Older dogs teach scientists new tricks when it comes to calcium

The importance of calcium in the diet of children is well known, and parents are usually keen that their youngsters eat plenty of calcium-rich foods. Young dogs also need calcium in their food to ensure their bones grow at a healthy rate.

Nutrition



New study will enable more precise recommendations for a safe calcium upper limit in adult dog food



The importance of calcium in the diet of children is well known, and parents are usually keen that their youngsters eat plenty of calcium-rich foods. Young dogs also need calcium in their food to ensure their bones grow at a healthy rate. But when it comes to growing puppies too much calcium can be as bad as too little, so pet food regulations stipulate tightly controlled levels of calcium in puppy foods.

What about adult dogs?

It’s long been thought that adult dogs don’t need their dietary calcium to be so strictly managed. After all, their bones have finished growing so there’s room for more flexibility. Recent research into this concept, however, suggested this might not be the case, and the debate began about the possible health consequences of current dietary calcium levels in fully-grown dogs.

Keen to better understand the situation, researchers at WALTHAM set up a study to address this knowledge gap.

Over 40 weeks, eighteen Labrador retrievers were fed a diet that had lower levels of calcium or at a level in line with the current calcium safe upper limit. A variety of health measures were regularly monitored over the course of the study.

Both groups of dogs remained outwardly healthy throughout the study, and, importantly, the results of their numerous health tests revealed they were healthy on the inside too. The extra calcium in the diet of the higher level group was simply excreted in the urine and faeces, maintaining a steady level of the nutrient inside the body. These results provide important evidence that adult dogs are able to tolerate higher calcium intakes than puppies. This will enable more precise recommendations for a safe calcium upper limit in adult dogs and help further our understanding of how canine body mechanisms change as they age.

This work was first presented at WALTHAM International Nutritional Sciences Symposium (WINSS), 2016. We caught up with Phil Watson to find out more about the work.