WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MY PUPPY'S GROWTH PLATES?
Updated: Aug 21
Understandably, many new puppy owners have never heard of growth plates and, therefore, have no idea why they are so important to their dog's health.
In fact, any damage to your puppy's growth plates, usually caused by vigorous exercising, twisting or falling whilst under a year old, can result in long term, painful damage to your puppy's health. Please read on to find out more...
WHAT ARE GROWTH PLATES?
When your dog is young, their body is still growing and developing. Their long bones are surrounded by soft cartilage tissue, mainly at each end, and this cartilage is what we commonly know as GROWTH PLATES.
To try and put it simply, cells in this cartilage divide rapidly, allowing your puppy's bones to grow longer as they physically develop. As your dog gets older and reaches the end of puberty, these growth plates close up and solidify. For smaller breeds this is usually at around a year old but for larger breeds, such as Newfoundlands, this might not happen until they are two years old.
WHAT CAUSES DAMAGE TO GROWTH PLATES & WHAT HAPPENS?
Injuries to your dog whilst these growth plates are still in the soft stage can cause long term damage and pain for them. The most common injuries to the growth plates are fractures caused by twisting or falling. Chasing balls, especially ones thrown from a ball chucker, can notoriously cause these kind of fractures.
Growth plate cells can be very fragile and physical trauma can cause them to stop dividing. This can sadly lead to bones not being able to grow to their full length, leaving one leg shorter than the rest. It can also cause 'crooked bones', where part of the growth plate stops dividing so part of the bone continues to grow whilst the rest is stunted where the cell division has stopped. This can be extremely painful for your dog.
HOW CAN I PREVENT MY PUPPY'S GROWTH PLATES BEING DAMAGED?
Many veterinarians advise owners to only allow their puppy vigorous exercise for 5 mins per month of age they are, twice a day.
For example, if your puppy is 4 months old they would get 20 mins, twice per day (4 months x 5 mins per month = 20 mins). If they are 7 months old they would get 35 mins, twice per day (7 months x 5 mins per month = 35 mins).
If you have a larger breed, please always speak to your vet for advice as their growth plates can take much longer to close than an average sized dog so the 5 minute rule will not necessarily apply to them.
MY PUPPY HAS LOTS OF ENERGY - I'M WORRIED THAT'S NOT ENOUGH EXERCISE FOR THEM?!
Many puppy owner's have this fear as their young dog seems to have boundless energy! It is important to know that dog's can be tired out as much by mental enrichment as by physical exercise. Mental enrichment can be far more rewarding for them too!
There are some really great books available to give you ideas of things to do with your puppy instead of simply just letting them run about or chase a ball. One of our favourites is 'Brain Games For Puppies' by Claire Arrowsmith.
You don't need to spend lots of money on mental enrichment toys for your puppy - it's amazing how much you can do with some treats, an Amazon box, an empty toilet roll tube and some old newspaper! If you need some inspiration, try Googling 'Home Made Mental Enrichment Exercises for Puppies' and see what comes up!
IS IT SAFE FOR MY PUPPY TO GO OUT WITH A DOG WALKER?
As you have just discovered, it is really important that your puppy is not over-exercised whilst their growth plates are still forming. If you need some extra help caring for your young dog whilst you are at work, please look for a dog walker who either offers 'puppy pop in' visits at your home, or shorter walks based on your dog's age.
My name is Tammie and I run Clan Canines, Edinburgh's premium dog adventure and home boarding service. At Clan Canines, we offer our own unique versions of dog walking, doggy daycare, puppy walking and dog boarding to the dogs of Edinburgh. Forget everything that most traditional dog walking companies offer, we provide unique services, tailored specifically to ensure that our Clan experience only the very best during their time with us!
For general advice on how to choose a dog walker, you can watch this Facebook Live video we made previously, giving hints and tips on what to look for and what questions to ask. If you'd like to know about our exclusive service for puppies in Edinburgh - our Clan Puppy Crusades - please click here!
Thanks for reading and enjoy this really special time with your puppy. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions!