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Relationship of Nutrition to Developmental Skeletal Disease in Young  Dogs

Daniel C. Richardson1

Phillip W. Toll1

Developmental skeletal disease is common in large and giant-breed puppies. One manifestation, hip dysplasia, affects millions of dogs. Genetics, environment, and nutrition all contribute to developmental skeletal disease. Of the nutritional components, rate of growth, specific nutrients, food amounts consumed, and feeding methods influence skeletal disease. Excess energy and calcium are known risk factors; therefore, the level of these nutrients in the food should be near the Association of American Feed Control Officials minimum requirement. Puppies should be fed a growth-type food using a food-limiting technique. All puppies should be weighed and evaluated at least every two weeks. Amounts fed should be increased or decreased based on weight and body condition score.

Key Words: Developmental skeletal disease, calcium, energy, hip dysplasia, electrolyte balance, osteochondrosis, body condition, feeding method.


The musculoskeletal system changes constantly throughout life. These changes are most rapid during the first few months of life and slow with skeletal maturity (about 12 months for most breeds). The skeletal system is most susceptible to physical and metabolic insult during the first 12 months of life because of the heightened metabolic activity. The physical manifestation of these results can be lameness and/or altered growth. Both can affect locomotion and/or soundness of adult dogs.

Developmental skeletal disease is a multifactorial process that has genetic, environmental, and nutritional components. These skeletal abnormalities primarily affect fast growing, large-breed dogs. Lack of careful genetic monitoring can introduce and propagate disorders (e.g., hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis) that are difficult to eliminate. Trauma, whether obvious (e.g., hit by a car) or subtle (e.g., excessive weight) can adversely affect relatively weak growth centers and cause skeletal disease (e.g., angular limb deformities). Nutrient excesses (e.g., excess calcium supplementation) often exacerbate musculoskeletal disorders.1-4 This article reviews the role of nutrition in developmental skeletal disease in young dogs.

Nutrition and Skeletal Disease

The role of nutrition in developmental skeletal disease is complex. Rate of growth, specific nutrients, food consumption, and feeding methods have all been shown to influence skeletal disease. Large and giant breeds are most susceptible to developmental skeletal disease, presumably because of their accelerated growth rate.4,5 Dietary deficiencies are rare in young, growing dogs fed commercial growth foods.6 Problems associated with dietary excess are far more likely, especially if a high quality growth food is supplemented with minerals, vitamins, and energy.6 The following review discusses some of the more critical nutrients in developmental skeletal disease.


The energy needed for any individual depends on breed, age, neuter status, and activity levels. In general, growing puppies require twice as much dietary energy as adults for body maintenance, activity, and growth. The need is greatest right after birth and decreases as the dog grows and matures. Rapid growth in large and giant-breed dogs increases the risk of skeletal disease.4,5 Excessive dietary energy may support a growth rate that is too fast for proper skeletal development and results in a higher frequency of skeletal abnormalities in large and giant-breed dogs.7 Because fat has twice the caloric density of protein or carbohydrate, dietary fat is the primary contributor to excess energy intake.

Excess energy leads to rapid growth. Dietary energy in excess of a puppy's needs will be stored as body fat. Body condition scoring evaluates body fat stores and therefore correctness of energy intake. Maintaining appropriate body condition during growth not only avoids excess body fat storage, but also helps control excess growth rate. Limiting intake to maintain a lean body condition will not impede a dog's ultimate genetic potential. It will only reduce food intake, fecal production, obesity, and lessen the risk of skeletal disease.8 Energy or food-dose calculations can only be used as general guidelines or starting points that must be modified based on frequent clinical evaluation of each puppy because individual needs can vary widely. (Fig. 1). Physical evaluation or body condition scoring should be done at least every two weeks (See Evaluation of Feeding Methods and Scoring to follow).


Unlike other species, protein excess has not been demonstrated to negatively affect calcium metabolism or skeletal development in dogs. Protein deficiency, however, has  more impact on the developing skeleton. In Great Dane puppies, a protein level of 14.6% (dry matter basis) with 13% of the dietary energy derived from protein can result in significant decreases in bodyweight and plasma albumin and urea concentrations.9,10 The minimum adequate level of dietary protein depends on digestibility, amino acids, and their availability from protein sources. A growth food should contain > 22% protein (dry matter basis) of high biologic value (Table 1).11 The dietary protein requirements of normal dogs decrease with age.


