Food Quotas - Skeletal Development and Failure in labradors

Skeletal development and Failure in Labradors

This article is intended to heighten your awareness of the critical role nutrition plays in bone development and the control of skeletal disease in you Labrador. People will most commonly overfeed their puppy with the intention of maximising growth rates. However this does not contribute to balanced skeletal development in Labradors. The influence of food consumption on the incidence of skeletal disease is reduced when the dog owner practices a controlled dietary intake in their Labrador puppies. Skeletal failure is markedly increased in the dogs with excessive and exaggerated food intake. The HILLS BODY FAT INDEX should be your guide when considering food intake and body shape.

Skeletal development and failure in Labradors result from genetic, environmental and nutritional factors. The genetic factors are outside the control of a domestic dog owner. However it is critical to note that 'later life skeletal issues' are directly related to diet. By this I mean the type and the volume of food consumed by your Labrador pup from 8 weeks of age. Environmental issues such as housing, safety and activity levels are under your control as the dog owner, however nutrition is the single most important factor affecting development of the musculoskeletal structure of your Labrador. The balance between energy, protein and calcium is the critical nutritional factor affecting skeletal development. 

If they are given excessively and without balance, they can be detrimental to normal skeletal growth. We recommend a commercially available dog food like 'Eucanuba Large Breed' for your Labrador. It is a balanced and complete diet. Avoid feeding your dog table food. The majority of skeletal disorders occurring in large breeds like Labradors are associated with excessive intake and supplementation from the table.

The underlying role of nutrition is a critical but controllable factor. In a growing puppy, overfeeding can result in an imbalance between body weight, muscle development and skeletal growth. This will lead to the overloading of their skeletal structure.

Early development of CANINE HIP DYSPLASIA

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is the most frequently encountered orthopaedic disease in veterinary practice. This common disorder is often unseen and undetected in a growing dog. It might take up to 8 years to be manifested as a critical problem in an ageing dog. Early signs of the developmental of CHD, include joint laxity and coxofemoral anatomic changes.

Rapid weight gain in Labradors during the first 6 months after birth is directly associated with CHD at a later age. The severity of CHD is directly influenced by weight gain in growing dogs. Weight gains in Labradors exceeding breed standards have a higher frequency of, and greater severity of CHD than dogs with weight gain below the breed standards. The period from 3 to 6 months of age is the most critical in (unwanted) development of CHD. Overfeeding fast growing Labrador pups will cause the growth plates to fuse prematurely. Normal closure of the growth plates in pups occurs from 6 months and is complete by 14 months. Early fusion in the growth plates may result in bone/cartilage disparities in later life and predispose your dog to dysplastic changes. Limiting food intake in growing Labrador Retriever puppies has been proven to reduce the subluxation of the femoral head, hence resulting in fewer signs of hip dysplasia.


Osteochondrosis occurs in the growth cartilage. This disease can be generalised or systemic. It is more common among young, rapidly growing, domesticated dogs like Labradors, and is associated with age, gender, rapid growth rate and nutrition. Nutritional and dietary excesses can cause OCD lesions and there is increasing evidence that excessive calcium intake results in retarded bone maturation and cartilage maturation. There is a subsequent increase of bone and cartilage lesions.

Excessive Protein & Calcium Intake

Excess protein has been thought to be associated with skeletal disease. While not directly responsible for skeletal disease in the growing dog, protein consumed in excess of metabolic requirements is processed in the liver and used for energy. This results in increased plasma levels of insulin-like growth factors, and contributes to an increased rate of growth. If the essential amino acid requirements are met then there are no benefits to feeding excess protein to healthy growing dogs.

The minimum level of protein in a diet depends on digestibility, amino acid composition, proper ratios among the essential amino acids, and amino acid bioavailability from the protein source. Energy density of the food and the physiologic state of the dog play a role as well. A growth diet should contain more than 28% protein which will supply at least 16% of the dietary energy. Remember that in a normal healthy dog, dietary protein requirements decrease from 3 years of age.

Excess calcium is directed to the dogs bones. High intake of calcium in large breeds is directly associated with retarded bone maturation, a higher percentage of total bone volume and retarded maturation of cartilage. Calcium excess is a major contributing factor in the pathogenesis of skeletal disease in the growing of large breed dogs like Labradors.