Benefits of staying lean:
How overweight dogs and cats feel more pain
It has long been known in people that losing excess weight reduces the amount of ache in the joints. The phenomenon has been observed in overweight dogs and cats as well.
Initially it had been thought that this was entirely due to mechanical benefits, that the more a patient weighs, the greater the strain on the weight bearing joints and therefore the greater the rate of arthritic degeneration.
But we now realize that there is another reason at play. Doctors have recently reclassified fat as the largest endocrine organ in the body. Fat cells don’t just store fat; fat cells secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines that sensitize the body to pain. This means that for two dogs with identical injuries and identical pain tolerances, whoever has the most body fat will feel the most pain.
The treatment remains the same, overweight dogs and cats need to lose weight, but we now realize that there is more than one reason for this.
Obesity can be a self perpetuating cycle in pets – overweight cats and dogs feel more pain because of chemical sensitization to pain from the excess fat, which makes them reluctant to exercise which makes it harder (if not impossible) to lose weight. Because they don’t lose weight, they feel more pain which makes them reluctant to exercise, etc., etc.
Of course the reverse cycle is true as well – get the patient feeling better and they will exercise more, which helps them lose weight so they feel better so they become more active which helps them lose weight.
Once the owner-veterinarian team can break through that initial cycle of pain and reduced mobility and get their pet more active again, they see continued improvement happen on its own. Walking in the park becomes a treatment unto itself. As far as treatments go, that one isn’t so bad.
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