The absolute level of calcium in the diet, rather than an imbalance in the calcium/phosphorus ratio, influences skeletal development.2 Young, giant-breed dogs fed a food containing excess calcium (3.3% dry matter basis) with either normal phosphorus(0.9% dry matter basis) or high phosphorus(3% dry matter basis, to maintain a normal calcium/phosphorus ratio) had significantly increased incidence of developmental bone disease.2 These puppies apparently were unable to protect themselves against the negative effects of chronic calcium excess.3 Further, chronic high calcium intake increased the frequency and severity of osteochondrosis.7

Often puppies are switched from growth to maintenance-type foods to avoid calcium excess and skeletal disease. However, because some maintenance foods have much lower energy density than growth foods, the puppy must consume more dry matter volume to meet its energy requirement. If the calcium levels are similar (dry matter basis) between the two foods, the puppy will actually consume more calcium when fed the maintenance food. This point is exemplified in the case of switching a 15-week-old, 15-kg male Rottweiler puppy from a growth food containing, on an as fed b asis, 4.0 kcal/g metabolizable energy and 1.35% calcium (1.5% on a dry matter basis) to a maintenance food containing the same amount of calcium but at a lower, 3.2 kcal/g energy density. The puppy would require approximately 1,600 kcal/day. In order to meet this energy need the puppy would consume approximately 400g of the growth food (containing 5.4g of calcium) vs. 500g of the maintenance food (containing approximately 6.7g of calcium).

Feeding treats containing calcium and/or providing calcium supplements further increases daily calcium intake. Two level teaspoons of a typical calcium supplement (calcium carbonate) added to the growth food of the 15-week-old, 15-kg Rottweiler puppy would more than double its daily calcium intake. This calcium intake is well beyond the levels shown to increase the risk for developmental bone disease. A recent review article best sums up the need for calcium supplements: "Because virtually all dog foods contain more calcium than is needed to meet the requirement, the use of a calcium supplement certainly is unnecessary. Now that the deleterious effects of excess dietary calcium have been delineated, we can say that the feeding of calcium supplements not only is unnecessary, but, in fact, contraindicated!"8

Because these studies demonstrate the safety and adequacy of 1.1% calcium (dry matter basis) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) minimum recommendation is 1% (dry matter basis, Table 1), we recommend that calcium levels for a growth food be within this range for at risk puppies, with no supplementation.

Other Nutrients

L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is necessary for hydroxylation of proline and lysine during biosynthesis of collagen, a major component of ligaments and bones. Food devoid of Vitamin C fed to puppies for 147 to 154 days neither affected growth nor caused skeletal lesions.12 There are no known dietary requirements for Vitamin C in the dog.11 Vitamin C supplementation in pigs elevates plasma levels of Vitamin C without changing articular concentrations of hydroxyproline.13 Similar studies in dogs demonstrated transient elevation of plasma Vitamin C concentrations; however, long-term supplementation did not increase concentrations much above normal.14 Even though Vitamin C has been recommended, the relationship between Vitamin C and developmental skeletal disorders in dogs such as osteochondrosis and hip dysplasia is unproven.15 Vitamin D metabolites regulate calcium metabolism and therefore skeletal development in dogs. These metabolites aid in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the gut, increase bone cell activity, and influence endochondral ossification and calcium excretion.16 Unlike other omnivores, the dog seems dependent on dietary Vitamin D sources from plants (Vitamin D2) or animals (Vitamin D3). Commercial pet foods contain from two to 10 times the AAFCO recommended amounts of Vitamin D.6 Diagnosis of Vitamin D deficiency can be made by measuring circulating levels of Vitamin D metabolites and by measuring growth plate width. Clinical cases of Vitamin D deficiency (rickets) are extremely rare in animals eating commercial foods.6 Increased growth plate width is not associated with low calcium/high phosphorus foods but is a strong indicator of rickets.16 Excess Vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia, hyperphosphatemia, anorexia, polydipsia, polyuria, vomiting, muscle weakness, generalized soft tissue mineralization, and lameness. In growing dogs, supplementation with Vitamin D can markedly disturb normal skeletal development due to increased calcium and phosphorus absorption.16 The trace minerals copper and zinc are involved in normal skeletal development. Supplementing a mare's dietary copper intake during the late stages of pregnancy, and supplementing the foal's diet from 90 to 180 days of age has been shown to reduce the prevalence and severity of developmental cartilage lesions.17 Copper deficiency in dogs has been associated with hair depigmentation, hyperextension of the distal phalanges, and decreased copper levels in the hair, liver, kidney, and heart muscle.18 However, bone copper concentration was not influenced by dietary treatment and developmental skeletal abnormalities associated with a deficiency of dietary copper were not described. Similarly, long-term studies of dietary zinc on canine growth and reproduction showed no significant clinical influence on the skeletal development.19 The role of these two nutrients in the development of skeletal disease in the dog remains unclear at this time.

