Everyone loves a puppy! And if you don’t, then I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends. But in all seriousness, it can get a little overwhelming raising a puppy, not only the changes made to your daily routine, but the frequent thoughts of whether you are making the right decisions for their health.
If often pays to go back to the start and look at what puppies are. They are not simply smaller versions of their adult breed.
The definition of a puppy realistically covers this little body from the second they are welcomed to the world, until they “reach full maturity.” But what does this even mean?
Whilst it is generally considered that maturity covers their skeletal development, certain small breeds may have reached skeletal maturity at 9 months of age, but still be underdeveloped emotionally.
For that reason, when we are raising our puppy, we need to support them both mentally and physically.
There is a huge variation between breeds, and it is puppyhood that is largely implicated in a range of skeletal issues.
Long bones are responsible for providing strength and structure to the body. The cartilage precursors to long bones are laid down during the foetal period and ossification is the hardening of bones which occurs until the animal has reached maturity.
Toy breeds are thought to reach full maturity between 6-12 months.
Small breeds are thought to reach maturity between 8-12 months.
Medium breeds like border collies and cocker spaniels are thought to reach maturity between 8-18 months.
Large breeds including german shepherds, Labradors and boxers are thought to reach maturity between 11-18 months.
Giant breeds to include Great Danes and St Bernard’s are considered mature by 24 months.
Different breeds will also undergo different periods of rapid growth, toy breeds from birth to 11 weeks, small from birth to 14 weeks, medium breeds from birth to 16 weeks, large breeds between birth and 18 weeks and finally giant breeds from birth to 20 weeks.
There are of course a range of factors that can affect the growth of a puppy, but nutrition is key.
Malnutrition can result in stunted growth, but over-feeding can result in obesity.
Obesity has a direct impact on joint and limb formation due to the increased force. Whilst pressure is necessary for the healthy development of bones and connective tissue, we’re back to Goldilocks again – we need just enough. Nutrient dense foods, as opposed to calorie-dense foods are more appropriate.
There is always a lot of attention paid to micronutrient balance in puppies, specifically large breeds. Because calcium is an essential nutrient in bone formation, historically calcium supplementation has been a trend. High levels of calcium is known as hypercalcemia and has been linked to skeletal abnormalities. Not only that but high calcium levels often lead to deficiencies in other nutrients like zinc (which as we know is a co-factor in many processes in the body, including the proliferation of cells).
Attention is also paid to the phosphorus ratio to calcium. The note to make is that organic sources of both minerals are slowly and less efficiently absorbed; so, in fresh fed dogs this is less of a concern in terms of excess. Phosphorus found in meat products however is more efficiently absorbed than that found in plants. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3884091/
Other nutrients relevant to skeletal development include vitamin D, vitamin A, copper, and as mentioned earlier zinc and manganese. Deficiency or excess in these have regularly been linked to abnormal orthopaedic development.
Protein is of course another key nutrient – protein is literally the building blocks of the body. Protein is made up of amino acids, and these amino acids are then used to build other things in the body. A diet low in protein is associated with weight loss, retardation and cessation of growth. Whereas a high protein diet too can lead to skeletal abnormalities. Protein is the main component of muscles, bones, organs, skin, and hair so opt for a moderate intake.
The other macronutrient vital for puppies is fat. The main component found in the brain, not only is fat used as an energy source but it is key to central nervous system function.
Myelin is crucial for the proper function of the central nervous system, and it contains a large quantity of fatty acids. Myelin encompasses nerves which allows them to fire efficiently. These nerves send messages back and forth between the brain and the body.
It is clear that inclusion of fatty acids in the dog’s diet aids cognitive function, learning and memory. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22916855/
Not only that, but dogs are much more efficient at using free fatty acids as an energy source than us humans.
There is often a hesitancy around fat, largely because in decades gone by, fat was thought to make people fat but high levels of any macronutrient will contribute to obesity, fat is merely the storage form of energy not used. But there are different types of fat.
Fatty acids can be saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. The difference is in their structure.
Saturated fatty acids contain no double bonds between the carbon atoms and are therefore saturated with hydrogen.
Monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond (mono=one).
Polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds (poly=many).
The more double bonds a fatty acid has, the less stable the molecule, which means it is more susceptible to oxidation, resulting in rancidity. This is why fish oils should be stored in a dark, glass bottle and why PUFA rich oils aren’t the best to fry your eggs with.
In dogs, the body has a requirement for two distinct EFA families. The Omega-6 and Omega-3 series.
Linoleic Acid (LA)
Arachidonic Acid (AA)
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
But there is often imbalance. In the modern day, dogs are seemingly consuming more omega-6 and it is clear that the ancestors of the domestic dog ate a diet much higher in omega-3.
Aggression in dogs is regularly associated with low omega-3 status and supplementation of omega-3 is noted to improve resiliency to stress. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17891468/ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12909818/
On the subject of stress, puppyhood can actually be quite stressful, for canines and human alike.
Whilst we want our puppy to experience what the world has to offer; we are conscious that it can be overwhelming. Our puppy’s resiliency to stress depends on a number of things.
Firstly, there is a direct link between maternal stress and puppy resilience. Stressed mothers are less likely to engage in grooming behaviour. Early and high licking behaviour is associated with increase play, exploration, and resilience to stress in the juvenile. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289514000125
Exposure to stressors does increase tolerance to stressful events, but they must be in moderation. It is often considered that stress effects are maximal in young organisms; they only modulate their responses through experience, so it is possible to see how appropriate support is essential for the puppy.
Chamomile is a fab relaxing herb, which is particularly relevant for the puppy exposed to the new world they find themselves socialising in. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/#:~:text=Chamomile%20in%20the%20form%20of,other%20sleep%20problems%20(33).
As we have established, there are crucial periods of growth for the puppy. They undergo rapid periods, but they hit skeletal maturity at different times, depending on their breed. Appropriate nutrition during this time is key, and when presented with food in its most organic form, the body knows exactly what to do with it.
But their brain and central nervous system also undergo a period of development. Fat is a crucial nutrient in brain development and ensures the efficacy of nerve communication between the brain and body. Low levels of beneficial fats are detrimental to the puppy. So, include appropriate omega-3 fatty acids!
Also, opt for nutrient dense over calorie dense food.
Much like us, puppies learn from their experiences, but new experiences can be stressful. Stress can be good, but too much of it can start to run amok. So, we need to control their exposure and help them develop resilience!
Written by Lisa Hannaby - Bsc. Psych. Hons, MSc Human Nutrition