Want to avoid hip dysplasia? Avoid vitamin supplements!

As busy humans eating less-than-ideal diets much of the time, it has been widely recommended we take a multi-vitamin daily to fill in the gaps in nutrition left by our questionable diets. Many people extrapolate that to their dogs needing a vitamin or mineral supplement as well. In puppies, particularly, this can actually cause harm!

One big difference: Most people feed their dogs, well, dog food. A lot of science goes into producing dog food to make sure it has the correct balance of vitamins and minerals.  Supplements, therefore, will not be needed. How do you know the diet is balanced? Look for a little statement called the AAFCO statement, saying the food is “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO nutrient profiles.” Nowadays, pretty much all pet foods have that on there. It can be tiny, and in a hard-to see spot, but scour the bag, and it should be on there. If not, put the bag down and walk away. The products that do not have AAFCO statements are treats, most often, and not intended to be fed as the only source of nutrition. You can feed those, but they aren’t your dog’s main food source. Just like we eat candy bars, but they are not our main food source (most days).

If your dog or puppy is eating a balanced dog food, then her nutritional needs are being met. But, you’ve heard about hip dysplasia, and you want to do anything you can to prevent your dog from having it. Vitamins keep us healthy, so why not give them to your puppy?boxer puppy, hip dysplasia

Excesses of vitamins and minerals in large breed puppies can actually promote the development of hip dysplasia.

This is one reason that we now see separate puppy foods for small breed and large breed dogs. It’s been shown that deficiencies (obviously the mild, non-life threatening ones) have no bearing on the development of hip dysplasia. Excess, however, plays a huge role! So these large breed puppy foods make sure these puppies are not getting any excess nutrients. We used to blame protein, and wanted to slightly restrict that in these large breed puppies. We’ve now learned what we really need to be watching, and turns out protein was falsely accused. We’ve also learned that, yes, puppyhood is very important, but excess nutrients at any stage in life can promote the development of hip dysplasia!

Here’s the known contributors to hip dysplasia when given in excess:


You’d think it’s good for bones, so more is better, right? Nope! High levels of calcium actually inhibit formation of bones and cartilage, as well as growth of long bones (ie – leg bones). Guess what bones are involved in hip dysplasia – long bones (femurs, specifically)! We want those bones growing normally, and forming the cartilage on them that they need. High amounts of Calcium interrupt that process.

Vitamin D

With Calcium being a culprit, Vitamin D should come as no shock. This vitamin is needed in order for the body to absorb calcium, and levels of one nutrient directly affect levels of the other. So high levels of Vitamin D have the same inhibitory effect on growth of long bones and cartilage as high levels of Calcium do. In extremely high doses, Vitamin D can even be used as a toxin, as it can be found as an active ingredient in many mouse and rat poisons. So think about that if you’re ever tempted to supplement Vitamin D!

Vitamin C

Dogs have the ability to make their own vitamin C, unlike humans, apes, and guinea pigs (keep in mind for the next trivia night). Therefore, there is no need to supplement it. I have seen some old time veterinarians use it as a urinary acidifier in some older dogs, so it may have a use there, but it’s often temporary, and never in a puppy! High doses of Vitamin C can lead to increased calcium levels in the blood, and we know what that does.

Anion Gap

No, not the clothing store. Diets very high in Sodium and Potassium, and low in Chloride and Bicarbonate (not the baking soda, but the molecule) have been shown to cause an increase in synovial fluid production. This fluid is what “greases” the joint to make it flow, so how is this a bad thing? In a puppy, that excess fluid in the joint can cause the joint to form more loosely, making it unstable and prone to hip dysplasia (which is a disease of looseness, in essence).


The elephant in the room. Being overweight actually has not been shown to cause the development of hip dysplasia. However, if a dog is genetically programmed to get it, overweight dogs will show symptoms much earlier in life. One study showed that among dogs in the same litter, the overweight dogs had signs of hip dysplasia visible on x-ray up to 6 years earlier than their trim littermates! That’s almost half their lifetime! So, controlling portion size (and therefore calories) will keep your dogs hips healthier longer.

Bottom line – if you are tempted to buy a vitamin supplement for your dog that is eating normal dog food, stop! You’ll do more harm than good!

Posted in General health.

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