Rapid Growth can lead to Bone & Joint Disease

Big breed dogs are at higher risk of joint problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. Heredity is a factor but so are early nutrition and weight. Here is an update on healthy dietary management of puppies who will someday reach size large to gargantuan.

The right food matters in part because rapid growth due to overfeeding or from a diet that is too calorie dense puts excessive load on soft, immature bones and joints. The result can be lameness and permanent damage. Life stage labels, like growth and adult on the bags of reputable dog food brands, are more than just marketing; they’re actually based on valid research. Veterinary nutritionists recommend feeding puppy (growth) diets until a youngster has reached about 80% of his or her full size. Small and medium breeds get there around age one year; those destined to be line backers continue until 18-24 months.

Foods intended for puppies, whether large breed or small, are different than diets that are meant for adult dogs. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus and the total amount of calcium are major contributors to the rate of bone growth. The caloric density is also important.

Pudgy puppies are more likely to face corrective orthopedic procedures. Large breed growth foods have reduced caloric density that helps control weight as these bruisers grow. But even youngsters who eat the right diet can pack on the pounds too fast if they eat like little pigs.

Your veterinarian can show you how to assess your pet’s weight and rate of growth by using a method called the body condition score. It’s a 9 point scale with 1/9 being emaciated and 9/9 representing a dog who has to rock back and forth in order to touch his feet to the floor. A score of 4/9 – a little on the lean side – is considered optimal for any dog, especially the big breed kids. Your dog’s doctor can recommend the right amount of groceries.

Raw diets and Internet fads abound. These are high risk gambles. I read the research and respect the conclusions. Boney deformities and raging intestinal infections cause needless misery for dogs and, based on my clinical experience, aren’t much fun to treat either.