All puppies have very rapid growth patterns when you stop to consider they start very, very small and within just two short months they are ready to head out to their new homes, leaving behind the comfort and security of their litter and their mother. Giant breeds of puppies really aren't that much bigger than the medium and large sized puppies when they are first born, but they do quickly become taller and heavier with faster growth and body development.
Since this rapid weight and height increase occurs at a time when the puppies are still relatively small, a lot of pressure and stress can be placed on the skeletal structure and muscles of the body. This is often focused on the joints of the legs, both front and hind quarters, and may be somewhat similar to growing pains that human children experience when they are a few years old. Since more serious conditions can occur that permanently damage the dog's joints and bones and owners need to be aware of how to properly feed and exercise these giant breed puppies until they are fully grown. Generally for all dog breeds the greatest amount of growth is in the first six months of life, so this is the time frame that is most critical.
There is a great deal of controversy, even among researchers, vets and breeders about what type of diet is best for giant puppies in the first six months. In 1974 a research project on Great Dane puppies seemed to indicate that feeding a lower protein, lower energy and lower mineral and supplement diet reduced problems with hip dysplasia and skeletal problems once the dogs reached maturity. This dramatically changed how breeders fed and recommended feeding of all giant breeds to their puppy buyers. This research project has now been found to have had some design errors that may have lead to inaccurate conclusions by the researchers. Newer diet testing programs with larger breeds have not replicated the findings of the original research, yet the information is still used today.
There is no doubt or question that during the very rapid growth stage these puppies go through adding too high a protein or energy diet will result in actually accelerating the growth rate. When this happens the bones are simply not able to support the additional weight, resulting in breaks, hairline fractures and joint problems, especially in the weight bearing areas of the skeleton. Since the weight bearing bones are the longest bones in the body, they are at greatest risk for malformations or breaks when additional weight and pressure is applied. There is also some research to suggest that the rest of the internal organs and the overall health of the puppy is going to be more at risk and more stressed when there is additional weight. Keep in mind the heart, lungs and circulatory system is also growing and developing at this time. Additional body mass and weight requires does also increase the demands on these body systems.
Historically and still commonly, advice has been to feed giant breed dogs only maintenance type adult dog foods. The biggest problem with this option is that the food may not be fully digestible for the puppy and it may not provide all the additional supplements, vitamins and minerals needed for optimum muscle and bone growth. These minor deficits in the diet can result in huge complications later on in the dog’s life. In addition providing a mineral supplement can also be potentially dangerous, especially if too much calcium or other minerals are fed. This imbalance can lead to growth problems, bone weakness and problems with the other systems in the body.
Many researchers and vets are now recommending feeding a very high quality puppy growth food that is specifically designed for giant breeds. It is more important to monitor the puppy's actual weight and physical condition than it is to feed according to the instructions on the bag. Feeding the right amount takes a bit of adjustment, however if you start with the recommended daily feeding of the giant breed puppy food you can either adjust up or down to keep your puppy on the normal weight and growth curve for the specific breed. This information should be easily available from a breed organization, the breeder, or your vet.
Avoid feeding any supplements unless there are specific reasons to do so based on the breed or on treatment plans for health conditions. Dogs, unlike people, will get everything they need from a highly nutritious, balanced food. Feeding raw meaty bones, vegetables and fruits are also an option and many breeders now recommend these BARF or raw diets. If you are feeding a raw diet you also have to monitor the growth of the puppy but you may also need to supplement, so be sure to talk to a vet that is familiar with this type of diet and feeding routine.
Exercise for the very rapidly growing giant breed puppies is another concern. All dogs need to have routine walks, ideally at least twice a day, and longer walks are the best option. Avoid any type of intensive type activity, although the dog may seem big enough to run and play for hours this stress on the bones, joints and muscles can be doing serious damage. If your dog is playing with other pets limit the play time but don’t avoid all play, this is an important part of socialization and emotional development for the puppy. Avoid any tricks or commands that include jumping up or down or that include any type of leaping. These types of movements put a huge amount of stress on the long bones of the legs and may simply cause the bones to snap.
Jogging with most large breed puppies is never recommended until the puppies are closer to one year old. Keep in mind that some giant breed dogs won't fully mature until 2 years, so this means a fairly lengthy time for exercises monitoring. Once fully mature these dogs can be highly athletic and very activity, however most are relatively calm dogs that are only moderately active.