By Dr. Roger L. DeHaan

Raising a new puppy is never easy. There are some important do's and don'ts. In fact, the health and enjoyment of your puppy may hinge on getting the right start in life.

Here are some important steps you can take to help prevent certain chronic diseases-like hip dysplasia, arthritis, and hypothyroidism. Most of the large breeds, for instance, are more prone to hip dysplasia and arthritis. But the latest research indicates that you can lower the risk. Suppose you are committed to getting a German Shepherd, and you know the breed's weaknesses: hip dysplasia and arthritis. Or you have wanted a Doberman since you were a child, but you find out that 70% of the breed end up with immune deficiencies and thyroid deficiencies-not to mention weak hips. What can you do? Are there preventative measures you can take?

My first advice, with any breed, is to be practical: check out the breed, the temperament, the health status, and if possible the parents--before you commit. Make your decision with your head, as well as with your heart. Just this week I examined a 6-month-old purebred dog with an undershot jaw, a grade III heart murmur, given three to six months to live by the experts. The owners discovered the problem on the first health exam-but were already "in love". They came to me for "nutritional counsel", to help extent "quality of life". They had failed to properly check out this puppy before making this heartbreaking "commitment".

After answering the question of which breed, then deciding on which pup, you now have a third vital decision: which food? This is no simple decision. First of all, every manufacturer claims to have the best "100% complete" food for your dog. That is impossible. Every breed has a different genetic pool, and a different country of origin, and therefore was raised originally on foods different from those ingredients you find in the fancy bag or can of food. There is no one perfect food for every dog.

For instance, the Chihuahua is a Mexican breed, raised originally on tropical fruits and rodents. The Chow was developed in China on mainly a vegetarian diet. The Great Dane had a high fiber diet, with whole grains and cabbage predominating. The temperamental Lhasa Apso was fed yak, mountain goat, and Llama in the temples of Tibet. The Portuguese Water Dog subsisted on a high fist diet. The Weimaraner adapted to the unique soil minerals of Weimaraner County in Germany. And the German Shepherd has a shorter digestive tract than any other breed-meaning he will need fiber to slow down the food passage through his gut to benefit from maximum assimilation of the nutrients.

Not one of these breeds were developed on the modern commercial dog food. They were all developed on whole foods, much of it raw, indigenous to the area of origin. Recognize that diseases encountered in today's modern breeds may be due to their inability to adapt to "foreign foods", by-products, chemicals, and additives presently included in the commercial foods. Have you considered that possibility? Hardly anybody is working on that concept, and I believe it is a very serious oversight!


In Europe where most of the large breeds have been developed, the canine diet is considerably different from the United States. The dogs grow slower, they are leaner, and they have less bone problems than we do here: less hip dysplasia, less arthritis, less Osteochondritis Dissecans, and less Panosteitis.

A consensus is growing among researchers and nutritionists that our diets are too rich, and that we feed our dogs too much. Dr. Braden, researcher and expert on hip dysplasia at the MSU Veterinary School, recommends the large and giant breeds switch from puppy to adult food by five weeks of age. He is telling breeders and veterinarians that we must lower the protein and stop the rich snacks and excess minerals that force too quick growth. Bigger is NOT better. He is convinced there is no gene called "hip dysplasia", but that it is a nutritional and metabolic problem-and probably preventable. This is my belief also.

For the large and giant breeds (60 pounds and up) I presently recommend the following:

  1. Give scheduled meals and do not overfeed!
  2. The maximum protein level should not be over 23% in most cases.
  3. If you have a puppy presently on the high protein (28 to 30%) and the growth rate is too rapid, drop down to a 17 to 20% protein for a month, to slow growth; then go back to a diet not over 23%. There are some exceptions. 
  4. Select a natural diet with whole grains and no by-products, preserved with vitamin C and E, (two vitamins essential in helping prevent the problems under discussion). The FIRST ingredient should be REAL MEAT; not junk meat by-products.  Nix on soy anywhere in the diet.  Soybeans are a CHEAP and inferior protein sources for carnivores. 
  5. Supplement a small to moderate amount of raw vegetables (carrots, broccoli, greens, summer squash etc.) to slightly increase the fiber, plus having the advantage of raw enzyme factors. Give approximately 1 to 3 tablespoons per each 30 pounds of the dog's weight. Above that amount steam, stir-fry or cook as carnivores lack sufficient starch enzymes to break down large amounts of raw starches. 

