Britain’s pet dogs are suffering an epidemic of arthritis and obesity among canines could be to blame, experts have warned.
New figures show the number of treatments for arthritis in dogs - which can cost up to £3,000 a year - have more than trebled since 2015.
The precise causes of the epidemic are unclear but veterinary experts say that obesity is likely to be a significant factor.
Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said overfeeding and too many titbits are to blame.
“It would be difficult to know the exact cause of any rise but it is entirely plausible that we are experiencing a pet obesity epidemic, with increasing numbers of pets - including dogs - that are overweight or obese,” he said.
“And we know that carrying excess weight is a clear risk factor for arthritis.”
An estimated one in three dogs are overweight or obese and around one in four cats.
Mr Wensley added: “The chief reason is that owners are giving their pets excess or inappropriate food.
“Increasingly, people are feeding their dogs good quality so-called ‘complete’ pet foods, which contain the right nutrients in the right proportions - but not necessarily in the right amounts.
“In addition, family members and friends regularly give dogs treats and scraps - each slipping a little bit here and there.
“This can include all manner of food intended for humans - like cheese, chips, curry, scones and cakes.
“Pets have relatively small bodies compared to us and can really struggle to burn off the excess calories that they are being given.”
Regular exercise is also vital, he added. “It’s good for their well being and quality of life as well as just their physical health.”
However, he said that not all dogs with arthritis have been overfed.
Today, many are living longer - and arthritis is a disease linked with old age. There is also a greater awareness of the condition than there was a few years ago.
Dog-owners who think their pet may have arthritis should always contact their local vet, he advises.
The arthritis statistics come from leading pet insurer AnimalFriends.co.uk, which analysed 20,000 dog health records.
The number of arthritis cases rose threefold (312 per cent) in 2015, compared with 2012 figures - and a further 57 per cent rise is predicted by the end of 2016.
Possible treatments including a weight-management programme, joint supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-killers to ease discomfort.
But most of this doesn’t come cheap.
“The cost of on-going maintenance and monitoring of the condition will range from a basic level of 50p a day per 10 kilos to £2-3 a day per 10 kilos,” said a spokesperson from The Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons.
“The levels of treatment required are hugely variable.”
The average adult golden retriever weighs approximately 30kg, which means that the cost of treatment for arthritis could reach as much as £9 per day - or more than £3,000 a year.
Animal Friends says that its records reveal that the breeds most likely to develop the condition are Golden Retrievers, followed by Labrador Retrievers, Greyhounds, Boxers and Rottweilers.
Westley Pearson, Director of Claims and Marketing for AnimalFriends.co.uk, said: “The perception that arthritis only occurs in older animals is slowly being proven false, however the costs of maintaining the condition can be a huge shock to owners.
“Our animals are living much longer now, which means that age related diseases are going to become increasingly common for pets.
“Alongside taking out pet insurance to protect your animals, owners can also help keep their companions healthy by educating themselves on this condition, including what signs to look out for and when to take your pet to the vet.”
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints most commonly caused by abnormal rubbing within the joint due to damage to the area.