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The Mistake That Can Wreak Havoc on Your Dog’s Skeleton

Story at-a-glance

  • Osteochondrosis is one of a variety of developmental orthopedic diseases that occur in young, fast-growing dogs, typically large and giant breeds. The most common form of osteochondrosis in dogs is osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), which can cause angular limb deformities in long bones, and cartilage damage in shoulders, elbows, knees and hocks.
  • Inappropriate nutrition has been identified as an important factor in the development of bone disease in big puppies. Free-feeding, overfeeding, and improper feeding of energy-dense diets, excessive calcium and mineral intake, and an imbalance of vitamin D metabolites present significant risks to growing large and giant breed puppies.
  • The diets of big puppies should be carefully managed to help prevent developmental orthopedic disease. The problem in today’s young, growing dogs is not one of dietary deficiency, but rather one of “over-nutrition” caused by overfeeding and inappropriate supplementation of certain nutrients.
  • To avoid “overgrowing” a large or giant breed puppy, the first step is to feed portion-controlled meals rather than free-feeding. Puppies should be maintained in optimal body condition, not maximal body condition.
  • The best diet for a large breed puppy is designed to meet the nutrient requirements for growth in large breeds, contains the proper amount of calories to avoid rapid growth, and also the appropriate levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, and the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.

Large Dog Breed

By Dr. Becker

Osteochondrosis is one of several developmental orthopedic diseases that occur in young, fast-growing dogs, especially large and giant breeds like the Doberman Pinscher, the Labrador Retriever, Great Danes and Newfoundlands.

The most common form of osteochondrosis in dogs is called osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), which is a defect in bone development at the extremity of a bone. The problem is thought to be a disruption in the manufacture of bone tissue that results in injury to growth cartilage. These injuries can cause angular limb deformities in long bones, as well as damage to the cartilage in the shoulder, stifle (knee joint), hock (the joint in the rear leg below the knee), and the elbow.

Inflammatory joint disease often follows osteochondrosis, ultimately leading to degenerative joint disease.

Developmental orthopedic diseases occur during the early stages of bone growth, before the growth plates close. This crucial period (the first year of life) is when a puppy’s skeletal system is most vulnerable to physical, nutritional and metabolic damage due to increased metabolic activity. The reason large and giant breeds are at higher risk is because genetics cause their bodies to grow very rapidly. Another predisposing factor is whether a puppy’s parents developed osteochondrosis.

Nutrition Can Be a Significant Risk Factor for Bone Disease

Studies of nutritional risk factors involved in osteochondrosis have identified free-feeding and overfeeding – especially of high-energy foods designed for rapid growth – as contributors. Energy-dense diets can promote increased levels of growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, insulin and thyroid hormones. Other dietary influences include excessive calcium intake, excessive mineral intake, and an imbalance of vitamin D metabolites.

For optimal bone development in puppies, diets must include appropriate and balanced amounts of nutrients. Excessive calcium and energy (calories), plus rapid growth predispose dogs to developing osteochondrosis. When a growing dog — especially a large or giant breed — is overfed and overweight, the bones are stressed by both static and dynamic forces that can cause damage to the skeleton.

In one study, Great Dane puppies that were free-fed a diet high in energy and minerals, or a diet high in calcium, developed osteochondrosis with clearly visible symptoms.

Studies have also shown that large breed puppies fed diets with high calcium content or high calcium and phosphorus content also acquired developmental orthopedic disease.

This is because puppies aren’t able to control or limit absorption of dietary calcium and certain other minerals. Absorption occurs through the intestines, and the higher the calcium and mineral content of the diet, the greater the level of absorption and assimilation into developing bone structure. This can disturb the natural process of bone growth and result in lesions in the skeleton and joints.

Even when highly palatable, energy-dense diets are well-balanced, when free-fed to large and giant breed puppies, the risk of OCD and other orthopedic diseases is increased. This is one of many reasons I don’t recommend free-feeding any pet. Most dogs and cats will overeat if free-fed, and as you can see, this is especially hazardous to the health of growing large and giant breed puppies.

