Common Health Problems affecting Dogs and Cats

Veterinary advice from John Burns BVMS MRCVS

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Pet owners are naturally anxious to ensure that the growing puppy/kitten receives adequate levels of nutrients to sustain growth and development. Breeders and owners love to see plump, roly-poly puppies/kittens which seem to epitomise good health and proper care. In the same way, fat babies were once admired but this is now frowned on by health professionals.

In practice, more health problems result from over-nutrition than from lack of adequate nutrition. Although severe underfeeding will stunt growth, slight underfeeding during growth will actually reduce health problems in adulthood.

There is undisputed evidence that a high intake of protein and fat during puppyhood leads to skeletal disorders such as hip dysplasia, obesity and a shortened lifespan. Behavioural problems especially hyperactivity can often be attributed to the same cause. Skin disease which used to be seen mostly in older dogs now seems to be prevalent in the young dog also.

In spite of this, most proprietary pet foods for growth have very high levels of protein and fat and this is even promoted as a virtue. (The adverts may even say “The first ingredient is meat! ! !) The key to having a healthy puppy is to feed enough of a natural and easily digestible diet to ensure a slow rate of growth rather than for the puppy to shoot up. A puppy which grows slowly will still realise its growth potential but may take a little longer to reach full size.

The needs of puppies vary tremendously so recommended feeding amounts should be treated with suspicion. Good judgement and experience are better guides.

Some problems of the growing dog

Although many health problems/weaknesses have a hereditary basis correct diet can minimise the effect of these inherited weaknesses. Weakness of the digestive system, as in the German Shepherd or a tendency to develop eczema as in the West Highland Terrier can be avoided by a correct diet. Hip dysplasia has been shown to be aggravated by incorrect diet during growth and it is likely that other developmental disorders of the sleleton are diet-related.

Developmental problems are less significant in the cat because of the proportionally smaller size.

Exercise and the growing dog

Some health care professionals advocate that puppies should not be exercised as this will damage the developing bones and joints. This makes as little sense as recommending that children should not have exercise until adulthood.

Exercise promotes good muscle tone, and well-developed bones and joints as well as providing social interaction. As mentioned above, developmental defects of the skeleton are caused, not by exercise but by poor diet.



Common pet health problems
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