It is important to consider how diet can affect the pet with arthritis. While most doctors and owners neglect the diet’s contribution to a pet’s health, as well as how a proper diet (especially for overweight pets) can positively affect the pet with arthritis, holistic doctors and owners know that proper diet and nutritional supplementation form the basis of every holistic health plan.
Let’s take a look at pet foods first, then we’ll talk about obesity and how controlling this major health problem can help the pet with arthritis walk more comfortably.
What Kind of Food to Feed Your Pet?
The main decision facing pet owners is which kind of food to feed pets: a natural diet, whether homemade or processed, or one of the many advertised processed diets available at many stores. Just what constitutes the best or most appropriate diet is a controversial topic, and there are as many opinions as there are doctors, but let’s explore this issue for a moment. No matter which type of diet, homemade or processed, is chosen, it must meet at least five requirements:
1. It must contain the proper amount and balance of essential nutrients required by the pet.
2. The ingredients must be of high nutritional quality so that the animal can effectively digest, absorb, and utilize the dietary nutrients.
3. The diet should be palatable so that the pet will eat it.
4. The diet should contain no fillers, such as animal or plant by-products. If by-products are present, as they are in some prescription-type diets for sick pets, the diet should contain the least amount of by-products.
5. The diet should contain no artificial colors, flavors, chemical preservatives, or additives, when possible.
Most processed foods, even “premium diets,” contain fillers, by-products, and chemicals that I do not think contribute to health, so my recommendation is to feed the pets most natural and organic diet possible. This diet can be homemade or purchased already made for your pet.
How Natural Diets Differ
Natural diets differ from most other prepared diets in the following ways:
• They are made of only human-grade, high-quality ingredients. Other prepared diets may use food by-products processed for, but declared “unfit” for use by, humans.
• They incorporate foods, especially grains, in their whole state, rather than parts of those foods (as an example, they include rice rather than rice flour, a rice by-product).
• They include no artificial colors, additives, chemicals, or preservatives.
• They are formulated for optimum nutrition.
Obesity in Pets
One problem often seen in arthritic pets is obesity. Obesity is a severe and debilitating illness. Estimates suggest that up to 45 percent of dogs and up to 13 percent of cats are obese.
Current medical opinion states that a pet is obese if it weighs 15 percent or more over its ideal weight. Pets weighing 1 to 14 percent over their ideal weight are considered overweight but not yet obese.
While 15 percent does not seem like much, consider these figures:
• A Labrador retriever, one of the breeds most commonly afflicted with arthritis, weighing 69 pounds that should weigh 60 pounds is 15 percent overweight and is classified as obese.
• An 11.5-pound cat that should weigh 10 pounds is 15 percent over its ideal weight and is classified as obese.
As you can see, even just a few extra pounds — or less — are cause for concern.
A pet’s weight isn’t the only way to gauge obesity. I prefer to use body composition. Simply put, your pet is likely overweight if you cannot easily see or feel his ribs or spine.
Obesity and Arthritis
Obesity causes problems for the arthritic pet for two reasons. First, the extra weight puts increased stress on already damaged joints. Second, obesity can increase the risk of developing arthritis in the first place and promote a chronic pro-inflammatory condition. Excess intake of calories may cause oxidative stress to the cells, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes, all of which cause increased concentrations of interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha, leading to inflammation and further damage to the joints.
Weight Control & Arthritis
While there is a very small subset of pets that truly cannot lose weight, most pets will reach an acceptable weight within six to twelve months of starting an obesity diet coupled with an approved exercise program. This rate of weight loss approximates 2 percent per week, which is an acceptable amount that will not cause muscle loss. The actual rate of weight loss recommended by your veterinarian may vary according to your pet’s needs.
A sensible weight-loss program encourages slow,
controlled loss of excessive body fat.
Before starting your pet on a weight-reduction diet and exercise regimen, it is important that your veterinarian conduct a blood profile to rule out diseases, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, that may cause or contribute to obesity. If present, these diseases would require treatment in addition to dietary therapy.
If your pet needs to lose weight, ask your veterinarian to recommend a weight-reduction diet. Store-bought “lite” foods are not designed for weight loss but rather for weight maintenance once weight loss has been achieved. Several commercial weight-loss or obesity-reduction diets exist, but many of them contain by-products and artificial ingredients. I prefer to avoid them, but unless owners want to prepare diets for their pets, I use these specialized weight-reduction diets for a few months to help pets lose weight. Once the desired weight loss is achieved, I prefer to switch to more natural and organic diets for long-term feeding.
To conclude, obesity adds to the stress placed on the damaged joints of arthritic pets. This means weight control is an important part of overall therapy for the pet with arthritis.
Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Arthritis © 2011
by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
About the Author
A graduate of Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine and the author of several books, Dr. Messonnier is a regular holistic pet columnist for the Dallas Morning News. His popular column is distributed across North America by Knight Ridder News Service. Shawn has shared his thoughts on integrative pet care with millions of pet owners as a contributor to various pet publications and magazines. Visit his website at http://www.petcarenaturally.com.