Dogs face serious health problems, leading to potentially expensive vets’ bills for their owners, if they receive too much food and exercise as puppies, according to new research at Hartpury University.
Obesity, stunted growth, degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis are all among the potential conditions that may develop in dogs that are over-fed and over-exercised during the early stages of their lives, the study warned.
Hartpury University PhD candidate Georgia Lewis carried out the research with support from her tutors, Animal Science lecturer Aisling Carroll and Dr Alison Wills, senior lecturer in Animal Health.
Georgia said it was important that breeders, owners and veterinary staff were aware of the factors affecting a dog’s development to reduce the likelihood of issues arising in later life.
“Although there is such a wide variation in the size of different dog breeds – from a 1kg Chihuahua to a 100kg English Mastiff – nutritional and exercise advice for the first 12 months of life scarcely differs,” she said.
“It is crucial that growing puppies have a sufficient diet containing nutrients and vitamins that meet their high energy requirements.
“Resultant malnutrition from under-feeding can cause stunted growth, while overfeeding can result in obesity, which has a direct impact on joint and limb formation and can lead to conditions such as secondary osteoarthritis.”
Georgia, who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing Science degree, added: “In terms of exercise, owners should avoid allowing puppies the use of stairs and should also prevent them from playing on slippery surfaces to avoid harsh impact on growing bones and joints.
“Owners with young children should be especially mindful when the children interact with the puppy to ensure no injury is caused.
“Similarly, it is also advised that puppies within multi-dog households should be monitored when interacting with other dogs in the home.
“Young dogs’ bones are not fully developed and are unable to sustain stress or force, so exercise therefore must be limited until dogs have reached maturity to prevent injury. It is advised that a dog is exercised for five minutes per day, per month of age.”
Research activity at Hartpury spans all areas of animal, agricultural, equine and animal sciences and directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.