Two of the most common skeletal diseases of growing dogs are hip dysplasia and osteochondrosis. The balance of this section will review the relationship between these diseases and critical nutrients.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is the most frequently encountered orthopedic disease in veterinarymedicine (Fig. 2). The actual number of cases is estimated to be in the millions.20 This extremely common heritable disorder of large and giant-breed dogs can be influenced by nutrition during growth. Early developmental findings of CHD, including joint laxity and coxofemoral anatomical changes, have been documented within 2 weeks of birth. Rapid weight gain in German Shepherd dogs during the first 60 days after birth has been associated with CHD at a later age. The importance of this early influential time period was demonstrated in a study comparing cesarean-section, hand reared puppies to vaginal birth, bitch-fed puppies. Cesarean section and hand rearing markedly reduced growth and the incidence of CHD in these puppies. Vaginally born, bitch-fed puppies that grew "optimally" or somewhat "suboptimally" had a higher incidence of CHD.21 The period from 3 to 8 months of age is important in the development of CHD, with the first 6 months generally regarded as the most critical. Frequency and severity of CHD was influenced by weight gain in growing dogs that were offspring of parents with CHD or parents with a high incidence of CHD in their offspring. Dogs with weight gain that exceeded breed standards had a higher frequency and more severe CHD than dogs with weight gain below breed standards.22

In one colony of fast growing Labrador Retriever dogs, the triradiate growth plates of the acetabula fused at 5 months as determined by conventional radiography. These growth plates normally close at 6 months in puppies growing at conventional rates. The investigators speculated that early fusion in the acetabulum may result in bone/cartilage disparities in the future and predispose to dysplastic changes.23 Limiting food intake in growing Labrador Retriever puppies has been associated with less subluxation of the femoral head and fewer signs of hip dysplasia.24

Palpation of the hip is of little to no value in predicting development of hip joints. However, the combination of physical and radiographic examination are important diagnostic methods for evaluating the hips (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Columbus, MO; Penn HIP, Malvern, PA). A recent review of nutritional influences on CHD contains more information and a more complete reference list.25

Electrolyte Balance and CHD

Control of dietary electrolytes has been proposed as a preventative for CHD.26 Investigators have associated the dietary anion gap (DAG) with the radiographic changes of subluxation in the coxofemoral joints in several canine breeds. A food with a DAG (Na+ + K+ - Cl-) < 23 mEq/100g of food was fed to large-breed puppies and resulted in less femoral head subluxation, on average, at 6 months of age. The slowed progression of subluxation was also observed in dogs fed a food with a reduced DAG from 35 to 45 weeks of age.28 Hip joint laxity was determined using the Norberg hip score computed from radiographs. Significant correlation between radiographic findings (e.g., Norberg hip scores)and progression of CHD, either radiographic or clinical was not proven. The authors propose the balance of anions and cations in the food (specifically sodium, potassium, and chloride) influence the electrolytes and osmolality in joint fluid. The joint fluid of dysplastic dogs has higher osmolality and is increased in volume when compared to that of disease-free hips from dogs of the same breed.29 The changes in osmolality and fluid volume could be a result rather than a cause of CHD. Changes in synovial fluid osmolality and electrolyte concentrations were not reported. These studies suggest an association between DAG and joint laxity without proving a mechanism of action.

Osteochondrosis (OCD)

Osteochondrosis is a focal disruption in endochondral ossification. OCD is manifested clinically by pain and lameness. Physical examination results can be confirmed radiographically. Figure 3  shows a classic inoperative lesion on the proximal humerus. Acute inflammatory joint disease begins when the subchondral bone is exposed to synovial fluid. Inflammatory mediators and cartilage fragments are released into the joint and perpetuate the cycle of degenerative joint disease.27 OCD occurs in the physis and/or epiphysis of growth cartilage, and is a generalized or systemic disease. When OCD affects the physis, it may cause growth abnormalities in long bones. OCD is wide-spread among young, rapidly growing, warm-blooded, domesticated species and humans. In all species, the etiology is considered multifactorial. In dogs, risk factors for OCD are age, gender, breed, rapid growth and nutrient excesses (primarily calcium).1,5,25,29

All large and giant-breed dogs are at increased risk for OCD. Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, and Rottweiler breeds are at highest risk.29 Males have an increased risk of OCD in the proximal humerus but gender relationships are not found with OCD involving other joints.28

At least two schools of thought exist concerning the pathogenesis of OCD. In the first, cartilage lesions develop secondary to excessive biomechanical stresses. This may be termed an "outside-in" development. Over-nutrition, such as ad libitum feeding, stimulates skeletal growth, cancellous bone remodeling, and weight gain in breeds already having inherent capacity for rapid growth.5 Rapid growth combined with remodeling results in weakened subchondral regions to support the cartilage surface. If osteopenic and biomechanically weak subchondral spongiosa develops, there is inadequate bony support to the articular cartilage. The increasing body mass exerts excessive biomechanical forces on the cartilage and secondarily disturbs chondrocyte nutrition, metabolism, function, and viability. An outside-in development suggests OCD results when nutritional effects initiate a biomechanical disease.

