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 it?
What Causes Bowed Legs in Puppies?
Is it normal for puppies to be bow legged? Breeders tend to think that bowing of the legs is genetic, but 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 these needed vitamins, minor minerals, calcium or phosphorus, the puppy is slow to calcify while the frame is still being built; soft bones are the result.
How Do I Know If My Dog is Bow-Legged?
Most issues start within five to 12 weeks of age as this is when babies are going through their fast growth stage. Often the breeder reports that the 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 this issue 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.
- Put on adult diet (not puppy food) and wean. Some large breeds are still nursing at this five to 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 doesn’t push them for maximum growth.
- 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.
If you see bowing of front legs, treat quickly or you will end up with permanently crooked legs!
If you have more questions on bow legged puppies, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.