By Kirsty Williamson

This is an account of an experience that I had a few years ago with a 7mth old puppy dog. This experience totally changed my views and methods of feeding. I wanted to share this with you to try and prevent the same fate befalling your promising puppy.

I have had dogs and other livestock for as long as I can remember and have always fed them the best and most suitable that I could afford. My puppies were reared on a top quality premium complete puppy food with a protein level of 30%. They looked extremely well and were well grown with good bone. My dog puppy won BPD at his first open show 6 mths of age and encouraged I entered him for a championship show. I was most disappointed when I was placed 4th of 4. The judge, a very well known allrounder told me that he had thought my dog an easy class winner until he moved when he was apparently flicking a hind leg in a peculiar fashion. I came out of the ring in disbelief but am, in hindsight, very grateful to the judge for bothering to have a discreet word with me.I asked someone to run him up for me, the judge was correct in his description as Murphy flicked his left hind leg out at a peculiar angle after picking his foot up to follow through.

My own vets initial fears and those of my own were that we had a serious hip problem which in a 7 mth old puppy is a horrific thought. his hips were duly x-rayed and much to my relief no major abnormalities showed up and so we were referred to an orthopaedic dog specialist to try and pinpoint the cause of his abnormal hindgait.

The specialist hospital was situated one and a half hours drive from where I live and I set off with a degree of trepidation, not knowing what to expect. The one thing that I did know did little to cheer me , the cost of the specialist was £150 per hour without any x-rays or treatment. The team at the hospital were great and I was asked to move my dog at different speeds and on different surfaces before ascending a very steep set of stairs. Initial assessment complete I was asked to leave my dog for further investigation under anaesthetic, as he wouldn't be able to come home until late afternoon I drove home and had a worrying day until it was time to return and collect him.

Murphy came out of his anaesthetic well and the nurses had fallen in love with his irish charm, I was summoned into a side room and can remember my heart beating a faster rhythmn than normal.The specialist had been very thorough and had re x-rayed all his hind asssembly as well as subjecting his hips to severe palpation whilst still under anaesthetic. The good news was that his hips were rock solid and could not be dislodged despite the surgeons best efforts, this dog will never have a problem with his hips was indeed music to my ears. He then put x-rays of his left leg onto the viewing screen and to my disbelief his left femur was bowed out, rather like a chicken wish bone, which was then putting additional strain on his hock joint, he was therefore flicking the leg out to compensate, mystery solved. Cause? The specialist was in no doubt, excessive protein in the diet which the dog had been unable to cope with had caused an abnormal growth spurt causing the leg to bow out. He explained that he saw an awful lot of young dogs in all breeds and cross breeds suffering from developmental, skeletal problems caused by an excess of protein in the diet. He reccomended that all young dogs should have their protein level reduced to 24% or less when they reach 6 mths of age. This slows down the growth rate and allows the muscles to develop to support the skeleton. It makes sense if you take a minute to think about it!!Finding a feed company whose puppy/junior diest have a protein level of less than 24% is extrememly difficult and the suggestion was to feed a low protein adult maintenance diet.Careful exercise, including swimming would help build up the muscle around the area but the prospect of a return to a normal gait was guarded.

I duly took my boy swimming, again not cheap, initially starting at 3 times a week with the aim of reducing this to once weekly once his Pointers_2006_047muscle had been built up. The swimming was great, I soon learned to wear full waterproofs as i am sure Murphy's aim was to get me as wet as possible, he enjoyed it after the initial horror and soon muscled up. I reccomend swimming to anyone with a setter with a problem or just to tone for that special show. Murphy recovered well until there was hardly a flick and i enjoyed success at open and champ shows with him. it was however an expensive lesson as although his insurance covered the specialist it did not cover the swimming.

I have since because of this and other feeding issues done a lot of research into feeding and am now feeding my dogs the BARF diet which is basically raw meaty bones etc. My dogs look really well have excellent coats and teeth and I wouldn't go back .I reared a litter last summer using this method and all did really well. have lovely bone and are well grown. The two I kept have grown slowly but surely and haven't gone through a leggy, lanky stage which I have had in the past, they also have not had the large, knuckly knee joints which I have been told is due to growth, possibly the joint growing too quickly?!

To conclude and give food for thought for the discerning breeders amongst you. We endeavour to only breed from sound and healthy stock but we must also be aware of the part that environmental factors play in how well the carefully bred pup develops which is something that we can if we wish have a degree of control over.


Kirsty Williamson


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