Obesity is a problem that has a high prevalence within the canine population and one of the most common nutritional diseases. A recent study from the Royal Veterinary College suggests that approximately 1 in 14 dogs in the UK recorded as overweight by their vets each year and these numbers seem to be constantly increasing. 

It is well documented that obesity is a contributing factor in the development of several health conditions. This article will focus on the relationship between obesity and arthritis.

What is arthritis? 

Joints are made up of several components, including cartilage, bone and fluid. Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease, meaning that over time, there is degeneration of these components, ultimately becoming painful for the animal. Joints that are most commonly affected in dogs are the hip, stifle (knee) and elbow. Other joints such as the shoulder and lumbosacral joint (lower back) can be affected but the prevalence is much lower.

Are certain breeds more at risk of developing arthritis?

There are breeds which are more prone to developing the condition. These include: 

These breeds in particular are genetically at a higher risk of becoming arthritic, but are also likely to have pre-existing joint conditions, such as hip dysplasia (malformation of the hip joint), which increases their risk even further. 

However, any dog can still be affected. It is likely that 1 in 5 dogs will develop the condition in their lifetime.

What signs could mean my dog has arthritis?

Dogs affected by the condition may show the following symptoms: 

  • Slowing down on walks 
  • Reduced range of motion (taking shorter strides)
  • Difficulty getting up 
  • Difficulty jumping 
  • Lameness or limping 
  • Physique/muscle changes 
  • Low mood
  • Pacing at night 
  • Licking at joints

As arthritis is a chronic (long-term) condition, dogs very rarely vocalise, cry out, or yelp due to the pain they experience. Instead, you may notice that your dog is ‘slowing down’ or ‘getting old’.

Is there any association between obesity and arthritis? 

Numerous studies have documented the relationship, with extensive evidence for obesity being a risk factor for both the development and progression of arthritis. This is mostly due to obesity contributing to ‘joint loading’ – essentially excess body weight increases strain on the joints, leading to damage and inflammation. There is also some evidence to suggest that the presence of excess fatty tissue can exacerbate any existing inflammation.

How can weight loss help?

By reducing body weight, there is less pressure on the joints, ultimately leading to an improvement in lameness. 

Putting your pet on a strict diet is the most effective way to help them to lose weight. 

  • Measure out how much food you are giving and ensure you are feeding the same amount at every meal 
  • Have strict meal times
  • Reduce the number of treats you are giving, or feed a lower calorie alternative 
  • Encourage use of puzzle feeders, as these will slow down how fast your dog eats

Weight loss will not happen immediately, so it is important to be patient. However, even a 6% decrease in bodyweight can reduce lameness so persistence will be rewarding for both you and your dog.  

Is there anything else I can do? 

Yes, definitely!

Help your dog maintain a healthy weight

Particularly if they are one of the breeds mentioned above, it is paramount in helping to prevent, and then slow down the progression of this condition.

Make changes within your home

Place rugs on slippery floors, and reduce access to stairs. There are also ramps available to help dogs in and out of cars.

Monitor exercise

While exercise can certainly help with weight loss, avoid excessive exercise as this can further exacerbate joints. It may be useful to start going for shorter, more frequent walks, and actively monitoring how your dog copes with these. Adjust exercise levels to what they can manage.

Complementary therapies

This may include physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and acupuncture.


These are frequently used to help manage both pain and inflammation.

It is important to remember that there are many factors involved in the progression of this disease, and is still likely to progress despite management, due to the nature of the disease and the longer lifespan of our pets. 

Work with your vet to formulate a plan to suit you and your pet. Be aware that this may change over time

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