May 19, 2008 - Today’s advice comes from Dr. Susan Wynn, a nationally known holistic veterinarian and pet nutritionist.
Q: I am getting an English Mastiff puppy and I have some questions about what to feed him. I have read online a lot that english mastiffs should not be fed puppy food after eight weeks because it makes them grow to fast before their joints are ready to bear that much weight. Any suggestions about what to feed him would be greatly appreciated.
A: A large breed puppy grows extremely rapidly. Your average golden retriever, for instance, grows from 14 ounces to more than 65 lbs within one year – a 70-fold increase in size. Human beings take 18 years to accomplish the same thing! This rapid growth leaves large breed puppies vulnerable to tissue abnormalities during development, even while increased weight stresses these weakened bones and joints.
Over 30 years ago, researchers investigated the link between a puppy’s diet and the developmental orthopedic diseases that were becoming so common – “wobbler” disease, hip and elbow dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), and osteochondrosis dessicans (OCD). While protein did not seem to be a factor, excessive calories and unbalanced or excessive calcium levels were proven to negatively effect skeletal development in puppies.
We now know that puppies should grow slowly. While the rate of growth can be controlled with diet, the final adult size is controlled by genetics unless severe dietary deficiencies (usually from homemade diets) occur in the first year of age. As a basic rule of thumb, your puppy shouldn’t look round or fat. Previously, some breeders addressed this problem by feeding adult foods to large breed puppies. Maintenance diets can vary widely in their calorie contents and nutrient profiles, to the extent that some can mimic regular puppy diets and others will be nutritionally inadequate for puppies.
Some have undergone actual feeding trials according to standards of the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), but others have not, making them particularly dangerous for growing bodies. In general, we are looking for these characteristics in the best large breed puppy diets: Protein should be at least 27 percent on a dry matter basis (minimum 22 percent.)Fat should be restricted to 14 percent or less.
The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be 1:1 up to 1.3:1, and should constitute about 1 percent of the diet on a dry matter basis. Most will contain fiber, which limits the amount of calories that can be included.
The best ways to control rapid growth in large breed puppies are:
1. Feed a complete and balanced diet especially designed for them, (having fewer calories and appropriate calcium levels), until the puppy has reached at least 80 percent of the expected adult weight.
2. Feed in meals only – never allow a puppy to free feed.
3. Learn how to do a Body Condition Score and keep the puppy’s score around 4/9.
4. Do not add dietary supplements such as vitamins, calcium, or other minerals.
5. Exercise should be regular and moderate.
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