THE BLOG
05/24/2013 05:09 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

Dropping Just a Few Pounds Gives Lame Dogs a New Leash on Life

A study of obese dogs with osteoarthritis and lameness proved how little effort it can take to vastly improve the quality of life of overfed, disabled pets.

The purpose of the study, conducted at the Small Animal Hospital at the University of Glasgow Veterinary School in Scotland, was to evaluate both subjectively and objectively the effect of weight loss on lameness.

The Dogs

The study involved 14 family dogs, including a Border Collie, a Bearded Collie, a Rottweiler, a Springer Spaniel, two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, two mixed-breed dogs and six Labrador Retrievers. The dogs ranged in age from 10 months to 13 years.

The dogs were from 20 to 34 percent above ideal body weight. Five dogs had bilateral hip dysplasia and secondary osteoarthritis (OA). Two dogs had unilateral (single) hip dysplasia and secondary OA. One of the two had a total hip replacement.

Only one dog of the 14 had a clearly identified cause of OA and hip dysplasia. One dog had osteoarthritis in both hips and elbows; one had it in both elbows and one hip. Both these dogs had primarily forelimb lameness.

Seven dogs had the greatest degree of lameness in a forelimb and the other seven had a bigger problem with a hindlimb. These were the limbs used to monitor progress in decreasing lameness during the study.

The Study

The dogs' body weight and pelvic circumference were measured at the beginning of the study, along with severity of lameness.

Lameness was evaluated using three different measures -- a numeric rating scale (NRS), a visual analogue scale (VAS) (both of which are subjective measures), and a kinetic gait analysis (objective measure).

The dogs were placed on a weigh-loss program using commercially available food. Owners were instructed not to change the dogs' level of exercise for the duration of the study.

The dogs were evaluated by the same person every two weeks for 12 weeks, then four weeks apart for the final two visits. Weight, pelvic circumference and severity of lameness walking and trotting were measured at each visit.

The Results

Starting with visit three, body weights were significantly decreased from starting weights.

Starting with visit five, pelvic circumference was significantly reduced from starting measurements.

By the final visit, the dogs had lost on average 8.85 percent of their initial body weight. The pelvic circumference of the dogs was reduced on average almost 7 percent.

From visit two on, VAS lameness scores for both walking and trotting significantly improved week by week.

At visit five, significant improvement in NRS lameness scores for trotting was seen.

At the end of the study, 82 percent of the dogs showed improvement in lameness.

The results indicate that when an overweight dog reaches about a 6 percent decrease in body weight, lameness is significantly decreased. Additional improvement is seen as additional weight is lost. These results confirm that an obese dog with osteoarthritis can have noticeable improvement in lameness after losing just 6 to 9 percent of body weight.

Applying These Study Results at Home

Let's say the ideal average weight for a Labrador retriever is 70 pounds. And let's say your Lab weighs in at about 88 pounds, which is 25 percent over the ideal. If your overweight dog doesn't already have arthritis and lameness, those issues are right around the corner. Bigger dogs tend to have more joint and movement problems than smaller breeds.

Now let's say you put your dog on a portion-controlled, balanced, species-appropriate diet, with a weight-loss goal of .5 to 1 percent of body weight per week. In as little as six to seven weeks, with a weight reduction of between five and six pounds (about 6 percent of 88 pounds), you will have significantly reduced the stress on your dog's joints and improved his ability to walk, run and move around comfortably.

Or let's say you have a Maltese whose ideal weight should be about seven pounds. But your little guy is 30 percent heavier than he should be, tipping the scales at a little over nine pounds. It's hard to believe a nine-pound dog is technically obese, but the smaller the animal, the quicker those ounces add up.

Using the .5 to 1 percent reduction in body weight per week goal, in five to six weeks your dog will be about 8.5 pounds, and there will be much less stress on his bones and joints.

In another six weeks he'll be under eight pounds, and you just keep up the good work until he's at his ideal weight and no longer at high risk for developing (or worsening) arthritis, lameness, and a host of other weight-related health problems.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

For more by Dr. Karen Becker, click here.

For more on pet health, click here.

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