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Obesity and knee health

The 2013 Gallup Well-Being Poll shows the nation has continued to gain weight every year. This finding applies to pets in the U.S. as well. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) has conducted its annual pet obesity veterinary survey, based on reports of routine exams on National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. The survey results show obesity rates have increased over the years and over 50 percent of dogs and cats were found to be overweight or obese by their veterinarians in the 2012 survey. Obesity causes the same health risks in animal as in people, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and joint problems. Knee surgeries have also been on the rise, particularly in obese dogs.

Studies have suggested that about one-quarter of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications. Canine anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures and luxating patellae (dislocated kneecaps) are two of the most common, both needing surgical intervention. The knee joint is the articulation between the thigh bones (femur) and the shin bones (fibula or tibia). The stability of the knee joint is entirely determined by the soft tissue within, which holds the bones and cartilages together properly. Obesity causes excessive stress on the joint, leading to the weakening of the ligaments, causing the joint to become prone to tearing.

ACL injuries are commonly seen in large overweight dogs, while luxating patellae are more common in smaller breeds. The most common breeds with these types of injuries include: Labrador and Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Pit Bulls, along with Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, and Bichons Frise. Mixed breeds hold the number-one spot, suggesting that the problems are spread among dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Many of these dogs will become long-term sufferers of osteoarthritis, which is itself made worse by obesity. In addition to osteoarthritis, the pain and joint changes in hip dysplasia can become much more severe. In breeds such as Dachshunds, carrying extra weight increases the probability of developing intervertebral disc disease (slipped disc), a very painful and sometimes debilitating condition.

Maintaining a healthy weight for your pet is important for long life and less suffering from injuries and chronic conditions. Cost savings can also result, both in minimizing the need for surgeries and long-term treatment for chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. As pet owners we are mostly to blame for our overweight pets. Too often we show affection by giving our pets high calorie treats and neglecting physical activity. Try substituting a walk, playing fetch, or other physical activity. Your dog will live a longer, healthier, more pain-free life.

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