How To Fix Knuckling in Great Dane Puppies

How To Fix Knuckling in Great Dane Puppies


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Knuckling in Great Dane puppies can be alarming! If you are concerned because you have a Great Dane puppy with crooked paws, bowed-out legs, or bumps, you’ve come to the right place. Today we are talking about how to fix knuckling in Great Dane puppies.

This post is a big one, and in it we are providing the most up-to-date information based on science & research! Use our table of contents to navigate.

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A Great Dane puppy with Knuckling

What is Knuckling in Great Danes?

Knuckling is one of the most common growth complications in Great Danes. Technically, this should be called ‘Carpal Laxity’. Essentially, the dogs weight become too much for the quickly developing bone and cartilage, and the legs ‘buckle’ or go flat in response to the stress.

Some puppies have a mild case, others have a more severe case.

Many people mistake normal, knobby growth plates, flat feet, or angular limb deformities with knuckling!

While the exact cause of knuckling is unknown, it is believed to be related to dysfunctional (too fast) growth brought on by improper nutrition. Excessive or improper exercise and slippery or hard surfaces can cause further damage to the lax joints.

It is also believed that stressful experiences (going to a new home or boarding, for example), switching foods too much, too many toppers/treats/supplements, poor breeding conditions, or medical experiences such as ear cropping and vaccines may trigger knuckling in dogs that are already prone to it.

Are you unsure if your Great Dane puppy is knuckling or not? Read on…
knuckling 16 1

This photo above is of an 8 week old Great Dane puppy that was diagnosed with HOD and knuckling. This is a severe case. Knuckling can look more mild or more severe than this.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Knuckling?

This photo above is a fairly severe case: notice the bowed appearance and toes.

It’s important to understand the warning signs that may indicate early or developing problems in your puppy, and see a giant-breed-knowledgeable veterinarian ASAP.

Left untreated, puppy knuckling can lead to permanent damage and deformity.

Symptoms of puppy knuckling include:

  • Weak limbs that ‘shake’ on soft surfaces
  • Flat toes/splayed feet
  • Ankles that rest over the top of the foot
  • Bowing out
  • Flat feet (another form of carpal laxity)
  • Crooked front limbs or ‘ballet feet’ (which may also indicate growth plate damage and angular limb deformity, more serious than knuckling)

What Causes Knuckling in Giant Breed Dogs?

While the exact mechanism behind the cause of knuckling still needs more research, there are strong correlations to the following things:

Feeding an unbalanced diet

Feeding an unbalanced diet is thought to be the leading cause of knuckling.

Here is a list of things that cause a diet to be unbalanced:

  • Poorly formulated kibble (see our recommendations)
  • Excess calcium intake
  • Overfeeding
  • Adding supplements such as calcium or multivitamins
  • Adding too many unbalanced toppers such as yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs and meat
  • Too many treats and training treats
  • Repeated counter surfing
  • Feeding a food that was not formulated for large or giant breed dogs
  • Mixing two or more types of kibble
  • Home-cooked or homemade raw diets (which are rarely formulated correctly)
  • Switching diets, especially when doing so often
  • Kibble that is not formulated by a veterinary nutritionist or PhD in Animal Nutrition

We will outline these in detail below.

Feeding the wrong kibble

We believe in science.

Science tells us that the only appropriate kibble for a Great Dane puppy is a LARGE or GIANT breed puppy or “All Life Stages” formula from a brand that meets veterinary guidelines for ethics, sourcing, testing, research and responsibility.

You may have heard that Great Dane puppies should only have adult food. This information is outdated in 2022 and may actually be dangerous. We’re digging more into the science of this below!

Choosing an appropriate food for your Great Dane puppy means that it should be:

  • Ideally be formulated by an on-staff, full-time, board-certified Veterinary Nutritionist
  • A large or giant breed puppy or “all life stages” formulation that was created to support slow, even growth of large and giant breed puppies
  • Be rigorously tested, researched and subjected to feeding trials
  • Come from an established brand with lots of peer-reviewed research behind it
  • Meet nutritional guidelines through feed trials and testing, not just be ‘formulated to meet minimums’ on paper
  • Calcium should be at or below 1.2% or less with phosphorus close behind
  • Less than 4.5g of calcium per 1000kCal
  • AAFCO’s statement that the food was formulated for the growth of (70+lbs) large breed dogs <—important, although not, AAFCO sets minimums. A food can ‘meet the minimum’ and still not be the healthiest choice.