An "inside-out" pathogenesis has also been proposed. Here, abnormalities of the cartilage canal vessels and chondrocyte necrosis are thought to precede degenerative changes in the articular cartilage matrix.30 Focal lesions of dead and nectrotic chondrocytes develop, and subsequently, biomechanical stresses disrupt the lesion. Osteochondrosis lesions are routinely found in pigs as  young as 25 days of age, when rapid growth and weight gain are much less of a factor. These findings support a localized, primary effect on the chondrocyte rather than secondary effects of biomechanical force.

Regardless of the pathogenesis of OCD, nutrition is still an underlying factor. In growing puppies, overnutrition can result in a mismatch between body weight and skeletal growth, which can overload skeletal structures.7 Nutrition of the mother may also play a role in the development of OCD in the offspring.

Feeding techniques

The nutrient profile of the food and how it is fed control nutritional risk factors for developmental skeletal disease. There are three basic methods of feeding growing dogs: free-choice (ad libitum), time-limited, or food-limited.

Free-choice feeding

Free-choice feeding is relatively effortless and may reduce abnormal behavior such as barking at feeding time. Frequent trips to the food bowl help reduce boredom, timid or unthrifty animals have less competition when eating, coprophagy may be decreased, and frequent small meals may result in a more constant blood level of nutrients and hormones.

Disadvantages of ad libitum feeding include food wastage, only dry forms of pet food can be fed, and competition or boredom may stimulate overeating. The most serious disadvantage is increased risk of developmental bone disease because of overconsumption in the large and giant breeds.1-4, 24 In general, free-choice feeding in contraindicated in "at risk" dogs until they have reached skeletal maturity (about 12 months of age or at least 80 to 90% adult weight).

Time-limited feeding

Time-limited feeding can be used for most large and giant breeds. Making food available for a set period of time, two to three times per day, may help control intake and help in discipline and housetraining young puppies. The owner interacts with the puppy during this time and is able to observe general condition and behavior. This may lead to earlier detection of health problems. A routine of feeding a puppy then taking it outdoors can enforce housetrainng by taking advantage of the gastrocolic reflex.

Some researchers have proposed that puppies fed on a time-limited basis consumed less food, had slightly reduced growth rates, but achieved similar adult size and lean body mass when compared to puppies eating free-choice.8 Other studies have shown that feeding 15 minutes twice a day did not result in decreased food intake between ad libitum and time-restricted groups.31 Many variables (e.g., breed, temperament, housing, etc.) influence these results and account for the varied findings. If time-restricted feeding is used, 5 to 10 minute feeding periods (3x per day for the first month after weaning, then 2x per day) may be required to decrease food intake in some puppies.

Food-limited feeding

The method of choice for feeding puppies is limiting food intake to maintain growth rate and body condition. Food-limited feeding requires feeding a measured amount of food based on calculated energy requirement or as recommended by the manufacturer. Energy requirement is most easily  calculated by using resting energy requirement (RER) as a base on which to build. RER can be calculated using either of the following two equations:

                         RER (kcal/day) - 70 (Wtkg)0.75


                        RER (kcal/day) = 30 (Wtkg) + 70

As a starting point use 3x RER for the first 4 months of life and 2x RER from 4 months of age to skeletal maturity (about 12 months for most breeds). Most large and giant-breed dogs will continue to increase bodyweight and muscle mass after 12 months, but the growth rate is reduced and most if not all growth plates are closed. At 12 months they can be fed as adults (1.6x RER).

Once daily caloric requirement has been calculated (kcal/day), divide this number by the energy density of the food (kcal/cup or kcal/can) to determine the number of cups or cans to feed per day. Remember, these calculations and manufacturers' recommendations are only starting points. Clinical evaluation of the growing puppy and adjustment of food offered is crucial. Rapidly growing, large and giant-breed dogs have a very steep growth curve and their intake requirements can change dramatically over short time periods. These puppies should be weighed, evaluated, and their daily feeding amount adjusted at least once every 2 weeks (Fig. 1). Most of the studies that have demonstrated the beneficial effects of limiting food intake of puppies have fed the limited group 25 to 30% less food then their counterparts ate when fed free-choice. Unfortunately, this is not a practical approach to feeding most puppies in a home environment.

Evaluation of feeding methods and body condition scoring

Regardless of a food's nutrient profile and how it is fed, the ultimate measurement of appropriate intake is the physical condition of the puppy. The only way to reduce potentially harmful nutritional risk factors that may affect skeletal development is to assess body condition and adjust the amount fed to ensure lean, healthy growth. We recommend that at risk puppies be evaluated at least every 2 weeks. Figure 4 reviews body condition scoring and physical findings. A more in-depth discussion follows.32

A body condition score of 1 is characterized as very thin. The ribs are easily palpable with no fat cover. The tailbase has a prominent raised bony structure with no tissues between the skin and the bone. The bony prominences are easily felt with no overlying fat. In  animals over 6 months, there is a severe abdominal tuck when viewed from above.