All breeds require LOVE. All breeds require a "pack leader", and in modern society that must be the care-giver. All breeds require some fun and recreation--and daily exercise. "Puppy kindergarten" is also a good option for the single dog care-giver to aid in socialization and to learn the training hints usually included in the hour-long class. Here are some other do's and don'ts:

  1. Do not use flea collars until at least six months of age; preferably avoid them altogether. Puppies are especially sensitive to chemicals, and this assault on their metabolic system before it matures is best avoided.
  2. Do check for worms and worm regularly as needed. Internal parasites may be life threatening as they secrete toxins which are detrimental to the digestive and immune systems.
  3. Do not over-vaccinate. The latest work by world-renowned Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, documents that some breeds, especially purebreds, do not tolerate "shotgun" vaccinations. Side-effects are known as "vaccinosis" and may manifest as crisis illness or sudden death 10 to 14 days after vaccination in some; and in others, as increased immune deficient syndromes; and in others, greater susceptibility to epileptic seizures. This will cost you more, but consider separating the various vaccinations by a minimum of 2-3 weeks. This is especially relevant in "blue blood" purebred lines, for example in such breeds as the Doberman and Rottweiler, because of their weaker immune systems.  Read up on over-vaccination and multiple shot-gun vaccination so as to be “educated” on the subject. 
  4. Do feed at regularly scheduled times. Puppies up to two months old require at least four meals daily. You can give three meals daily from two to about six months old. Twice daily is sufficient between six and twelve months of age. This is a general thumb rule. Deep-chested breeds that are prone to stomach torsion should continue on twice daily feeding during adulthood. Many others will be happy and healthier on one feeding daily--assuming the food is of good enough quality. ("Free feeding" is convenient, but is not really scientific, and is not how carnivores eat in nature. In fact, feeding trials years ago proved free-fed dogs had a higher percentage of liver, kidney disease, and arthritis as they got older. Also free-fed dogs tend to be overweight.)
  5. Do not give "junk food" snacks loaded with preservative and artificial flavors.
  6. Do feed a variety of snacks which will not upset the balance of the regular diet. I recommend the following as safe, wise, and containing live natural foods, not available in most commercial diets:
    • yogurt 2 to 4 times weekly (1-2 tablespoon per 30 pounds)
    • veggies daily (1-3 tablespoon per 30 pounds)
    • raw egg yolk once or twice weekly
    • garlic and nutritional yeast to aid flea prevention, according to weight
    • probiotics or food digestive enzymes, especially in cases of immune deficiency or digestive problems
    • kelp (1 teaspoon per 60 pounds) in any pet or breed susceptible to thyroid dysfunction.

Be sure to check with your veterinarian that none of the above are contraindicated for a medical reason.
Before choosing a new puppy, give a complete and thorough check-over. Is the hair coat smooth, with a shiny gloss? Is the skin soft and pliable? Can you turn the puppy on his back without pain, fighting, or nipping? Check the ears for infection, the teeth for alignment, the testicles (both descended?), and the penis and vagina for freedom from pus or infection. Ask your veterinarian to give a complete physical, including hips and rear legs (there should not be any pain on lateral and posterior extension).
You are committing yourself to ten or more years of joy, companionship, and expenses. Make sure your head and heart agree!

         For a scheduled PHONE CONSULTATION with Dr. DeHaan call:  (704) 734-0061However first click on “Phone Consultations”, read and understand the requirements prior to calling.