To date, no studies have found protein intake to be a factor in the development of osteochondrosis.

Large Breed Puppy Diets Should Be Carefully Managed

Careful management of the diets of large and giant breed dogs won’t eliminate every instance of developmental bone disease, but it’s a crucial step in decreasing risk factors. The problem in today’s young, growing dogs is not one of dietary deficiency, but rather one of “overnutrition” caused by overfeeding and over-supplementation.

Young large breed dogs are at higher risk of developing skeletal problems than small breed dogs, even when both are fed diets with too little or too much calcium. Even when calcium intake is optimal, big dogs have more growth-related skeletal issues than smaller breeds.

To help prevent disease, we must make every effort to control the rate at which big dogs grow by feeding only the amount of calories needed to keep their bodies lean while they develop. The first step is to feed portion-controlled meals rather than free-feeding. We want to help dogs maintain optimal body condition, not maximal body condition.

Diets should not be extremely high in calories. Many super premium dog foods on the market are highly energy-dense. By contrast, large-breed puppy foods have reduced caloric density, calcium and phosphorus levels compared with other canine growth diets.

Switching a big puppy to an adult diet to try to control growth rate is not recommended. Adult diets don’t have the calories per serving that big puppies require, so they can end up eating more food and taking in excessive levels of other nutrients, which can be risky.

The Right Way to Feed a Large or Giant Breed Puppy

The ideal diet for a large breed puppy is designed to meet the nutrient requirements for growth in large breeds, contains the proper amount of calories to avoid rapid growth, and also the appropriate levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, and the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. Large and giant breed puppies continue to grow until about 18 months of age, so they should be kept on a specially designed growth diet until they are fully grown.

The goal in feeding a large or giant breed puppy is to keep him lean, with controlled growth. A healthy, large or giant breed puppy will thrive on a portion-controlled, balanced, species-appropriate diet. You can feed an ideally balanced homemade diet or an excellent quality commercially available food.

What about those large breed puppy foods? Traditional puppy foods often provide much higher calorie content than large breed puppies require, causing them to gain too much weight too quickly. This is why pet food manufacturers began producing formulas specifically for large breed puppies.

These are typically diets lower in calorie density (the number of calories per cup or gram of food) than a regular puppy diet. They’re also usually lower in calcium on an energy basis.

These are two very important factors for reducing too-rapid growth in big puppies. Some adult foods may also be low calorically, but often they have high calcium content on an energy basis, which is not what you want for a growing large or giant breed pup.

If you’re going to feed kibble to a large breed puppy, I recommend you look for special large breed puppy formulas or a formula (preferably a balanced, raw food diet) that is "Approved for all life stages." This means the food is appropriate for growing puppies or adult dogs.

I do not recommend feeding a traditional (high growth) puppy food to large breed puppies.

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, Dogs, Dogs, Just One More Pet, Pet Health, Pet Nutrition, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Long Will Your Dog Be with You? It Depends Heavily on This…

Story at-a-glance
  • When it comes to species of mammals, generally speaking, bigger animals live longer than smaller ones. But within species, this isn’t always true – for example, in the case of mice, horses, and especially dogs — the bigger the body, the shorter the lifespan.
  • According to a new study, big dogs die younger than smaller breeds mainly because they age quickly. The average lifespan of a Great Dane is about 7 years; a Yorkshire Terrier, from 13 to 16 years.
  • The study concludes that large breeds seem to age at faster rates than smaller breeds, and the speed at which the risk of death increases with age is also greater with big dogs. Bigger dogs more often get cancer, which makes sense since cancer is the result of abnormal cell growth.
  • There are many things breeders and owners of big dogs can do to help these pets live better and longer — including proper nutrition; regular maintenance of the musculoskeletal system and organs; fostering a strong, balanced immune system; and following responsible, health-focused breeding practices.
dog-life

By Dr. Becker:

When you evaluate species of mammals, it quickly becomes obvious that as a general rule, the bigger the creature, the longer it lives. Elephants in the wild can live well into their 60’s, whereas squirrels only live about six years.