An underweight condition is categorized as a 2 in the scoring system. The ribs are easily palpable with minimal fat cover. The tailbase has a raised bony structure with little tissues between the skin and the bone. The bony prominences are easily felt with minimal overlying fat. In animals over 6 months, there is an abdominal tuck when viewed from the side and a marked hourglass shape when viewed from above.

The ideal body condition of a puppy is represented by a score of 3. The ribs are palpable with a thin layer of fat between the skin and the bone. The bony prominences are easily felt with a significant amount of overlying fat. In animals over 6 months, there is an abdominal tuck when viewed from the side and a well proportional lumbar waist when viewed from above.  A score of 4 is defined as overweight. The ribs are difficult to feel with moderate fat cover. The tailbase has some thickening with moderate amounts of tissue between the skin and the bone. The bony structures can still be felt. The bony prominences are covered by a moderate layer of fat. In animals over 6 month, there is little or no abdominal tuck of the waist when viewed from the side. The back is slightly broadened when viewed from above.

An obese condition is represented as a 5 on the scale. The ribs are very difficult to feel under a thick fat cover. The tailbase appears thickened and is difficult to feel under a prominent layer of fat. The bony prominences are covered by a moderate to thick layer of fat. In animals over 6 months, there is a pendulous ventral bulge and no waist when viewed from the side. The back is markedly broadened when viewed from above.


Large and giant-breed dogs are the most susceptible to developmental skeletal disease. Genetics, environment, and nutrition play key roles. Nutritionally, rate of growth, food consumption, specific nutrients, and feeding methods influence our ability to optimize skeletal development and minimize skeletal disease. Maximizing the growth rate in young, growing puppies does not correlate to maximal adult size. It does, however, increase the risk of skeletal disease. The growth phase of 3 to 8 months, and possibly the phases before weaning, are vital to ultimate skeletal integrity. The large and giant breeds may be limited in their ability to cope with excesses of minerals such as calcium.

Overnutrition from overconsumption and oversupplementation increases the frequency of developmental bone disease in large and giant-breed dogs. Energy and calcium are the nutrients of greatest concern. Often, owners feeding highly palatable, energy-dense growth foods switch to maintenance type foods in an attempt to reduce developmental disorders. As shown earlier, this practice may worsen total calcium intake. It is not only important to feed the appropriate food, but to feed the food appropriately.

Table 1 lists the minimum requirement of some nutrients of concern for growing puppies. These values represent the minimum and in some cases the maximum AAFCO recommendations for these nutrients. Foods for large and giant-breed puppies should meet these recommendations. Because energy (primarily from fat) and calcium are nutrients known to be risk factors for developmental skeletal disease, the level of these nutrients should be near the minimum requirement. Meeting but not exceeding the requirement for these nutrients ensures proper growth while minimizing risk factors for skeletal disease.

Nutritional management alone will not completely control developmental bone diseases. Skeletal diseases can be influenced during growth by feeding technique and nutrient profile. Dietary deficiencies are minimal concern in this age of commercial foods specifically prepared for young, growing dogs. The potential for harm is in overnutrition from excess consumption and oversupplementation.


1. Hedhammer A, et al; Overnutrition and Skeletal Disease: An
Experimental Study in Growing Great Dane
Dogs, Cornell Vol 64 (suppl 5): 11-60, 1974

2. Hezewinkel HAW, et al; Calcium Metabolism in Great Dane Dogs Fed
Diets With Various Calcium and
Phosphorus Levels, J Nutr 121:599-S106, 1991.

3. Hezwinkel HAW, et al; Influences of Chronic Calcium Excess on the
Skeletal Development of Growing Great
Danes, JAAHA 21: 377-391, 1985

4. Meyer H, Zentek J; Energy Requirements of Growing Geat Danes, J Nitr
121: 335-838, 1991.

5. Daminnich K; Relationship Between Nutrition and Bone Growth in large
and Giant Dogs, J Nutr
121:8114-8121, 1991.

6. Kaltfalz FA, Ozanis DA; Overnutrition: An Epidemic Problem in Pet
Animal Practices, Vet Clinic North Am
Small Anim Pract 19(3): 433-446, 1989.

7. Nap RC, Hezwinkel HAW; Growth and Skeletal Development in the Dog in
Relation to Nutrition: A Review,
Vet Quarterly 1:50-59, 1994.

8. Alexander JE, WOOD LL; Growth Studies in Labrador Retrievers Fed a
Caloric-Dense Diet: Time-Restricted
Versus Free-Choice Feeding, Companion Animal 14 (2): 41-47, 1987.

9. Nap RC, et al; Growth and Skeletal Development in Great Dane Pups Fed
Different levels of Protein Intake, J
Nutr 121:8107-8113, 1991.

10. Nap RC, et al; The Influence of the Diet Protein Content on Growth
in Giant Breed Dogs, j Vet Comp
Orthop Trauma 6:1-8, 1993.

11. Ozanis DA; The AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles, In Current
Veterinary Therapy XII, Ed by JD
Bongura, Philadelphia, WS Saunders, 1995, pp 1418-1421.

