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Puppy Protein

By Lew Olson • January 2004 Newsletter
The issue of protein in puppies and growing dogs has become very controversial and various sources often give conflicting advice. Protein is often blamed for many orthopedic problems in growing puppies, including hip and elbow dysplasia, OCD and Panosteitis. As a result of excessive protein being blamed for these joint issues, it is often recommended to feed less protein to puppies, especially large breeds.

The article referenced below does not show protein as a problem, but rather states the importance of it in a dog’s diet. The need for a high quality protein is explored in puppies and throughout all stages of a dog’s life. While the article admits that not everything is known about protein and dogs, excess protein is not a problem given in amounts greater than recommended, as long as the quality of the protein is good.

“Protein nutrition is obviously still not completely understood, however it is an essential part of every dog’s diet. You can’t give too much protein in your dog’s diet; however quality not quantity makes the difference.”
To further confuse the issue, dog food companies are not only selling puppy diets, they have expanded their product lines to include large breed puppy diets. What I would like to explore in this newsletter is the validity of these concepts and the effects of protein on bone growth.
Large-Breed Puppies
“Dietary protein requirements are much higher for growing puppies than for fully grown dogs. In addition to supplying the protein needed to support protein turnover and normal cellular metabolism, protein is needed to build growing muscles and other tissues.”
“Research at the Purina Pet Care Center and at other facilities has shown that puppies fed inadequate protein do not grow as well and are more susceptible to health problems than those fed nutritionally complete diets. At the Pet Care Center, English setter puppies that were fed a low-protein diet showed stunted growth compared to puppies fed higher levels of protein. However, when the protein level was increased in the puppies at the Pet Care Center, the deficiency was corrected.”
“Concern about protein causing developmental bone problems in large-breed puppies has led some breeders to reduce the amount of protein they fed. However, in research published in 1993 based on studies of Great Dane puppies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, it was shown that dietary protein does not contribute to these problems.”
“Herman A. Hazewinkel, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor of veterinary medicine at Utrecht University, led the research that found no detrimental effects from protein levels up to 32 percent of the diet. However, puppies fed a diet of only 15 percent protein showed evidence of inadequate protein intake.”
“Too low protein decreases the growth rate of puppies and also their immunological response,” Hazewinkel says. “This is true for large- and small-breed puppies. An adequate protein level should be higher than 15 percent.”
“This study, conducted in young Great Danes during their first half-year of life, concluded that dietary protein increased to 32 percent does not negatively affect skeletal or cartilage development in these dogs. The research also confirmed that dietary protein did not have detrimental effects on liver and kidney functioning.”
So the conclusion of the above referenced research stresses the need for high quality protein to achieve the best growth and immune systems. No proof was found that protein amounts affect skeletal growth in any adverse, except when using too little or too poor quality.
This article reiterates that high protein does not cause OCD or HD, in either the hips or elbows:
Research into the growth of Great Danes (Nap RC, The Netherlands,) has shown that the protein level of a diet has no significant influence on skeletal development. High protein intake does not result in increased risk for OCD or HD, and there is no effect on the development in the longitudinal growth of the bone.”
Additionally, while protein does not cause orthopedic problems, other nutrients can.
“In addition to excessive calcium intake, researchers have shown that over nutrition can also initiate these disturbances in skeletal maturation and growth. An excess protein intake, without an excess of other nutrients revealed NOT to influence skeletal maturation and growth in growing Great Danes (Ref. 2).”
This would include supplementation of calcium to processed diets, or could occur when feeding raw diets to puppies that are more than 50% raw meaty bones. Calcium amounts are adequate in commercial pet foods, and a diet of no more than 40% to 50% raw meaty bones is an appropriate amount for a growing puppy. This article also concludes that certain breeds may require less calcium than others for proper growth:
“Disturbances of skeletal growth were also seen in research animals (Great Danes), which were energy restrictedly raised on a food with a normal calcium level (1.0~56 calcium on dry matter base, according to the requirements of dogs as followed by many of the manufacturers and owners for dog food preparation). Therefore we now advise to raise dogs, vulnerable for these skeletal diseases, on a balanced food with a calcium content decreased to 0.8 or 0.9% on dmb (dry matter basis).”
Further, the above article goes on to state:
“Therefore it is advised not to feed young dogs ad libitum or excessively, to prevent the development of (causative factors for) osteoartrosis. It is also common practice to advise a weight loosing programme to those dogs which suffer from osteoarthrosis as an aspect of conservative treatment or as an aid in surgical treatment of dogs with ED.”
It is not excess protein that causes joint problems, but over feeding dogs can contribute to arthritis and orthopedic problems. Please note that most orthopedic and joint problems are inherited, but puppies and dogs that are over weight have a greater chance of an increase in pain and discomfort, and the potential of developing orthopedic problems as younger animals and arthritis later on in their life.
And while some nutritionists recommend feeding more fiber than meat and protein for weight gain, this can also have consequences, as it can block absorption:
“The most obvious way to help a dog trim down is to feed it smaller amounts of food on its regular feeding schedule, and to make sure the dog is not being fed table scraps or getting into the food bowls of other dogs in the neighborhood. Owners may also choose a low-calorie “diet” dog food or food high in fiber, which may help the dog feel full without consuming too many calories. Too much fiber, however, can reduce the absorption of important nutrients.”
In conclusion, a logical response to feeding puppies would include:
– Use high quality proteins:
These include using premium brands of dog food, or if feeding a raw or home cooked diet, use as much variety in animal proteins as possible. Don’t skimp on the amount of proteins fed as these contribute to healthy growth, organ health and strong immune systems.
– Keep puppies and growing dogs lean.
Overweight and obese dogs have a much higher chance of developing arthritis and orthopedic problems.
– Don’t overdose the Calcium:
Do not supplement with calcium if you use a commercial diet. For raw diets, use 50% or less of raw meaty bones in growing dogs. For home cooked diets, supplement at no more than 800 milligrams per pound of food served.
– Don’t use high fiber diets for weight reduction:
Fiber, starches and grains can actually block certain nutrient uptake from the food served.
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