I recently added a fluffy bundle to the pack after 10 years without a puppy. I have high hopes for finishing her AKC championship, as well as trialing her in competitive obedience. Since many shows are cancelled due to COVID, and I plan to take a few years to finish obedience training prior to trialing, my main focus right now, in addition to socialization, is protecting her growing joints and tissues.
I want to ensure she develops properly and hopefully avoid preventable injuries along the way. Not only are orthopedic rehabilitation and surgery expensive, joint damage can end a dog's performance career quickly and painfully.
While genetics play a large role in the likelihood of joint disorders, the suggestions below are a few controllable factors to increase your puppy's chances of having healthy joints for life.
Provide Appropriate Exercise - Socializing and training your puppy should take priority, but avoid these activities until your puppy's joints are mature (at least 1 year for small breed dogs and up to 2 years for larger breeds): Dog parks, long games of fetch, running, walking long distances or any forced exercise.
Some examples of puppy-safe activities could include: Sessions of trick or obedience training, short walks or 1-on-1 puppy playdates with another similarly-sized puppy. Offering a chew is mentally stimulating for puppies and can wear them out just as much as physical exercise!
Watch Weight Gain - Puppies that carry extra weight are adding stress to their immature joints. Weigh your puppy often and learn how to asses proper condition by feeling a slight fat cover over their ribs.
Delay Spaying or Neutering - In the last 5 years there has been more conclusive research about the benefits of waiting to spay or neuter puppies until after the age of 6 months. One of the most pronounced implications is the reduction of joint disorders later in life. Read more here:
Feed a Balanced Diet - Puppies need specific ratios of vitamins and minerals as they grow, especially calcium and phosphorous. If you are not feeding a kibble diet made especially for growth, be sure to work with your vet or nutritionist to ensure all puppy's needs are met. I do not suggest attempting a raw or homecooked diet if you haven't done proper research, especially when a dog is still growing.
As much as I wish they could be, not all joint injuries can be prevented. While this list is not a guarantee, it may give you a few ideas to implement as your puppy grows up!