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Tips for Maintaining Your Labrador Retriever Puppy’s Joint Health

The Labrador Retriever is consistently ranked as one of the most popular dog breeds in the country, and for good reason! Not only are these dogs beautiful but they are also some of the friendliest, most loyal dogs you will ever come across. Unfortunately, Labs are also a large-breed dog which predisposes them to a number of serious bone and joint disorders, especially if they grow too fast.

Growth-Associated Bone Disorders in Labs

Large-breed dogs like the Labrador Retriever generally take longer to reach their adult size than small-breed dogs, simply because they don’t have as far to go. Puppies require plenty of protein in their diet to help with the formation of muscles, bones and joints. With a proper diet, Lab puppies can grow very quickly, often gaining several pounds in a single week. What many Lab owners do not realize is that there is such a thing as growing too fast. If your Labrador puppy grows too quickly it could put extra strain on his developing bone and joints which could predispose him to joint problems later in life. Here’s an overview of some of the growth-related bone and joint disorders seen in the Labrador Retriever breed:

  • Hip Dysplasia – A very common joint condition in Labs, this is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, causing the head of the femur to slip out of place. Look for gait abnormalities, hopping, or limping.
  • Osteoarthritis – A form of degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis affects 20% of dogs, especially large dogs with stocky builds like the Labrador Retriever. Look for changes in gait, signs of painful movement, and unwillingness to run or jump.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – Similar to hip dysplasia, this condition occurs when the elbow joint degenerates or doesn’t form correctly, leading to changes in gate and eventual lameness. Look for front limb stiffness, lameness, or a stilted gait.
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans – This condition occurs when cartilage grows and thickens instead of calcifying into bone and it can lead to lameness if not treated. Look for mild to moderate lameness that progresses slowly.
  • Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy – When calcified cartilage cannot be penetrated by vessels coming from the bone marrow it can lead to tissue death and excess mineralization. Look for sudden onset lameness and pain in all four limbs.

Tips for Healthy Bones and Joints in Labs

One of the easiest things you can do to protect your Lab puppy against bone and joint problems is to feed him a large-breed puppy formula until he is 12 months old. Because large-breed puppies need to have their growth controlled, these formulas contain enough protein to support growth and development but not so much that it will cause your puppy to grow too quickly. These formulas also contain controlled amounts of calcium because, while calcium is important for strong bones and joints, excessive calcium consumption can lead to an increased risk for skeletal disease in puppies. In addition to carefully choosing what you feed your Lab puppy, you should also be careful about how much you feed him. Follow the feeding guidelines on the package and track your puppy’s growth to make sure he is growing at a healthy rate.

While choosing the right diet for your Lab puppy is essential, there are other things you can do to protect his bone and joint health. Avoid strenuous exercise for your puppy until he is fully growth because too much exercise can also have a negative impact on his bones and joints. Consult your veterinarian before making changes to your puppy’s diet and before engaging your dog in any vigorous exercise, just to be safe.

Photo credit: RobotEwok/Flickr