There’s quite a bit of controversy about the proper diet for largebreed puppies. Should these puppies receive a standard high-protein, high-fat puppy formula? Or will that cause the puppy to grow too fast, resulting in bone
The basic answer is that we don’t have enough scientific evidence to give good advice.
Let’s look at the three major joint diseases, and what we know about how diet affects them. These diseases are panosteitis, osteochondritis dissecans, and hip dysplasia. The first two are uncommon, while hip dysplasia is seen much more frequently.
Panosteitis is an inflammation of all of the bones. Usually a dog with panosteitis will have a lameness which shifts from leg to leg. When you massage the long bones of the leg with your hand, the dog will cry in pain, yet there won’t be any pain in the joints.
Panosteitis is best diagnosed through X-rays, although they are not always necessary. The dog’s bones are painful, and that’s enough to make a diagnosis.
Panosteitis usually strikes before two years of age. It is frequently caused by the owner, who gives the dog supplemental protein or calcium, which interferes with the interrelationship between vitamins and minerals.
Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) usually shows itself as lameness in the shoulder or stifle. It’s most painful when you stretch the joint fully.
With OCD, a section of cartilage and bone stops developing and dies. This leaves a dead flap of semi-calcified tissue, which irritates the joint. Surgery to remove the dead flap is sometimes necessary.
The most common hip disease is hip dysplasia. Almost all breeds are at risk of getting hip dysplasia, but it most commonly affects large, heavy dogs.
Hip dysplasia is the faulty development of the hip joint. Early in life, it is seen as a loose hip joint. As the ball at the end of the thigh bone rattles around in the hip socket, parts wear down and osteoarthritis develops.
Hip dysplasia is diagnosed using historical information, physical examination, and X-rays. A dysplastic dog is likely to have lameness in the hind legs, especially after exercise. The dog might try to limit the motion of the hips while walking, and may even “bunny hop” while running. Your vet may be able to feel the looseness in the hip, and the dog may feel pain during an exam. As the limb is extended, a click may be heard as the ball slips in the socket.
What causes hip dysplasia? The veterinary establishment generally accepts that hip dysplasia is a genetic problem, passed from generation to generation. In the last few years, scientists have shown that, as with many diseases, environment plays a part, too. It is now thought that 70% of the development of hip dysplasia is influenced by genetics, while there is a 30% contribution from environment.
Dr. Marvin L. Olmstead, a veterinary orthopedist at Ohio State University, explains how hip dysplasia develops, and where environment fits in:
“Changes in cartilage, supporting connecting tissue, and muscles cause the alterations in bone architecture. Joint instability occurs as muscle development and maturation lag behind the rate of skeletal growth. The first 60 days of life are the most critical period for the developing soft tissue structures.
When the stress and weight exerted at the hip joint exceed the strength limits of the supporting soft tissues, joint instability will result. The severity of the condition will be dependent on the degree of weight overloading and stress placed on the hip in its early development. If soft tissue development and skeletal development can be biomechanically balanced during the first six months of life, the chances of the dog developing hip dysplasia are minimal.” (Management of Canine Hip Dysplasia, Veterinary Proceedings, Eastern States Veterinary Conference, 1991.)
So, hip dysplasia is 70% due to the breeding of the dog (genetic history), and 30% due to environmental factors such as stress placed on the hip in its early development. Where do diet and nutrition come in?
There’s not a lot of agreement on diet and hip dysplasia. Some experts believe that puppy foods provide more of every nutrient than the average puppy needs, and debate whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage. Other experts boldly state that high calorie, high-protein, high-calcium diets predispose dogs to bone growth problems. They flatly refuse to recommend this kind of diet for large and giant breed dogs.
Another line of thinking is that this kind of diet is good if it will bring forward those dogs with a genetic disposition to-ward bone problems. And then there’s the group that sees no connection whatsoever between diet and hip dysplasia.
In 1992, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) established new standards for the nutrients required in dog food. These included revisions to the basic requirements for the growth stage of a dog’s life. These requirements are based on many studies by scientists and dog food company researchers. They are accepted by the regulators of pet food in all 50 states of the U.S., by the pet food industry, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, and by the Canadian government as the best standards based on current scientific knowledge. They reflect some significant changes from the 1985 National Research Council standards for dog food, which are no longer considered adequate in light of recent scientific research.
Feeding a growth diet which meets the AAFCO nutrient profiles is still the best way to insure that your puppy is getting all of the nutrients he needs. Look for a statement on the bag which says that your puppy food is complete and balanced for the growth stage, based on feeding studies using AAFCO protocols.
A source of information is the breeder of your dog. A knowledgeable breeder who has worked many years with a particular line of dogs will have a good idea of the proper speed of growth for dogs in that line. This knowledge is based on experience and experimentation. Follow the feeding recommendations of your breeder.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t mess up a complete and balanced commercial diet by supplementing it. You don’t have to add calcium – that will throw off the delicate interrelationships of vitamins and minerals. If you must give a supplement of some sort, give a balanced pet vitamin. This will increase the total intake of vitamins and minerals without throwing off the balance between nutrients.