But when you look closer at individual species, this general rule doesn’t always hold true, and dogs are a good example. As any canine enthusiast knows, big dogs have much shorter lifespans than small dogs. The same holds true for mice, horses, and possibly even humans.

Large Breeds Age Quickly and Die Younger

According to a study published in the April issue of the journal American Naturalist1, big dogs die younger primarily because they age quickly. Study authors believe these new findings can help scientists understand the biological links between growth and mortality.

Dogs seem to be a perfect subject for the study, because humans have bred them throughout history to be wildly variable in size. According to LiveScience, the heaviest dog on record was probably an English Mastiff that weighed 343 pounds, while the smallest was a terrier weighing in at under a quarter-pound. There is no other species of mammal with such tremendous size disparity.

Giant breeds live the most abbreviated lives of all dogs. For example the Great Dane has an average life span of about seven years, while a Yorkie can be expected to live 13 to 16 years.

A Big Dog’s Life ‘Unwinds in Fast Motion’

The American Naturalist study took a look at ages of death in 74 breeds and over 56,000 dogs that visited veterinary teaching hospitals.

Researchers learned that large breeds seem to age at faster rates than smaller breeds, and the speed at which the risk of death increases with age is also greater with big dogs. According to study authors, “… large dogs age at an accelerated pace, suggesting that their adult life unwinds in fast motion.” For a dog, every 4.4 pounds of body mass takes about a month off his life.

The researchers next want to look at the growth and health histories of dogs to narrow down the leading causes of death for large breeds. For example, bigger dogs more often acquire cancer, which makes sense when you consider they grow more than small dogs, and cancer is the result of abnormal cell growth. It’s possible that humans have inadvertently selected for characteristics – like rapid growth – that predispose large dogs to cancer.

Other large animals like elephants that have many more cells than smaller creatures, and should therefore also be at greater risk for cancer, have undoubtedly evolved special defense mechanisms against disease. These mechanisms probably developed through natural selection over a very long period of time, whereas most dog breeds have evolved through selection by humans, and over a much shorter period of time.

Evolutionarily speaking, dogs have evolved in the blink of an eye, and protective mechanisms against cancer and other diseases haven’t had time to catch up.

Extending the Lives of Large and Giant Breed Dogs

If you own a large or giant breed dog or are thinking about getting one of the big guys, I hope you’ll watch my interview with Dr. Jeff Bergin.

Dr. Bergin and his partner, Christine, raise and breed Newfoundlands, and in my opinion, they do things the right way. In fact, it’s not unusual for their giant breed dogs to live into their late teens. In the world of Newfies, a 17-year lifespan is almost unheard of.

Some of the wonderful practices Dr. Bergin follows with his Newfies include:

  • Feeding exclusively raw diets.
  • Breeding for health, first and foremost. Dr. Bergin breeds his dogs only once or twice during the course of their lives, with at least six years between litters. He does not breed dogs with congenital defects, and so far only one of his dogs has had a genetic health issue, a heart problem. (Heart problems, osteosarcoma and hip dysplasia are the most common health challenges for this breed.)
  • Performing regular chiropractic adjustments. With large and giant breed dogs, it’s very important to take care of the frame. Dr. Bergin happens to be both a licensed animal chiropractor as well as a human chiropractor. He performs regular manual orthopedic manipulation on all his dogs, from the moment they first stand on their own through the remainder of their lives. This practice is one of the keys to keeping a big dog’s musculoskeletal system from degenerating with age. Dr. Bergin’s dogs are typically fully mobile even at the end of their lives.
  • Limiting vaccines and other assaults on the immune system. Dr. Bergin only vaccinates his dogs against rabies, because the law requires it. By strictly limiting the number of vaccines they receive, he helps keep his dogs’ immune systems strong and resilient.
  • Insuring Newfie litters go to the right families. Dr. Bergin and Christine perform a mandatory home visit to families interested in their dogs. They won’t release a dog without seeing the new home. They conduct in-depth interviews with prospective owners to insure the puppy will be well taken care of. They also insist on a commitment from prospective owners to feed raw.

