Bowed legs in weaned puppies – what is causing it?

Bowing of the legs has always been an occasional issue with fast growing large breed or heavy breed dogs. What causes bowed legs and how does one treat?

What causes long bone bowing?

Breeders like to make bowing of the legs genetic and except for the genetics built in these breeds to grow fast, genetics is seldom the cause. Fast growing puppies, especially the heavy breeds, have considerable pressure on the long bones of the legs while they are growing. The scaffolding of protein and cartilage is laid down at the growth plate and that frame work is soft and will bow to pressure. Behind that frame calcium and phosphorus with other minor minerals use vitamins to make solid bone. Vitamin D gets calcium and phosphorus from the gut into the body and Vitamin C gets calcium and phosphorus into the bone. If the diet is short on any of the vitamins, minor minerals needed or calcium and phosphorus, the puppy is slow to calcify and the frame is still being built; soft bones are the result.

Clinical signs

Most issues start within 5-12 weeks of age as this is when babies are going through their fast growth stage. Often the breeder reports legs look okay in the morning but by the end of the day they can see bowing on the front legs. The pressure of romping and jumping all day causes the long bone to bow. With early detection you can correct with the right vitamin/mineral supplement.

Early detection and prevention is key

The problem with bowed legs is that your baby is growing faster than your diet is allowing.
  1. Put on adult diet (not puppy food) and wean. Some large breeds are still nursing at this 5-12 week stage and milk is all calcium! A maintenance diet or giant breed diet will not push growth. Limit the protein and slow the scaffolding growth slightly until we catch up. The maintenance diet will not make them thin while treating for a short time; it just does not push them for maximum growth.
  2. Give Breeders' Edge® ORAL CAL PLUS at twice the labeled dose two times a day for two or three days. Then move to Doc Roy's ® HEALTHY BONES supplement during growth period. Have the next owner get HEALTHY BONES before the puppy goes home to keep the puppy on HEALTHY BONES vitamin mineral supplement for 8 months until growth plates close. We want to prevent reoccurrence of this issue especially when the puppy is not in your hands to correct.
  3. Feed HEALTHY BONES twice a day for two weeks and then once a day. We catch them up using gel or injectable then keep them laying Ca/P down with oral supplement! Remember if you just use Calcium without Phosphorous/Zink and Vitamin D, C and other minor minerals the condition just gets worse. That is why we weaned. Everything must be balanced to correct bone growth; we are just replacing all that is needed to catch up.
  4. Limit exercise until bone is hardened as you want the bone to heal straight not crooked. Pressure from romping and running bows the long bone while soft. Usually one week does it. They bow to the pressure while soft.

If you see bowing of front legs, treat quickly or you end up with permanently crooked legs! ORAL CAL PLUS and HEALTHY BONES are a quick fix for a puppy that is trying to outgrow their current diet. HEALTHY BONES won't correct a problem diet but it will minimize any negative effect a deficient diet has on growth.

- Dr. B



The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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