The following brands and formulations are the only ones that meet the requirements listed above. We do not recommend feeding any other food brands to Great Dane puppies, though many people recommend other foods.

Click here to see our comprehensive spreadsheet of dog food brands and values!

What are By Products in Pet food 3

What are WSAVA Guidelines, and do they matter?

All About Great Dane Puppy Foods

Is Life’s Abundance a Good Dog Food?

Royal Canin Giant Breed Dog Food Review

Switching foods often

Many pet parents will switch their puppy’s food often in an attempt to resolve chronic loose stools, itching, or ‘pickiness’.

All this does is create a puppy who will refuse to eat until toppers or a different food is offered. Picky dogs are created by, you guess it, US!

This practice also contributes to poor overall gut health, itching, and loose poop.

People mistake these health issues with ‘allergies’ when really, their pup just needs the right amount of correctly balanced food and some time for their gut to adjust.

Choose a proper science-backed food, measure it with a scale, don’t overfeed, and stick with it.

We also recommend probiotics such as Fortiflora.

Is My Great Dane Puppy Knuckling?

How to Prevent Knuckling in Great Danes

How to Fix Knuckling

image 48
This is a normal Great Dane puppy with large, knobby knees

Home Cooked Diets

No matter how ‘healthy’ it may seem to offer ground meat, rice, and veggies in lieu of kibble, home-cooked dog food is rarely balanced correctly. 

Dogs need correctly balanced meat, bone, and organ in their diet! These things are often called “by-products” and they are species-appropriate.

The website allows you to plug in your home-cooked food recipe and see what it’s deficient in.

Homemade diets should only be made under the guidance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and NEVER for growing giant breed dogs.


Feeding too much food can cause uneven, fast growth, loose stools, and knuckling.

Your puppy does need to eat a LOT of food. But too much is a problem.

Puppies that are offered poorly balanced puppy or adult foods, who then overeat to try and get the nutrition they need, can suffer from chronic loose stools, knuckling, HOD, growing pains and permanent joint deformities.

Great Dane puppies that are offered ‘adult only’ food in particular may need to eat much more than necessary.

Adult food doesn’t provide them with enough nutrition for their energy levels and muscle development. This is one reason why we see so many teenage Danes with ongoing loose stools that look like walking skeletons with no muscle: they are literally starved for nutrients and will over-eat to try and compensate.

We no longer recommend choosing adult formulas. All Life Stages Large and Giant Breed Formulas are ok.

A science-backed large or giant breed puppy food from Purina, Royal Canin, Hill’s, Eukanuba, or Iam’s are excellent choices.

Use a scale to measure your dog’s food once they are 3+ months of age. Don’t bribe your puppy to eat.

If they are full, they are full.

Puppy kibbles have more nutrition in the form of calories, fat, and protein. This can make it easy to overfeed, especially if you are used to seeing your Dane pups have to gorge themselves on adult formulas.

Watch your puppy’s body condition and adjust accordingly.


Poor nail maintenance and slick floors

Great Dane puppy nails should be trimmed weekly. Do not ever let them get so long that they touch, scrape or click on the ground.

Hard, slick surfaces contribute to early joint damage.

Encourage your puppy to play freely on soft, varied terrain in lieu of walks on hard pavement. Use runners and throw rugs to eliminate slipping and sliding in your home.

What Does Euro Mean in Great Danes?

How to Trim Great Dane Puppy Nails

5 Misconceptions about Dogs

What is Bloat in Great Danes?

Nutrition & Knuckling in Giant Breeds

It is believed that nutrition is a key factor in bone and growth disorders in giant breed dogs.

It is extremely important to find and stick to an appropriate balanced diet for your puppy! Unfortunately, the community still promotes many myths.

