A funny think happened on my bike ride yesterday. It ended abruptly with a mechanical problem. Fortunately I was near my friend Jane's house and when I walked up to beg for a ride home I was nearly bowled over by a one year old Bernese Mountain Dog.
I had been hoping to meet Jane's new puppy but not exactly like this. Well, Jane was not far behind and, after much laughing and dancing around, was able to separate me from my new found friend; Max.
Jane said, "I'm so happy to see you, Larry. I have several questions about Max that I've been wanting to ask you." Max was still excited, and still acting like the pup. Jane had rescued him from a rancher who didn't have the time to raise him. At one year old, he was still frisky and a bit wild.
One of her biggest concerns, she said, was hip dysplasia and she had a reason to be concerned because large dogs are more often victims of this disease.
"I'm happy to help out, Jane," I said. Then, I explained the basics of the disease to her and she asked several questions, first and foremost , "How can I prevent hip dysplasia from happening?"
So, we talked about the genetic nature of the problem and how in some cases it's just impossible to prevent. And yet, reputable breeders have made important strides in helping reduce the occurrence of this dreaded disease by selective breeding of dogs with good hips and no history of the problem.
"However," I cautioned, "it still happens and it is a cause for concern with all large breed dog owners."
Here's the reality - there are actions you can take to decrease the expression of this genetic condition (vet speak for preventing the disease from showing up).
At Purina we did a fourteen year study on Labrador Retrievers and found that the way you feed large breed puppies can have a big influence on the health of bones and joints throughout their lives, including whether or not they develop joint problems like hip dysplasia.
It turns out that it is very important to be careful not to feed these pups too much, allowing them to become overweight during the growth period. Seems like rapid growth spurred on by too many calories can actually increase the devlopment of bone and joint problems in large breed puppies. It is vastly preferable to keep pups on the lean side during growth.
How can you tell if you are doing that? You have to watch what and how much you feed and, most importantly, keep an 'eye' and a 'hand' on your dog. Try to find a diet made specially for large breed puppies. These diets have the right amount of vitamins, minerals and protein for growing dogs but are lower in calories to help slow the rate of growth down.
Start with the recomended feeding amount on the bag, but bear in mind that this may be too much or too little for your pup. So in most cases you'll have to adjust the amount you feed. That's where you come in - with that watchful eye and a helping hand.
And as far as keeping an eye and a hand on your dog, this is the best way to monitor their body condition. Take a look at this chart. Can you rub your hands over your large breed puppies rib cage and easily feel their ribs? Can you look down on them from above and see a noticeable hour glass figure with an indentation behind the ribs? If so your pup is in good body condition, you are feeding the right amount, and he's on his way to healthy growth and hopefully healthy hips.