Obesity and knee health in pets

Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA

If you need a new strategy to make the case for pet weight loss during wellness visits, the place to look--at least for dogs--is the knee joint.

That's because most pet owners don't know that being overweight is a primary factor in the need for surgical intervention in two common conditions: canine cruciate ligament ruptures and luxating patellas. Avoiding the need for these surgeries will eliminate suffering and save money, both messages that should resonate with any pet owner.

As pet weights have crept up in recent years, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) has seen a corresponding increase in the number of claims for cruciate and/or meniscus injuries, from 6,825 in 2009 to 8,198 in 2013, with incremental gains shown every year in between. So far in 2014, we have an average claimed amount of $2,490 for cruciate surgeries, making these one of the more expensive of our most common claims. While we don't know how many of these claims were for pets that were overweight or obese, given the prevalence of overweight pets, it's a good hunch that many were.

Breaking down the top 10 breeds for cruciate and/or meniscus injuries reveals the breeds most practitioners would expect to see: 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.

Need more to convince clients about the importance of weight control during your preventive care examinations? These dogs will become long-term sufferers of osteoarthritis, which is itself made worse by obesity. In discussing osteoarthritis at a recent veterinary conference, board-certified surgeons from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine pointed out that osteoarthritis is a leading cause of death in pets, because owners can't bear to watch older pets suffering and choose to euthanize. Primary among the treatment options for osteoarthritis? Weight loss.

There's information here to appeal to every client. The emotional appeal of a longer life for pets, coupled with less suffering, both acutely (post-surgical) and chronically (from osteoarthritis). Cost savings will also result, from preventing the need for surgeries as well as for avoiding a lifetime of treatment for a chronic condition. Add in lower food costs, and it all adds up to a strong case for keeping pets at a healthy, normal weight.

We all know there's not enough time to fit everything we want into a preventive care visit. That said, there's good reason to include a serious discussion about body weight in your canine patients, and to explain why you're doing so as part of a larger discussion of the importance of musculoskeletal health and avoiding arthritis as dogs age.


Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, is chief veterinary officer of Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI). She posts regularly on Facebook and Twitter and  blogs at vpivetchannel.com.


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