For most pet owners, it’s the quality of their dog’s life that is most important. You may have your precious pup with you for eight years or twice that long. By focusing on the three pillars of health – nutrition, maintenance of the frame, and a strong, resilient immune system — you can insure you’re providing her with everything she needs for an excellent quality of life, however long her life may be.

Calculation of Pet Age

Most people think that calculating the age of dogs and cats in "human years" is quite simple: multiply their age by seven. For example, a 4-year-old dog or cat would actually be 28 years old in human years. But when you really begin weighing out the arithmetic, this method doesn’t add up. Say a 1-year-old dog is the equivalent of a 7-year-old human — get out of here! How many 7-year-old humans are sexually active and capable of reproducing? Dogs and cats are much more likely to have babies at 1 year old or even at 10 years old, than any person who is 7 or 70.

Many veterinarians now agree that a pretty good guess on the age of pets can be made using the following formulas for dogs and cats.

DOGS
Aging is much faster during a dog’s first two years but varies among breeds. Large breeds, while they mature quicker, tend to live shorter lives. By the time they reach 5 they are considered "senior" dogs. Medium-sized breeds take around seven years to reach the senior stage, while small and toy breeds do not become seniors until around 10 or older.

But with all the vitamins, probiotics, stomach enzymes, better food (raw or home-cooked) or at least natural and organic pet foods that pets are now eating plus the fact that many live inside out of the elements and are pampered, pet age is increasing. So while many veterinarians agree that a pretty good guess on the age of pets can be made using the following formulas for dogs (and cats), the average is changing daily.

So, A Dog’s Life Can be Longer Than You Think…

Although still simple, it is much more accurate than the seven-year method. (Use these as a guestimate and guide. More and more pampered dogs are living an additional 3 to 5 years over the top averages, or even longer)

Assume that a 1-year-old dog is equal to a 12-year-old human and a 2-year-old dog is equal to a 24-year old human. Then add four years for every year after that. (Example: A 4-year-old dog would be 32 in human years.) Since this method takes into consideration the maturity rate at the beginning of a dog’s life and also the slowing of the aging process in his later years, Martha Smith, director of veterinary services at Boston’s Animal Rescue League, feels that this is the more accurate calculation formula.

Here is a chart, for easy reference:

clip_image002

A dog’s ‘average’ lifespan, factoring in all breeds and sizes, is around 12 or 13 years, but again, this varies widely by breed. The larger your dog is, the less time it will live. Female dogs tend to live a little longer. (Great Danes only live between 7 and 12 years.)

Wikipedia: List of Oldest (Known) Dogs  -  The oldest dogs on record were in their upper 20’s with Max, a terrier, (still) living at 29 years and 245 days old and a Labrador mix at 29 years and 193 days at the top of the (known) list.

CATS
Now let’s take a glimpse at a simple formula for calculating feline age in human years. Assume that a 1-year-old cat is equal to a 15-year-old human and a 2-year-old cat is equal to a 24-year-old human. Then add four years for every year after that. (Example: A 4-year-old cat would be 32 in human years.)

The following chart shows this formula of calculation:

clip_image004

Check out this and more great stuff from PetsAdviser.com and WebVet.com

Related:

Part 2 of Dr. Becker’s Interview with Bestselling Author Ted Kerasote: The Seven Factors that Determine How Long Your Dog Will Live

Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, by Bestselling Author Ted Kerasote – Available in Bookstores This Week!

If I Should Die Before My Dog…

A Dog’s Life… Can Be Longer Than You Think…

A Natural Herb That Fights Cancer, or Chemotherapy for Your Sick Pet… Which Would You Choose?

Do Vaccinations Affect the Health of our Pets? 

The Nutrient Your Pet Needs More of As They Age: Protein

DNA Study Unlocks Mystery To Diverse Traits In Dogs

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, animals, Dogs, Dogs, Just One More Pet, Pet Friendship and Love, Pets | , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments