ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Well-intentioned pet parents dabbled in dog and cat nutrition long before the surge in popularity of raw and grain-free diets. This is no job for amateurs. I’ve read the research and I’ve treated the orthopedic consequences and the raging internal disorders. Inappropriate feeding is particularly dangerous for big-breed puppies because the wrong nutrients raise their risk of joint disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia.
Heredity is certainly a factor for many large-to-gargantuan breed puppies with congenital lameness, but what they eat and the speed of their weight gain also matter. That’s because rapid growth due to overfeeding or from a diet that’s too calorie-dense puts excessive load on soft, immature bones and joints. The result can be permanent damage.
Life stage dog food labels like “growth” and “adult” are not just marketing; they’re based on validated science. Veterinary nutritionists recommend puppy (growth) diets until youngsters reach about 80% of their full size. Small and medium breeds get there around age one year; the bigger kids continue growing until 18-24 months.
Foods for puppies, large breed or small, are different than diets for adult dogs. The total amount of calcium and its ratio to phosphorus have a big influence on the rate of bone growth. The amount of calories those chow hounds consume also count.
Youngsters who eat the right diet can still pack on the pounds too fast if they eat like little piglets. Porky puppies are more likely to require corrective orthopedic procedures. Large breed growth foods have reduced caloric density to help control weight gain as these bruisers grow.
Your veterinarian can show you how to assess your puppy’s weight and growth rate by estimating body condition score (BCS). The BCS is a 9-point scale with 1/9 being emaciated and 9/9 representing a rotund dog. A score of 4/9 – a little on the lean side – is considered optimal for any dog, especially big-breed puppies. Your veterinarian can recommend the best diet and the right amount of groceries.
Each week, Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.