Promoting Healthy Growth in Pets

Doctor Alexander J German

The growth phase is fundamental to the lifelong health and wellbeing in all humans. A growth pattern that deviates from optimal can be the result of malnutrition or an underlying developmental disorder. Further, overly rapid growth or catch-up growth are known to predispose to childhood obesity, which is a risk factor for lifelong obesity. As with humans, growth patterns in dogs and cats that deviate from ideal can either indicate the presence of a disease affecting growth, or a pattern of growth that may itself lead to disease. For example, developmental diseases can cause under-nutrition leading to poor growth, whilst over-nutrition and overly rapid growth can cause developmental musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. diseases of the osteochondrosis group). Rapid growth has also been linked to the development of obesity later in life in both cats and dogs. This association is of particular concern as obesity is now the most prevalent medical disease in pets, adversely affecting the quality of life of millions worldwide. Outcomes of weight management are often disappointing with many animals either failing to reach target weight, or subsequently regain the weight. Given the poor success of weight management, the veterinary profession should arguably consider focusing on prevention of obesity and, for this, ensuring a healthy growth pattern could be key.


Growth standards, such as those created and promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), are now a vital component of the human paediatric tool kit, allowing trained health professionals to gauge the growth pattern of individual children by comparison to a healthy reference population. By monitoring proactively, children whose growth deviates from expected can be identified earlier enabling appropriate investigations and therapy to be implemented. Having similar growth standards for companion animals could bring similar benefits in terms of early identification of individuals at risk and, therefore, early intervention.

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