Orthopaedic diseases and the development of osteoarthritis are common diseases in dogs and represent 25% of the consultations at veterinary clinics. Regarding the consultations for osteo-joints diseases, 70% are about the apendicular skeleton, 20% is due to a probable feeding origin and more than 22% are caused in dogs under one year of age. Most of these dogs are big-sized, however dogs of any size might be affected.

The development of these skeletal diseases may be due to diet. Nutritional excess and lack contribute to dogs’ joints diseases. In many cases, good rationing of a balance food can prevent, or at least reduce, the seriousness of the disease. In some diseases, the diet correction is enough to restore the integrity of the skeleton.

Let’s see some examples:

It is very common to find big-sized or giant dogs being overfed by their owners, so there is an excessive energetic contribution that leads to an increase of both the weight and the animal size in the first months of the dog’s life and that sometimes means a discrepancy between the weight of the animal and the functionality of their joints. For example, it is so common to see Rottweiler’s being overfed so that disorders develop in their carpo joints, osteochondritis in their shoulders, elbows and even tarsus and hip dysplasia. Furthermore, and opposite to what their owners think, overfeeding large-sized puppies just causes an increase of weight and size for the very first months. The size when they are 6 months old should be just the same as dogs with a normal restricted diet.

On the other extreme, we have the underfed dogs that cause a decrease in their rate of growth.

Another obsession of owners of large-sized dogs is to offer an additional supplement of calcium despite the fact that all the food for puppies contains the necessary amount of phosphorus and calcium. The ideal contribution of calcium for a big-sized puppy would be between 210 and 540 mg/kg/day, bearing in mind that the puppy is unable to protect itself from the excess of calcium since it absorbs it in a passive way. At least 50% of the ingested calcium is absorbed, so you have to be very careful of any excess since it may lead to osteochondrosis, panosteitis and radius curvus syndrome. It is very common to find big-sized and muscled puppies with lots of energy and calcium contributions above the animal needs can be dangerous. On the other hand, if we do not give even the minimum amount of calcium, the body responds through a hyper functioning of the parathyroid gland which helps to take the calcium off of the bones towards the blood which causes a big weakness of the skeleton and can result in spontaneous bone fractures.

Something similar happens with Vitamin D. Dogs need to take this vitamin in food since they are not able to synthesise it properly in the skin under sunlight. The content of Vitamin D in balanced food is enough to treat and prevent hypovitaminosis D. A deficiency of this vitamin in puppies, in spite of right levels of calcium and phosphorus, causes rickets which leads to the arching of the legs, thicker growing tissues and thinner bones cortical. Excess of Vitamin D in puppies does not increase the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the intestine, but causes osteochondrosis and makes hip dysplasia and shoulder osteochondrosis worse.

It is therefore essential to feed your dog sensibly. You do it no favours by over-feeding it and may cause serious damage to the bone structure. What you feed your puppy in its early life will determine much of its health later on. Do not give too many treats or your left over food. It might seem as if you are being kind to your pet, but you might well be condemning it to a life of misery later on. If you are unsure of the correct amount and whether the food contains the right ingredients for your dog, consult your vet.

Article written in conjunction with Paco,

Clinica Veterinaria, Puerto de Mazarrón