September 1, 2011

Doggie Dining to Prevent Canine Hip Dysplasia

Posted in dog ownership, pets at 8:00 pm by Angie Hilbert

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is one of the most common health conditions affecting dogs. In the vast majority of cases, it is a completely manageable, treatable condition. But if you could do something to prevent it in your puppy, wouldn’t you?

The stud fathering my precious fur-baby has a right hip diagnosed with CHD. He has none of the pain or disability sometimes associated with the condition, nor do any of the affected dogs in his pedigree. To strengthen the litter’s genes, Judy our breeder at J&J kennels, is crossing him to a female with excellent hips. But knowing it is possible for a predisposition for CHD to be passed to our puppy, Wayne and I eagerly began to explore environmental factors that could help prevent the development of the disease.

Luckily, Denver Tucker and his fiancé, a veterinarian, Lori Fulco DVM contacted me with a little help. Not only have they researched Tamaskan Dogs and are already familiar with the breed, they also know Judy. Denver and Lori are getting their fur-baby-boy from the same litter Wayne and I are getting our little fur-baby-girl. What a wonderful opportunity to discuss the role of diet in preventing CHD with a vet that not only cares about holistic health and nutrition in general, but is knowledgeable about the Tamaskan breed and is deeply invested in the health of this particular litter. It’s her pup’s litter too. Lori was gracious enough to explore the issue with me at length:

Angie: Let’s start with the basics. What are the nutritional needs of puppies in general?

Lori: Puppies and adults need the same things nutritionally but puppies need them in larger amounts. Growth is a metabolically expensive process. It uses a lot of building blocks. Therefore, puppies use more energy (as calories) on a per weight basis to maintain growth and they need more protein to turn into muscle mass, organs, etc., and minerals (especially calcium and phosphorus) to turn into bone. The food chosen for our puppies should be able to meet all of these needs.

Angie: But our Tamaskan puppies will grow up to be big dogs. Don’t large breed puppies have special needs?

Lori: They do. The nutritional needs of large and small breed puppies mainly differ concerning their growth rates. You see, the skeleton of a large breed puppy, like ours, develops more slowly than that of a small breed. We don’t want them putting on weight faster than their bones can support it. To that end, when compared with a smaller breed, a large breed puppy is typically going to be getting less calories, protein and calcium, on a per weight basis, than a smaller dog. During the growth phase (about the first year) our dogs, should have a body condition score  of 2 out of 5. Round puppies are not a good thing!

Angie: So by careful weight management while they are growing, we can help our puppies’ hips develop normally!

Lori: Absolutely, because CHD is a skeletal disease where the head of the femur doesn’t fit correctly in the acetabulum of the pelvis, nutrition can have a direct impact on whether or not it develops during a puppy’s growth phase. Since a large breed puppy’s skeleton takes longer to grow compared to a smaller dog, you don’t want it carrying around extra weight it isn’t ready to support. This can cause malformations in joints and poor cartilage development.

Angie: And since we know that our puppies’ genetic background can tend toward compromised joint development, this is especially true for our pups, right?

Lori: It’s important that we insure our puppies’ nutrient intake is such that it limits growth to a safe rate for their joints to handle. Large breed puppy foods *should* be formulated with this idea in mind. However, it is still important for us to adjust the amount we feed per day to maintain a healthy weight. This could be more or less than what’s listed on the package.

Angie: Is there any danger that less protein in our puppies’ diet might limit their over-all growth potential or effect their final adult size?

Lori: Oh, not at all! The goal is to provide for controlled growth, not to restrict growth. What you’re effectively doing is matching your puppy’s weight gain to the growth rate of her skeleton. You’re aiming for a lean puppy, certainly not a starved one!

Angie: But what if we do all this and it doesn’t work? If our dogs do develop CHD, is there anything we can do to prevent them from experiencing pain or having physical limitations?

Lori: The major role of nutrition in confirmed cases of CHD is one of weight management. Heavy dogs have to deal with more weight on abnormal joints which results in more pain and discomfort. Keeping our dogs at their ideal weight will help alleviate some of that.

Angie: So the for prevention and treatment both, careful weight management is the key. It sounds like we’ll have to be careful picking out a good kibble. What do you advise?

Lori: The quality of the ingredients will determine the quality of the kibble. The protein source is something that gets talked about a lot. The better the quality of the protein, the easier it will be for our pups to digest.

Angie: So how do I know if my puppy food contains a high quality protein?

Lori: It should come in the form of meat with a name, like “chicken” “turkey” “beef” “salmon”, etc., and not something identified as “byproduct.” And it MUST be some kind of meat, not a grain like corn, wheat, etc. If the protein source comes in a meal form (like “chicken meal”) that’s fine, since a named meat meal is the same thing as the whole meat but with the water removed.

Angie: So a named meat source is the most important thing. But what should I know about grains and carbohydrates?

Lori: If your dog food includes grains (a controversial issue in itself) whole grains are better than gluten or byproducts. And things like rice and potatoes are better than corn.

Angie: What about fat?

Lori: The fat source should come from something identifiable (e.g chicken fat) instead of the generic term “animal fat.” Artificial colors and flavors aren’t necessary. A dog doesn’t care what color its food is and it should be palatable without any additional, man-made flavorings.

Angie: I’ve heard a lot about raw diets for dogs and thought I’d look into it deeper. What should I know before deciding whether or not it’s right for Paka?

Lori: Raw diets seem to be something people love to argue about. Although they do work as a long term diet, they are definitely more challenging to prepare so your pet doesn’t suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Nowadays there are commercially prepared raw diets that take the guess work out of it and save time since all you have to do is thaw the individual serving package. But one thing that does remain a concern is the possibility of contamination.

Angie: So it’s great for Paka and her short digestive system, but I’d have to be careful to protect Wayne and I from contaminants.

Lori: Since there is no cooking, which would destroy bacteria or parasites that might be infecting the meat you’re feeding, it’s important to wash everything that comes into contact with the raw meat (including your hands!) to avoid picking up possible pathogens.

Angie: If it can be dangerous to people, why do so many people promote it so vigorously?

Lori: Many people claim that raw diets solve all kinds of canine health problems, especially those concerning the skin and coat, teeth and GI tract. It’s true that a well balanced raw diet more closely mimics a dog’s natural diet. Of course, individual results may vary, and what works for one dog may not work for another. Anyone who’s considering feeding a raw diet really needs to do their research first so they don’t end up doing harm instead. Give Your Dog a Bone by Dr. Ian Billinghurst is a good place to start.

Angie: Are there any other ways to prevent CHD in our puppies? For example, I take a joint supplement to prevent arthritis since both my ACLs are snapped. Would that help our pups?

Lori: If the product contains only glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate and your puppy has no underlying metabolic diseases (such as diabetes, for example) then the supplement can be used lifelong with a minimal chance of adverse effects. That said, there haven’t been any studies that have proven that joint supplements will prevent hip dysplasia from developing. Genetics still remains the number one predisposing factor. If our dogs do get CHD, then joint supplements would reduce any clinical signs of hip dysplasia by helping to repair the cartilage in the joint.

Angie: Thanks, that’s a lot to think about. I really appreciate you taking so much time to discuss this with me. I am really grateful for your help and advice.

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