Common myths include:

  • “Great Dane puppies should never have puppy food”
  • “Purina, Royal Canin, and Hill’s Dog foods are trash”
  • Protein levels MUST be below 24%!” <—this is a myth that was disproven by peer-reviewed research. The protein level does not matter. The bioavailability of amino acids, as well as calcium and phosphorus levels, DO matter.
  • “Fresh roasted deboned meat, fruits and veggies are healthy and more nutritious for dogs than meat meals made of muscle, bone, organ, and cartilage”
What are By Products in Pet food 2

We recommend:

Protein – ignore this number if you are choosing a professionally balanced food recommended on this page

Fat – ignore this number as well, for the same reason as above

Calcium 1.2% or lower (1.3 – 1.4 can also be ok if you do not add any toppers or supplements)

Phosphorus close behind calcium.

The following brands are correctly formulated and tested for the growth of our gentle giants.

There are 300-400 new boutique food brands offered each year in the U.S. When you choose science instead of fancy bags and marketing, it’s easy to narrow the options down.

knuckling 15

Puppy Food Dealbreakers

Here is a list of ‘Great Dane food deal breakers’!

  • Grain-free kibbles
  • Boutique diets and marketing brands that don’t staff a Veterinary Nutritionist, don’t fully test their foods, and don’t participate in research.
  • Doesn’t meet basic WSAVA Guidelines for ethics and responsibility (see above)
  • Vegan, vegetarian, low-meat, or cricket-based dog foods
  • Dog foods that utilize ingredient splitting to trick you
  • Foods with fresh ‘deboned meat’ paired with peas, potatoes, fruit and veggies, which are likely to be heavy in starch and low in meat.
  • MLM Marketing Scheme breeder kickback brands (Life’s Abundance, TLC, NuPro)

Choosing the correct food for your Great Dane puppy is extremely important!
Chat with your breeder and a giant-breed knowledgeable veterinarian for more advice.

Vitamin C for Treating Knuckling

Many people swear by Vitamin C to aid in the treatment of knuckling in Great Danes, and we have to agree!

We recommend starting with a low dose (500mg) and working up to 1000 mg each day.

Vitamin C can cause diarrhea and loose stools, so take it easy at first!

Ester C is the best form, and it’s readily available on Amazon.

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How to Fix Knuckling in Great Dane Puppies

In addition to addressing the nutritional aspect of knuckling (we recommend switching food immediately with a short transition period), there are other things you can do!

  • Change the diet ASAP. This is the MOST important step you can take. Stick with what you choose.
  • Add Vitamin C.
  • Keep the nails trimmed. They should be trimmed every 5-10 days. Now is the time to start working with a Dremel as well! For tips, look here:
  • Put runners down, everywhere. Your puppy should not be jumping, sliding, running or walking anywhere with a slick surface, especially while treating knuckling.
  • Do not allow your puppy to jump up or to launch themselves off of furniture. Use ramps, training, crates and gates to prevent this behavior.
  • Avoid hard pavement and leashed walks, which are hard on joints and don’t allow the puppy to move naturally.
  • Don’t run or bikejore with your Dane puppy until they are age 2+, have good hips and feet and are well conditioned to exercise.
  • Avoid training methods that use physical force and pressure for down/sit, alpha rolls/pinning, extended down-stay, or long ‘pack/structure walks’. None of that is healthy, natural or necessary, especially for giant breed puppies.
  • Limit crate time, which can lead to weakness and poor orthopedic development.
  • Unless your veterinarian prescribes rest, allow your puppy to freely walk, move, run and explore varied terrain every single day. Grass, sand, gravel, hills and dirt are great examples. As a bonus, this is great for socialization! Use a long leash or a fenced yard.
  • Work with a certified Canine physical therapist to strengthen the feet, toes, ankles, shoulders and core.
  • Choose orthopedic beds, like the BIG BARKER (our personal favorite).
  • TALK TO YOUR BREEDER! They can be the best resource, especially if you’ve done your research and chose an ethical breeder that supports your puppy for life.

We always believe that you should also work with a giant-breed experienced veterinarian!

Some bone growth issues are much more serious than knuckling (angular limb deformity, HOD and Wobblers for example) and it’s important to rule them out.

Have more questions about knuckling or want to share your experience? Leave a comment below! 

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. We do our best to present the most up-to-date research, however it is up to the reader to make decisions regarding the health and well-being of their dog. We make no claims here to prevent or treat bloat or any other condition related to Great Danes. Find a veterinarian with GIANT breed experience, and chat with them.

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Hello Danes

Hello Danes

Great Dane lover & believer. Ecollar + Balanced trainer.

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