ROLE OF THE DIET IN THE PREVENTION OF GROWTH DISEASES IN LARGE BREED PUPPIES
Why making start the large breed category from 25 kg ?
A large breed dog has long been considered as such from 30-35 kg adulte. However,it is obvious that some skeletal diseases, such as hip dysplasia, also show up in dogs whose weight is inferior. Of course, reliable breeders are supposed not to allow affected dogs to reproduce, because heredity is a major predisposing factor in most skeletal diseases of growing dogs. This selection is not easy, however, since a dog that carries bad genes may not necessarily express them in a constant way. In other words, a dog might carry the gene(s) responsible for hip dysplasia without clinically suffering from hip dysplasia, nor transmitting it to all his/her puppies. Consequently, eradication of hip dysplasia or any other osteo-articular disease cannot be expected in a short term view.
Then it is necessary to study the different factors that are likely to limit the expression of these unfavourable genes, and especially the nutritional aspects. Taking into account the up-to-date knowledge concerning the influence of the diet on the skeletal development, it sounds logical to apply the same safety measures to all the "high-risky" dogs.
Food intake and growth speed
By 1 year of age, a large breed dogs (adult weight 25 kg or more) will multiply his/her birth weight at least 80 times, and his/her growth may last up to 2 years. Owners of large breed dogs often wrongly believe that if they overfeed their dog, he/she will grow bigger and taller. This is not the case. Dogs will simply grow faster and reach their adult size, genetically programmed, earlier. This is not without risk as an accelerated growth will put more strain on an immature skeleton. These mechanical constraints disturb the cartilage development, and lead to bone and articular distortion.
This is why veterinarians recommend to limit the amounts of food during growth in large breed dogs and to feed diets less dense in energy thus lower in fat. Doing so, it is easier to control growth and to insure an optimal skeletal development.
Balance of the diet for large breed puppies
Puppy diets are usually high in protein to insure body and muscle growth as well as a nice and smooth hair coat. Moreover, puppies are naturally attracted towards foods that contain a great amount of animal proteins. Contrarily to a popular belief, high protein diets have no deleterious effects on growth nor on kidneys. They also allow to reduce:
- the level of starch (complex sugar found in cereals, potatoes,...) not always very well tolerated in young puppies,
- the fat consumption, so the energy intake.
Adding to the diet of large breed puppies calcium supplements such as bone meal and calcium carbonate is a common practice. Such supplementation is only necessary if puppies are fed home made diet (diet prepared by the owner from meat, rice and vegetable). If puppies consume a commercial puppy diet, this practice is not only useless, it could affect the animal's health. Indeed, studies have clearly show that excess calcium intake in large breed dogs will inhibit normal growth and induce bone and joint abnormalities. Calcium supplementation of puppy diets should thus be avoided.
As for vitamin C supplementation which is not only worthless in puppies ; excess can also be deleterious on skeletal growth.
A balanced exercise program is also very important for an harmonious muscular development in large breed dogs. Practically, it is recommended not to go over 2 - 3 daily periods of 20 mns of activity, and to avoid violent exercises and too early jumps.
Making start the large breed dogs category as early as 25 kg is a way to get rid of the ambiguity concerning two major breeds in France, German shepherd and Labrador. Both these breeds are very much affected by hip dysplasia, and they are definitely to include among large breeds, with English and Gordon setters, Briard shepherd…
On the contrary, some "border breeds" (around 25 kg), are known to grow up without any problem, and to be very little concerned by troubles of skeletal development. These breeds can be considered as "Medium": i.e: Belgian shepherd, racing dogs…
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