Obesity is one of the most significant, and potentially most preventable, risk factors for the development of osteoarthritis, and numerous studies have shown a strong association between body mass index and osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, foot and hand. However, the mechanism(s) by which obesity contributes to the onset and progression of osteoarthritis are not fully understood. The strong association between body mass index, altered limb alignment, and osteoarthritis of the knee--and the protective effects of weight loss--support the classic hypothesis that the effects of obesity on the joint are due to increased biomechanical loading and associated alterations in gait. However, obesity is now considered to be a low-grade systemic inflammatory disease, and recent studies suggest that metabolic factors associated with obesity alter systemic levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are also associated with osteoarthritis. Thus, the ultimate influence of obesity on osteoarthritis may involve a complex interaction of genetic, metabolic, and biomechanical factors. In this respect, mouse models of obesity can provide excellent systems in which to examine causal relationships among these factors. In recent years, there have been surprisingly few reports examining the effects of obesity on osteoarthritis using mouse models. In this paper, we review studies on mice and other animal models that provide both direct and indirect evidence on the role of obesity and altered diet in the development of osteoarthritis. We also examine the use of different body mass indices for characterizing "obesity" in mice by comparing these indices to typical adiposity levels observed in obese humans. Taken together, evidence from studies using mice suggest that a complex interaction of environmental and genetic factors associated with obesity contribute to the incidence and severity of osteoarthritis. The ability to control these factors, together with the development of methods to conduct more intricate measures of local biomechanical factors, make mouse models an excellent system to study obesity and osteoarthritis.