out of 9, had radiographic evidence of hip osteoarthritis,
and resented hip manipulation. After undergoing a weight loss program with 20 to 60 minutes of daily leash walking, dogs lost
3.9 to 12 kg and body condition scores improved to 4 to 5 out of 9.
In addition to restricting intake of the normal diet and eliminating treats, prescription diets are available that can dramatically
assist in achieving and maintaining ideal body weight. The animal's ribs should be easily palpable and there should be a waist
when the animal is viewed from above. Exercise is a vital component of weight loss for osteoarthritis treatment. Caloric restriction
alone in obese animals results in decreased resting metabolic rate. Acute exercise increases the resting metabolic rate for
two to 48 hours. Frequent exercise over an extended period may prevent the reduced resting metabolic rate associated with
a diet and caloric restriction. Therapeutic exercise is intended to increase muscle mass. As lean mass increases, the resting
metabolic rate increases, making it easier to burn calories. While exercise is very important to weight loss, a low calorie
diet is also important for weight loss because a tremendous amount of exercise is required to alter body composition in the
absence of caloric restriction. Exercise does not appear to induce an increase in energy intake in obese animals, but it does
in non-obese animals. Providing 20 to 60 minutes of daily leash walks will likely benefit overweight animals with diagnosed
The benefit of physical modalities for the treatment of dogs with pain secondary to osteoarthritis has been increasingly recognized.
Cryotherapy, heat, therapeutic exercise, aquatic exercises, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation all have the potential
to help reduce pain in dogs with osteoarthritis. Heat and cold help to temporarily reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Cryotherapy may reduce inflammation and slow conduction of painful stimuli during periods of exacerbation of arthritis, while
heat is generally believed to soothe painful areas. In preparation for exercising, warming and stretching affected muscle
groups and joints during a "warm-up" period is recommended. This promotes blood flow to the area and collagen extensibility,
and decreases pain, muscle spasms, and joint stiffness. Heat is contraindicated if swelling or edema is present in the limb
or joint. Heating agents such as moist or dry hot packs, circulating warm water blankets, and warm baths typically heat the
skin and subcutaneous tissues to a depth of 1-2 cm. Therapeutic ultrasound results in tissue heating up to 5 cm deep. Ultrasound
frequencies of 1 and 3 MHz are typically used. Any stretching should be done during the latter part of warming or immediately
after. Therapeutic and aquatic exercise programs in animals with moderate to severe osteoarthritis of multiple joints help
to increase function and weightbearing. It is generally believed that low impact exercises in normal dogs do not cause osteoarthritis.
The therapeutic exercise should reduce body weight, increase joint mobility, and reduce joint pain through the use of low-impact
weight-bearing exercises designed to strengthen supporting muscles. Muscles act as shock absorbers and strengthening of periarticular
muscles may help protect joints. Mild weight-bearing exercise also helps stimulate cartilage metabolism and increases nutrient
diffusion. Heavy training programs or exercise in animals with abnormal joint biomechanics may result in changes which predispose
to the development of osteoarthritis. Animals should not be forced to exercise during periods of increased lameness because
inflammation may be exacerbated. Overloading joints is minimized by performing low-impact activities, such as controlled leash
walking, walking on a treadmill, jogging, swimming, and going up and down stairs or ramp inclines.
Exercise should be adjusted to account for the normal variation in lameness associated with osteoarthritis so that there is
no increased pain after activity. It is better in the early phases of exercise training to provide three, 10-minute sessions
spread throughout the day rather than one, 30-minute session. Avoiding sudden bursts of activity helps prevent acute inflammation
of arthritic joints. Swimming and walking in water are some of the best activities for dogs. Training in an underwater treadmill
may increase peak weight bearing forces by 5-15 percent. Following exercise, a cool down period is beneficial. A slower paced
walk may be initiated for five minutes, followed by ROM and stretching exercises. A cool down massage may help decrease pain,
swelling and muscle spasms. Finally, cryotherapy (cold packs or ice wrapped in a towel) may be applied to painful areas for
15-20 minutes to control post-exercise inflammation. The use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations (TENS) may also
help reduce pain and lameness associated with osteoarthritis. In one study of dogs with stifle osteoarthritis, a single 30-minute
application of TENS resulted in an approximately 5 percent increase in peak weight-bearing forces. The maximal effect persisted
for several hours, and dogs remained above baseline weightbearing for 24 hours.