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Growth in Dogs: What to Expect

If a young dog has joined your pack recently, you likely have questions about what the first year or so in her life will look like from a developmental perspective. When will she stop growing? What do those big paws really mean? Dr. Susan O’Bell, a primary care doctor at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, and Dr. Matthew Rooney, owner of Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists in Longmont, Colo. and a board-certified specialist in surgery, have the answers.

WHEN DO DOGS STOP GROWING AND HOW BIG WILL MY PUPPY GET?

Most dogs’ growth plates close at around 9 to 11 months of age, the doctors say. By that point you should have a good sense of your dog’s ultimate height and length, with giant breeds growing until they are a little over a year old, O’Bell says. Smaller dogs reach full growth a bit sooner, between six and eight months, Rooney says.

“Many medium and large breed dogs retain a ‘juvenile’ appearance for their first one to two years of life, but technically they aren’t still growing,” O’Bell says. So, although your dog’s demeanor and behavior can still appear juvenile, and sometimes their features retain that “puppy” look (with a coat of soft hair, rounded facial features and ears and a narrower chest), your dog should no longer be growing after it turns two.

If you know the breed of your dog or, better yet, the parents of your pup, you can estimate how large your dog will be from that, Rooney says. Otherwise, it can be tough. One of the best predictors of ultimate stature are your dog’s siblings, O’Bell says. If you can check out a previous litter of the same sire and dam, you will get a glimpse of your dog’s future size. “For purebreds, there are some general ranges available, so your dog’s ultimate size shouldn’t be a huge surprise,” she adds.

Unfortunately, while pet parents are quick to comment on the size of a puppy’s paws and ears, they don’t tell us much about how big a dog will be. “We often comment about how big a puppy’s paws or ears are, but these are not reliable indicators,” O’Bell says. Rooney agrees that, while a puppy can have ears or paws that seem too large or small for their frame at the time, they don’t indicate how big that puppy will become.

WHAT ARE SOME COMMON CONDITIONS TO BE AWARE OF IN GROWING DOGS?

“The most common concerns are orthopedic. Problems in the elbows, shoulders, hips and other joints mainly occur in larger dogs (50 pounds or more). Very small dogs can have hip or knee issues,” Rooney says, noting that most growing dogs will not be affected by these conditions.

Painful but short-lived bone inflammation, known as panosteitis, can affect young dogs and usually requires medication, O’Bell says. Large and giant breeds sometimes suffer from hypertrophic osteodystrophy, painful swelling of growth plates of the legs that is often accompanied by a fever. The condition usually resolves on its own, she says.

Some inherited and congenital conditions include hip dysplasia (when the ball and socket of the hip joint are not aligned correctly) and osteochondrosis (abnormal development of cartilage in the joints). Surgery is sometimes needed to correct these conditions, O’Bell says. Large breeds such as German Shepherds, Labradors and St. Bernards are among those prone to these conditions, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. If you see your dog limping or notice that one leg appears to be slightly twisted or angled, contact your veterinarian or a surgical specialist.

DO DOGS EXPERIENCE GROWING PAINS?

Puppies don’t seem to experience growing pains, O’Bell says. However, some orthopedic conditions like those described above can cause symptoms in young dogs, including: limping, an abnormal gait or stance, or reluctance to participate in normal activities. Sometimes there will be heat, swelling and/or pain around the affected areas. Some inflammatory conditions are accompanied by a fever, which can make your dog lethargic and dull her appetite, she adds.

She also notes that most puppies are more high energy than adult dogs and may be more prone to minor injuries from rough play that can cause temporary discomfort.

ARE CARE REQUIREMENTS DIFFERENT FOR A GROWING DOG?

All puppies should have periodic visits to their veterinarian, often three or four visits during their first year of life, O’Bell says. During these visits, your vet will assess your puppy’s growth, including weight gain and body condition. Use common sense when monitoring your young dog’s health by paying attention to her normal habits, raising any concerns you have with your vet and watching for signs of anything that seems off, Rooney says.

From a diet perspective, Rooney says to look for higher-protein dog foods to fuel your puppy’s growth. Large-breed puppies will also benefit from eating a large-breed puppy food because these products help prevent the too-rapid growth that increases their risk of developing orthopedic disorders. Your veterinarian can help you tailor your puppy’s diet to make sure she is gaining enough weight and receiving the proper amounts of nutrients, the doctors say. In addition to adequate protein, young dogs need higher amounts of fat than adult dogs and a proper balance of vitamins and minerals to support their growth and development. “Your veterinarian is an excellent resource if you have questions about selecting the most appropriate diet,” O’Bell says.

When it comes to exercise, puppies should have at least an hour of moderate activity a day, but anyone who has raised one or more puppies knows the right amount of exercise can vary, O’Bell says. Depending on the breed and age of your dog, she may be interested in or able to play for only a few minutes before needing a nap. Other puppies require longer periods of stimulation.

Strenuous exercise may pose only a theoretical risk to young dogs, O’Bell says, but she advises caution especially in large-breed dogs and those who may be predisposed to a condition such as hip dysplasia. “We wouldn’t want to damage their growth plates, especially when they are still growing,” she notes.

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