Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
We have been very aware of this with our wee Fern as she is still a growing pup.
Generally a good guide is to avoid all excessive exercise or activity until a puppy’s bones are mature and their growth plates have closed.
So what are growth plates and what is excessive exercise?
The long bones, like the upper and lower leg bones, the wrist and foot bones all have growth plates which grow bone and extend the length of these bones as your puppy matures. If these growth plates are damaged in any way during this phase, either by extreme activity or an accident, they will prematurely close and stop adding to the length of that particular bone. This can cause the affected bone to be shorter than the same unaffected bone on the other limb causing a conformational problem here and a limp. Or if there is damage to one of the paired bones, particularly on the front legs, then the result can be very debilitating. This is because one of the paired bones with the damaged growth plate will be shorter than the other bone, causing an angular deformity at the wrist and often a severe pain in the elbow joint.
Excessive exercise is anything beyond what a puppy still living with its mother and litter mates would do. A good guide is to allow 5 minutes of exercise per month of age of your pup up to twice day. So do avoid taking your puppy for extended forced exercise, like having your puppy run alongside you while you run or cycle. Also avoid extreme games like repeatedly throwing balls. Another activity to delay is extreme agility training. Trainers are well aware of the potential for joint and bone damage in puppies and will advise you to delay progressing to this level of exercise. Repeatedly concussive forces coupled with shearing forces are very damaging for delicate growth plates and delayed calcification areas.
So what age is mature?
In small breeds, this is around 9 - 10 months of age, for medium breeds it is 10 -11 months, for large breeds it is 12 - 14 months and for the giant breeds it is 18 - 24 months.
Also to ensure correct nutrition of your growing puppy, do use a Puppy growth diet appropriate for your puppies’ age, breed and size. An important point here is to not feed too much. If you overfeed at this stage then a puppy's growth rate can be extreme and this can also cause developmental problems.
So for your puppy’s good bone and joint health, hold back on any excessive activity during the growth phase. Instead use this time with lead walks and gentle exercise for some focused training and puppy socialisation. Also feed an advised, puppy growth diet at the correct amounts for their age and stage.
Have fun and look after and enjoy your puppy as it grows up into a happy and healthy adult dog.