12. National Research Council Nutrient Requirements of Dogs, Washington,
DC, National Academy Press,

13. Nakano T, Aheme FX, Thmopson JR; Effect of Dietary Supplementation
of Vitamin C on Pig Performance
and the Incidence of Osteochondrosis in Elbow and Stifle Joints in Young
Growing Swine, Can j Anim Sci
63:421-428, 1983

14. Teare JA, et al; Ascorbic Acid Deficiency and Hypertrophic
Osteodystrophy in the Dog: A Renuttal,
Cornell Vet 69:384-401, 1979.

15. Bennet D; Hip Dysplasia and Ascorbate Therapy: Fact or Fancy? Semin
Vet Med Surg (small Anim) 2 (2):
152-157, 1997.

16. Hazewinkel HAW; Nutrition in Orthopedics, In: Disease Mechanisms in
Small Animal Surgery, ed 2. Ed by
MJ Bojrab, Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1993,

Eileen Durante


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Reply with quote  #2 
This week on Good Morning America Diane Sawyer & Dr. Richard Besser did a series on vitamin supplements.During the interview they aired video questions from mothers. One mother stated that she was a new mother and nursing. She asked if it was necessary for her to take vitamins while she was nursing. Dr Bessers answer really surprised me.He stated that while breast milk should be the perfect food, that it was lacking in vitamin D. He recommended the nursing mom take a D supplement. He also showed a D pediatric drops supplement. He stated that with formula we do not have the same worry as it is enhanced with balanced amino acids and vitamins. He stated that a diet deficient in vitamin D could lead to rickets and bowing of the legs.
Now this got me thinking about the quality of bitches milk and whether the age of the dam would also affect her ability to produce and store enough vitamin D to properly raise a nursing litter.My search for additional info lead me to the article I posted above.
I have to say I am very disapointed in the lack of response to the information.
I wonder how many REALLY read through and absorbed the content.
I thought for sure this paragraph would stir up some interest. >

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is the most frequently encountered orthopedic disease in veterinarymedicine (Fig. 2). The actual number of cases is estimated to be in the millions.20 This extremely common heritable disorder of large and giant-breed dogs can be influenced by nutrition during growth. Early developmental findings of CHD, including joint laxity and coxofemoral anatomical changes, have been documented within 2 weeks of birth. Rapid weight gain in German Shepherd dogs during the first 60 days after birth has been associated with CHD at a later age. The importance of this early influential time period was demonstrated in a study comparing cesarean-section, hand reared puppies to vaginal birth, bitch-fed puppies. Cesarean section and hand rearing markedly reduced growth and the incidence of CHD in these puppies. Vaginally born, bitch-fed puppies that grew "optimally" or somewhat "suboptimally" had a higher incidence of CHD.21 The period from 3 to 8 months of age is important in the development of CHD, with the first 6 months generally regarded as the most critical. Frequency and severity of CHD was influenced by weight gain in growing dogs that were offspring of parents with CHD or parents with a high incidence of CHD in their offspring. Dogs with weight gain that exceeded breed standards had a higher frequency and more severe CHD than dogs with weight gain below breed standards.22


Eileen Durante


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Reply with quote  #3 
Eileen, I want to tell you that I read each and every of your posts.
When, suddently, I need an important health information, I often refer to your posts as I remember that you often posted about it already.
Keep up the good work!

Posts: 2,804
Reply with quote  #4 
Great  thread Eileen :>)
I read yrs ago  . that Vitimin D given to Dogs ,can cause seazures ?????????
I do know that ,We need it ,and many  of us are depleted  with no D in our systems .

Just a Heads up ,specialy for Women , get your D checked out .


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Reply with quote  #5 

Nice, Eileen! You are always thinking. It's interesting how we feed our dogs everyday and most don't really think of the impact that it can have. I really can't believe how so many people just get the cheapest food that they can find and throw it in a bowl for their dog... It's pathetic!

 As ther are MANY great pieces of info in this Thread, I like the focus that this line has...


The only way to reduce potentially harmful nutritional risk factors that may affect skeletal development is to assess body condition and adjust the amount fed to ensure lean, healthy growth

 Thanks for the info E!

P.S. Hoo..... Ho Ho!!! (The time)

Andrew Crocker
(Visually Updated on 11-1-10)
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Reply with quote  #6 

According to this study, C-section and hand feeding are a preventative of CHD because the offspring are smaller???? JMO.. Nothing natural about that.

My understanding in the Dr recommending vitamin D would be most effective for the mother. At the age of 40 a women's body depletes of vitamin D each year ( this is why we shrink as we age and at a much faster rate then men). There is no way to get this loss back even through supplements so most women under 40 should store up and bank Vit D.
I give my human kids Vit D daily along with CQ10 but I never thought my dogs should be supplemented (except for Ester C) with feeding a commercial food.
 I think this study helps conclude overfeeding and too much protein can definitely cause harm to large breeds. I'm not sure supplementing a bitch with Vit D would do much help for her offspring but I would think any bitch too old would not provide the proper nutrition for her babies.


