Care & Cure in Puppyhood & Mobility Period

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Dr Shilpy Anupama Minz
A cute fur ball comes rolling your way, and you are mesmerised. You cannot take your eyes off him and you adopt him. Body weights of dogs range from a 1kg (Chihuahua) to a 100kg (English Mastiff). Growth and size after birth depends significantly on the breed and the first year of puppy is very critical period, irrespective of his size. –by Dr Shilpy Anupama Minz

Nutrition and exercise have substantial impact on the growth and may result in various pathological and skeletal conditions.

What are growth plates?
Growth or epiphyseal plates are cartilage bound to allow the bone to form and lengthen. They are in the long bones such as femur and tibia, a few millimetres away from the adjacent joint. It grows in the immature animal until he attains maturity. Once the animal is mature, the growth plates are not visible on the radiographs and growth ceases. The cartilage in the growth plate is replaced by bone, creating a total and bony skeleton.

Considerations affecting growth plates
Puppy growth is exponential until they reach their maturity age, depending on the size of specific breeds. Males take longer to reach adulthood than females, so their sustained and optimal growth needs must be considered.

Nutritional considerations
Diet: Most crucial factor for growing puppies. They should have sufficient diet which meets their daily energy requirements. Dietary imbalances are very common, and it is important to guarantee a dog’s diet is suitable for its age and breed. Resultant malnutrition from underfeeding causes stunted growth whereas overfeeding can result in obesity.

Calcium: Vital mineral for the development and maintenance of bone. An average adult healthy dog requires 0.1 to 0.2 mmol/L per day, whereas growing dogs require a higher level of calcium in their diet for bone growth. Increased levels result in hypercalcaemia and low levels causes pathological fractures because of osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Vitamin D: Critical for the growth of bones and calcium absorption.
This vitamin has a considerable role in maintaining the skeletal calcium balance that promotes bone reabsorption and subsequent function of the parathyroid hormone. Deficiency results in osteomalacia and rickets in all breeds.

Protein: Essential macronutrient for a dog’s growth. Puppy’s daily dietary protein requirement peaks at weaning and generally requires 22 to 23 percent of protein per day. Diet low in protein results in weight loss and retardation or cessation of growth. While increased protein results in skeletal abnormalities and become a potential contributing factor for joint problems like hip dysplasia due to increased development of the acetabulum and femoral condyles.

Phosphorus: Essential mineral in bone strengthening and structure formation. Phosphorus combines with calcium for bone development. It is imperative to maintain the calcium-phosphorus ratio to safeguard the adequate amount of calcium within the bones. Growing dogs are recommended to have a daily phosphorus intake of 2 to 3 mmol/L.

Environmental considerations
Home environment: Re-homing of puppies leads to environmental factors impacting its development.

In a new home, pet parents should avoid the use of stairs and playing on slippery surfaces as they have severe impact on growing bones and joints. Parents with young kids should careful when the children interact with the puppy to avoid injury. Young dogs’ bones are not fully developed and are unable to sustain stress or force due to their epiphyseal plates still being cartilaginous. Exercise must also be limited until dogs have reached maturity to prevent injury. It is advised that a dog is exercised for five minutes per month of age.

Neutering: Gonadal hormones are important as they regulate skeletal growth. Dogs reach adolescence and maturity between 6 to 18 months. But dogs are usually neutered between 6 to 24 months for behavioural and potential health causes. Neutering results in consequential decrease in gonadal steroid production and stunted growth through inhibition of hormones. Decreased levels due to early neutering, delays the growth plate closure and leads to elongated long bones. These elongated limbs result in altered function of muscular anatomy which predisposes the dog to muscle, tendon and ligament injuries and calcification.

Orthopaedic conditions related to growth plates
Fracture: Fractures are the result of trauma with differing severity. This condition leads to improper functioning of growth plates due to damaged cells. Affected animals exhibit pain and no weight bearing followed by slow development of angulation of distal part of the leg.

Traumatic damage to growth plates of radius – ulna: The growth plate is responsible for 90–100 percent of growth in length of ulna equally combined growth with the two growth plates of radius. Damage leads to uneven growth and bow formation of the joint.

Damage to growth plates of Tibia – Fibula: Usually if the fibula is affected, tibia will grow faster resulting in outside bowing of the hock. This is an uncommon condition.

Pan osteitis: Inflammation of the growing bone resulting in lameness in large breeds. German Shepherds are predisposed to this condition occurring between 5 – 14 months of age.

Hypertrophic osteodystrophy: Condition with open epiphyseal plates in growing large and giant breeds. Dogs affected show intermittent lameness, fever, and extremely painful and swollen joints. Vitamin C deficiency or Distemper are the causative agents.

Osteochondrosis: Occurs in young dogs.

Ocular skeletal dysplasia or hip dysplasia: Inheritable condition in Labradors, Samoyeds, and German Shepherds. These dogs show a ‘Downhill – conformation’ and various bone abnormalities.

Chondrodysplasia or dwarfism: Heritable disease characterized by severely shortened limbs with normal body length and skull.

(Dr Shilpy Anupama Minz is Group Product Manager – Canine – Animal Health Division, Himalaya Wellness Company, Makali, Bengaluru)

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