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Welfare and Behaviour

How growth charts can help puppies stay on track for a healthy life

New research highlights the potential that the WALTHAM™ Puppy Growth Charts have to help owners and veterinarians monitor puppies’ healthy development. 

Waltham researchers initially developed the growth charts in 2017 for both male and female dogs in 5 size categories. In the new study, researchers and veterinarians at Waltham, Banfield Pet Hospital, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences, University of Liverpool compared the growth curves included in the puppy charts with the growth patterns in both healthy dogs, dogs that were overweight or too thin, or and dogs that had various diseases associated to abnormal growth.

The power of data: modelling a puppy's healthy growth

Analysing data from the Royal Canin Research Center in France, Waltham and the Banfield Pet Hospital network in the US, the researchers found that:

  • 68% of dogs that developed obesity by 3 years of age grew faster than the growth standards predicted
  • 49% of dogs that became underweight by 3 years gained weight slower than expected

In humans, growth standards such as those created by the World Health Organization (WHO) are used to monitor children’s growth, by comparing a child’s growth pattern with that of a healthy reference population. These standards can help health professionals identify growth disorders quickly and enable faster interventions.

The results from this study suggest that these growth standards for dogs could be used in a similar way, helping pet owners and veterinarians track the weight of a puppy and to intervene if its weight starts to creep up.

Researchers used age and body weight data to model dogs’ growth. Deviations or crossings from the charted standard (centile line) during the growth phase was uncommon in healthy dogs, with less than 5% of dogs crossing two or more centile lines. These deviations were more frequent in dogs with abnormal growth patterns or at an unhealthy weight. The study showed that dogs that developed obesity by three years old, grew faster than the growth standards predicted with nearly 7 in 10 (68%) crossing two or more centile lines through weight gain. 

Just like in humans, preventing obesity is easier than treating it. Research shows losing weight can also be hard for our canine friends. Study co-author and Professor of Small Animal Medicine at the University of Liverpool Alex German states:

 “We know optimal growth is crucial for the future health and wellbeing of dogs, as many of the health issues that appear during early life are associated with poor weight management. The results of this study suggest that these growth charts can identify healthy growth as well as patterns of growth signalling possible health problems. We hope that veterinarians and owners will find these evidence-based growth standards easy to use, helping puppies to keep in shape and starting them on the right path for their adult life.”

Learn more about the danger of pet obesity and our efforts to advance preventive pet care.