Life is Good! Lisa

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Reply with quote  #7 
Thanks you Eileen for the information, it's great for a newbie like me to be able to come here and find this kind of info at the touch of a button.

There is so much missinformation about breast feeding it's hard to sort it all out.  This is the site that I have used for my information for many years.  I have been nursing a child (not the same one) since 2002.  I trust this site with my children's health. 
In western societies it's not necessary to give the mother Vit D except in rare situations.  Far north where there is limited sunlight it can be recommended.   I would assume that in most cases as it is for humans, breastmilk is the best for the babies or puppies.  It's natures perfect food.  Formula is fine when it's needed and thank God it's available but it's not better as some suggest.  Look at the funding sources of many of the studies around first. 

The babies rarely suffer it's the mothers system that suffers when there is a lack of something.  I would assume that is similar in dogs and most other animals.  That is why it's recommended to wait 2 years in between pregnancies for humans because it takes time for the mothers system to build the necessary stores back up.  Did I listen...

There is Vit D in our milk supply that is added.  We also and I am assuming dogs too would make vit D as long as there was sunlight for them.  I don't think any of our dogs live in the dark.  However I agree if there is a question about whether you have enough you can get your levels drawn. 

Andrew I see crap food being feed to many in my neighborhood.  It's sometimes hard to have a discussion with people about proper nutrition for animals, they get defensive.  Some just didn't know, I was one of them before.  I still am reading and learning and constantly making sure that I'm doing right for my dogs.  I have seen such a difference in them since we switched to good food. 
The people I can't stand are the ones who don't care at all... why get a dog and not care? 
When we took Moose through his training at PetSmart the trainer educated us on how to read the bags labels and know what to look for.  He was able to switch many people from crap food to the good stuff.  It was great to see!


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Reply with quote  #8 

Thank you Eileen. I am so glad to see this. There are many that have been saying this for years and have been in many a fights with others over this topic of food/environment and ortho issues. I am saving this for future

Sandragon Mastiffs
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Reply with quote  #9 


Hannah Robins
Kustali Mastiffs
Western Australia

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Reply with quote  #10 
I thought I remembered reading a study years ago that linked vitamin C deficiency at 1-3 weeks of age with an increase in CHD. Does anyone else remember that? This seems to be saying otherwise, so maybe something has changed.

It's also interesting that this is saying high protein levels do not affect growth.


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Reply with quote  #11 
Joy, many of the recent studies are saying high protein doesn't cause growth disorders.  They are finding more and more that the link is in calcium levels.

Heck, I fed Bam a food with over 40% protein for most of the first year of his life

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Reply with quote  #12 

Thank you for your post. It has answered many of the questions I am currently trying to find answers to.  It seems so often structural abnormalities in dogs are blamed solely on genetics yet I am noticing a number of health problems and structural abnormalities arise in dogs and puppies, bred from sound stock, and where the only major differences between the affected dogs and their unaffected littermates is diet. Perhaps it is just bad luck or the luck of the draw but my better judgement tells me otherwise.

I began a thread a few days ago regarding the feeding of chicken carcasses to dogs on a daily basis. I am aware that imbalances in nutrition can arise from a number of different practises but this is the one that is closest to me at the moment.  

When I refer to chicken carcass I mean the carcass frame i.e. the leftover of the whole chicken once the manufacturer has removed all the saleable meat from the carcass. The carcass frames are large and comprised of mostly bone, skin and fat, which I would equate to calcium and energy...if bones are to be considered a source of calcium and fat and source of energy.  If this is a correct assumption then based on the article you just posted,  feeding chicken frames to dogs on a daily basis, in place of either their breakfast meal or dinner meal is likely to have serious repercussions, particularly (though not limited) to young, growing Mastiffs.

It is not my intention here to criticize anyone’s feeding practises. Indeed the breeders I know that are feeding their dogs carcasses daily are some of the most conscientious breeders I have ever come across.  I am positive that they are doing this because they feel it is beneficial to their dogs.

I just wanted to explore the subject because it is the only difference that I can see between healthy trouble free dogs and dogs that are suffering from a host of ailments ranging from, accelerated growth and structural abnormalities, to infections, infertility, birth defects, excessive weight, bloating, and short life spans.  If these weren’t so serious I would normally avoid the subject of what people wish to feed their dogs like the plague. 

I am expressing my concerns so that others will be aware of them and hopefully look further into this method of feeding before choosing it for their dogs.

Jennifer Willshire

Gammonwood Mastiffs




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Reply with quote  #13 
I found an article with info on the study I was thinking of on Vitamin C and CHD. I guess the study was not followed up.

