Obesity and Musculoskeletal Health in Dogs

When looking at the nation’s dogs we have a major issue on our hands, a topic that can stir up emotive responses from owners and something that animal professionals may have a tricky time addressing…


From an owners perspective, they only want the best for their dog, and to be told their dog is overweight can be hurtful to hear. Your animal professional hasn’t seen those puppy dog eyes, peering over the plate looking for crumbs. Or the look you get when you need to nip out and you’re compelled to give them a treat as compensation.

From an animal professional perspective, we see that overweight dog walk into our clinic and our heart sinks. Desperately wanting to tell you the list of byproduct diseases of obesity and give you a long list of things to change for your dog’s health. Instead, we softly mention they could stand to lose a little weight, to be met with a look of shock and disheartened words.

Please don’t think we are here to make you feel that you’re not doing your best, we are here to guide you and want you to have the most time with your beloved pet.

As much as it may be a tough conversation to have, we as animal professionals have a duty of care to animals in our clinic, and weight management is something that we need to be discussing more. For us it isn’t simply a case of sprinting around the park and cutting back portion sizes, there is so much more that we can do and it starts by inspecting what is in the dog’s bowl.

Say for example your dog is on processed kibble, cutting back portion size when looking at the calorie deficit model for weight loss may have some impact. However,with your older dogs they will reserve reduced energy levels caused by food restriction, meaning weight loss can be very slow or stationary. Most processed dog food has a high percentage of carbohydrates, and this is where the issue lies. When a high volume of carbohydrates hit the GI tract, this causes a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin levels. If the body cannot use this energy quickly enough, the leftovers get shunted into fat cells held in adipose tissue.

Now going on a slight but relevant tangent, arthritis is a byproduct of obesity. Arthritis is an inflammatory disease affecting the joints and shows a higher prevalence in overweight dogs.

Findings here

If adipose tissue has a larger surface area caused by obesity, this increases the amount of pro inflammatory adipokines. So not only does additional physical pressure cause inflammation, but inflammation responses are increased tenfold with adipokines also jumping on an arthritic joint.

Findings here

So we know that carbohydrates increase blood sugar and insulin and lead to a cacophony of different issues, of which I’ve briefly discussed one. How can we look to combat this and get the best from our dog’s health, well for a start you can cut the carbs or at least look to reduce them. At MPN, we are hugely passionate about species appropriate diets and have seen incredible progress with pain management, all from just swapping to fresh foods. Even if you can’t make the leap to fully raw feed or fresh feed, there is plenty of middle ground that you can address, that will help towards a healthy life for your dog.

Supercharging the bowl

Whether you’re a keen raw feeder or just wanting to liven up the bowl by adding in some fresh, there is plenty of choice. Focusing on musculoskeletal health, our first port of call is adding things high in glucosamine and chondroitin. Both are complex sugars found within the structures of cartilage. Studies have indicated that these have a positive effect on pain management and ROM increase associated with Osteoarthritis.

Findings here

If you have compromised cartilage, you can heal with cartilage and these are super easy to source for your dog’s bowl, from bone broth, raw beef trachea to green lipped mussels (GLM). By supporting the joint health of an overweight dog, we can encourage further ROM and decrease inflammation, all working towards weight loss, there is a lot of research around turmeric (curcumin) and ginger (gingerol).

Findings here

Other favourites of ours for targeting joint inflammation are ACV, chamomile, fresh small fish and sunflower seeds.

There is a huge amount of free radical damage (oxidative stress) created from excess adipose tissue and so looking at antioxidants to support this can be helpful. A diet high in colourful, fresh vegetables and Vitamin C can be fabulous in this instance.

Findings here

Lifestyle management

If your dog is overweight, their joint health is likely already under pressure, but we can add some simple changes in place to reduce this strain.

Start by increasing the length of your dog’s exercise, but reduce the pace. By having your dog run around the park doesn’t necessarily mean they will burn off more calories. High-impact activities will increase inflammation responses and then facilitate a pain response. Count your dog’s steps, have them on a lead next to you and go that bit further with less pressure, rather than seeing them flail around on the horizon chasing a squirrel. Be present and enjoy the walk with them, as much as it’s good for your dog, it’s good for you too!

Oh no, here comes the fun police… ball flingers. Ball flingers can cause such horrific damage to your dog’s musculoskeletal structure over time, from huge repetitive stress crashing through the body when they come to a stop. If you’re not ready to put the ball flinger down, maybe drop the amount of times you throw it, or ensure warm up and cool down regime, the aim being to reduce inflammation and injury.

Even things like ramps into the car and little stairs for the sofa make a tremendous impact on keeping inflammation and strain at bay.


If your dog is working hard maintaining or losing weight through increased exercise, it’s important to support this change in lifestyle. Whether this going to see a canine massage therapist to soften out any tension. Check out here.

Or going for a hydrotherapy session for non weight bearing exercise. There are so many therapies available to facilitate your dog living a happy, healthy life.

Ensure that with any therapist you choose, that they are qualified, insured, and part of a governing body.

Check out here for the U.K therapists available

To end the vicious circle of inflammation, we have to take this multimodal approach to get the best out of your dog.

To find out more about our services on nutrition, check us out.


MPN Team x

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