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Developmental Orthopedic Disease

You may be wondering why there are special diets for large and giant breed puppies. This article explains the science behind these specially formulated diets.

Developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) is a problem that is of much greater significance to large breed puppies than small or medium breed. There are multiple problems that fall under the title of “Developmental Orthopedic Disease”, the most common of which is hip dysplasia. Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) is becoming more common. This is the type of DOD that affects the shoulder, stifle, hock, and elbow. Genetics is the most important factor contributing to DOD. DOD is the reason behind the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or OFA, a non-profit organization that screens radiographs and maintains a database of breeding animals. Reputable breeders register their breeding stock with the OFA. OFA registers animals for their hips, elbows, shoulders, and stifles or knees. Hips and elbows are common sites of abnormalities in large breed dogs.

Environmental factors are thought to play a part in the development of this problem as well. This is the science behind diets designed for large breed puppies. Diets that promote rapid growth by providing high energy levels are detrimental to the orthopedic health of dogs. Energy is provided to the dog primarily through fat in the diet, but also through protein. You will notice that diets for large breed puppies have lower fat and protein levels than regular puppy diets. Another key factor is the calcium level in the food. Calcium in large breed puppy diets should be between 0.7% and 1.5% on an as fed basis. (Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition) More calcium than this is too much for a large breed puppy. Calcium supplements are unnecessary and will likely cause problems. Many people insist on feeding their puppies a vitamin/mineral supplement that contains calcium or even a pure calcium supplement. This does not help the puppy! Calcium levels in puppy foods are regulated by AAFCO, setting the maximum at 2.5% on a dry matter basis. Since this level was established, the incidence of DOD related to excess calcium intake has been blamed on supplements, not diet. Puppies eating a commercial product designed for their life-stage do not need supplements of any kind.

Hip dysplasia is a descriptive term for an abnormality of the formation of the hip or coxofemoral joint. The ball part of the joint (head of the femur) does not sit properly in the socket part of the joint (acetabulum). During locomotion, the femur can slip in and out of the socket or move abnormally within the socket, causing friction. Friction in a joint is never normal and leads to a change of the shape of the components of the joint, bony growth on the edges of the joint, inflammation within the joint, and pain.

Treatment for hip dysplasia is complex. Some dogs with mild cases of hip dysplasia don’t develop symptoms of arthritis pain for several years. At this point, supplementation with natural joint protectants (glucosamine, chondroitin, perna canaliculus) is sometimes enough to manage the problem. Pain relief medications may need to be used in addition to joint protectants. If the problem progresses, surgery may need to be performed. Hip replacement surgery can be done in some cases. It is extremely costly but completely resolves the problem by replacing the abnormal joint with an artificial joint. Another option is to remove the head and neck of the femur, thus eliminating the joint entirely.

In young animals diagnosed with hip dysplasia, surgery may be performed to help protect the joint. Triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) is a procedure that involves cutting the bones of the pelvis, repositioning them, and using bone plates and screws to put it all back together.

Another common type of developmental orthopedic disease is elbow dysplasia. There are several types of elbow dysplasia: fragmented medial coronoid, un-united anconeal process, and OCD of the humerus. All require surgical repair and depending on the severity, prognosis for full recovery may be guarded.

Osteochondrosis dissecans is an abnormality of the maturation of the cartilage of the joint surfaces. The cartilage does not form properly, leading to defects. These defects are flaps of cartilage that can break off and float around in the joint. This is called a joint mouse. Surgery is required to remove the flap, curette the lesion, and flush the joint. Prognosis is good to guarded, depending on the severity of arthritic change that has already occurred in the joint.

Obviously, prevention of this disease process is much better than treatment. In addition to genetic factors, nutrition has been found to play a role in the development of developmental orthopedic diseases. Excess energy (in the form of fat, especially) and excess calcium contribute to excessive growth and an inability of the joints to form properly. Often, people want to give their puppies vitamins or even calcium supplements. This is not necessary and can be harmful. High quality puppy diets are formulated to meet all the nutritional needs of a growing puppy. If you have a large or giant breed puppy, ask your veterinarian to help you monitor growth to help prevent the problem of developmental orthopedic disease. Maintaining a lean body condition is important to the joint health of your puppy into adulthood.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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