Here's a link:


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Reply with quote  #14 
Some of you may remember __I voice my opinion on Vit. C   and it's role in preventing bone disorders (esp. Hip dysplasia) in a discussion last year--and got blew out of the water (ridiculed by one particular person  and was inferred to be an idiot)--and my view still has not changed.

I think this article points out some very strong support   for what I had previously stated.

FYI--I don't think it so much the amounts but whether or not it can be utilized by the dog's metobolic system.  Bone cells need energy,  calcium, phosphrous, Vit.c & D, and zinc to reproduce. If we don't have the vit. d & C available for the cells--then the calcium and Phosphorous is not used correctly by the cells.

Most dry kibble does not have any Vit. C.  Raw diets do not have vitamin C (unless you are feeding Green tripe with the undigested stomach contents).  so--yes, we do need to supplement it for growing dogs. I wonder if this is why our dogs eat gress sometimes?  A nutritional deficit?  Vit. C?

For over 20+ years I have given Vit. C and a general Multivitamin (which includes Ca, Phos, & Vit. D)  in the puppies I have raised and have had  few to none with  growth problems.

In one litter (which someone else started out raising for me  ) they were given fish oil everyday from day one.  FYI-- Fish oil does not have any Vit. D--and as an oil it blocks the absorption of oil soluable vitamins--i.e. Vit. D. 

I had instructed the person raising the litter to begin the Vit. C & multivitamin supplement when they began eating soft foods--it was not done (because they did not "believe" in it).  I also asked that the bitch be given it during her last week in whelp and while nursing--it was not done.

This litter developed  rickets by 6 weeks.  The front legs were bowed and severely knuckled over.  They literally had no Vit. D in their system and the bones could not grow correctly.   It took almost 6 weeks to correct this nutrtional deficit through diet correction--I had to give them extra Vit. D.   Once I began the Vit. C, kelp, and Mutilvitamin--they began to improve rapidly.

Eventually I did get these puppies corrected through diet--but it was a struggle--one had bowed legs (rickets) until he was almost 4 months old. The next step would have been to cast his legs.

Anytime a diet related deficiency occurs--it takes a minium of 30-60 days to correct it.  So, it's much better to try and keep growth on track.

When we supplement with the vit C & D--we give the bone cells 2 necessary ingredients for proper growth--it helps the bone cells to grow and divide.
I don't think it so much the amounts of calcium and phosphorous in the food we fed but a deficiency of Vit. D & C--not enough  available to be used along with the Ca and phos to be absorbed and used by the bone cells.

The heavier the bone in the puppies (i.e the larger)  the greater your chances are that you will have a growth problem. Very few fine bone dogs develop pano as they grow. I believe that  these growth problems occur because the growing dog just doesn't have all the necessary ingredients for the bones & joints to grow properly--i.e. Vit C. & D.  It's not that they are growing "too" fast--some of the bone cells just are not getting what they need to grow properly.  Thus you get uneven growth.

I have used dietary supplements--Kelp, Vitmain C, Multivitamin--to correct poor pasterns,  flat toes and poor feet,  panoarthritis, and other grow related problems.  As long as the puppy is still growing --you can correct some degree of a growth problem--maybe not 100% but you can improve it.

I hope we see many more articles on this subject. 

Cathy (Catie) Arney

"Stupid people shouldn't breed--themselves or dogs." Myself

"Stupid is as Stupid does.." Forrest Gump

"If you can't take listening--you got to take feeling." Johhny "Pop" Fisher (Mitch's dad)

"Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment." UnKnown ( but I like it)

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Reply with quote  #15 
This is a very good article Eileen and its also really complicated.  I had to read it a few times and still will most likely read it again.....  I think some people may not comment because of the complicated wording and subject matter. 

It is awesome that you put it out here for folks to read and digest.   I'm one of those still digesting. ;-)


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Reply with quote  #16 

Excellent article; "food for thought".   I believe we can bring up the "p" word (protein) and not have a hit squad after us.  Ok, that was a joke in a passive aggressive way....In light of the article, I will say that when someone in the dog business/experience has a different take on things I listen.  At one time, I feared I was going to cause muliple orthopedic problems with my current kibble.  Did some reasearch, found the article posted and kept a bit quiet.  I know I contributed to the multiple orthopedic problems in my first mastiff due to over feeding with a food that was less than 25% protein.  So, how much vitaming C do you supplement with?  Is there an "all in one" someone would recommend?  Thanks

Kathleen aka Leen

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Reply with quote  #17 
Catie I feed non-kibble diet.  I do supplement with vit. C in the form of frozen concentrated orange juice.  I got this from an english golden breeder - dogs love it (sweet). I think it also helps with the girls and any uti, not scientific but ....
Jennifer you make a great point, I feed ground chicken frames (they are called "chicken backs" in my part of the world, what is left after breast, wings & thighs are removed). I am very stingy with it for pups, adults less so.

Erika M.

Erika M.

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Reply with quote  #18 

Eileen Durante

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