Is My Great Dane Puppy Knuckling?

Is My Great Dane Puppy Knuckling?


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‘Is my Great Dane puppy knuckling?’

Great Dane puppies have HUGE knobby knees. As a matter of fact, their limbs look so chunky when they are young that many people, even some veterinarians are alarmed.

If you have a Great Dane puppy and are new to the breed or worried that your sweet pup isn’t growing correctly, you’ve come to the right place!

A well-bred Great Dane puppy will have a solid amount of substance and bone; they need this to support their size and insanely fast growth.

However, some Dane puppies develop a condition called ‘Knuckling’, where the support system (feet, pasterns, joints) appear swollen or bowed out as they collapse under the weight of the puppy.

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This is a photo fo a Great Dane puppy with severe knuckling

Is your Great Dane puppy knuckling? This article may help you.

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Great Dane Puppy Knuckling Photos

Here are some photos of Great Dane puppies who are experiencing severe knuckling. Your puppy may have mild knuckling that doesn’t look this bad (YET!). Read on to learn more!

Normal Great Dane Puppy Legs

This is a young Great Dane puppy with normal legs.

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You can see that a normal, well-built puppy will have large feet, tight knuckles, thick arms, and fairly knobby knees.

The bump above the patella (or, the ‘ankle’) may be alarmingly large! Many people mistake this for knuckling in Great Dane puppies.

(Take Zeus, for example, who is the largest Great Dane in the world. Is that REALLY a good thing?)

Examine the Great Dane Puppy Growth Chart for an idea of how Great Dane puppies will grow:

Great Dane Puppy Growth Chart
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However, this bump is part of the growth plate, and it is normal. It may even swell a little before a growth spurt.

Is My Puppy Too Skinny?

Great Dane Health Issues & Orthopedic Growth Disorders

It is super important to note that while it may be normal for Great Dane puppies to have large growth plates, they should still be strictly monitored.

Excessive swelling of the growth plates as well as obvious signs of pain are red flags and warrant a visit to the veterinarian. A struggling Great Dane puppy may limp, appear weak or lame, wobble, whine, chew on their feet and/or have a strange gait when they walk.

Warm growth plates and flat or turned-out feet or limbs are another sign that something is wrong.

Some common Great Dane growth disorders include:

  1. HOD  – Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy is a painful disorder in growing large and giant breed puppies that can cause swelling and abnormally large limbs and joints.
  2. PANO – PANOSTEITIS is also known as growing pains, and can cause swelling and pain.
  3. INJURY – Injury to the growth plate may be serious and can cause swelling and permanent damage (that may develop into angular limb deformity or similar).

Always consult with a veterinarian if you are not sure. 

A double-merle Great Dane puppy with normal knobby knees and Growth Plates

What does knuckling in Great Dane puppies look like?

This puppy is an example of a Great Dane with fairly severe knuckling.

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Great Dane puppy leg bowing

The front limbs appear ‘bowed’ outwards and it’s clear that the puppy is struggling to support his weight. Knuckling is also known as ‘Carpal Laxity Syndrome’.

Knuckling can be mild, or even more severe than we see in these images. Great Dane front leg problems can be scary to see; if you see anything alarming, we highly recommend visiting a giant-breed experienced veterinarian as soon as possible.

knuckling 12

As before, consult with your veterinarian if you are unsure! Even severe cases start with a mild version, so keep an eye on your puppy and take day-day photos if you are concerned. 

Causes of Knuckling in Giant Breed Dogs

Great Dane leg problems are serious and must be addressed immediately.

While the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that knuckling is related largely to diet and an imbalance of important minerals and nutrients.

Great Danes need food that is formulated specifically for growing Giants, and that food is not always what you think. We are sharing more information below on Great Dane puppy foods.

We highly recommend a highly researched, extensively tested and scientifically formulated puppy kibble with balanced calcium and phosphorus levels. Our favorites are listed below.

For more information on Great Dane feeding, visit our Great Dane Feeding Chart post.

Great Dane Puppy Knuckling and Breeders

Another contributor to growth problems and bowing legs in Great Danes may be poor breeding and health practices; young puppies that are kept primarily on hard surfaces and fed an improper first diet may be more susceptible.

Great Dane puppy Knuckling occasionally goes hand in hand with flat feet (weak knuckles and toes). Poor overall foot structure has a genetic component.

Great Dane back leg problems are often also genetic.

is my great Dane puppy knuckling
A Great Dane puppy knuckling before and after photo series

Puppies that aren’t offered adequate free-play on soft, varied terrain (think grass, sand, dirt, and gravel) or that live in homes with a lot of hard, slick floors may be more prone to knuckling, flat feet, and other orthopedic issues.

In the early stages of knuckling, you may notice:

  • Weak feet (flat toes/knuckles)
  • Weak ankles
  • Shaking limbs when on soft surfaces
  • What looks like severe knuckling when standing on a softer surface, but may correct and look ‘normal’ when back on the floor
  • Ankles that appear to be moving up and over the foot, even slightly
  • Legs that occasionally ‘bow out’
  • Limbs that look crooked in some way

Knuckling Before and After

The great news is that knuckling is treatable and can be corrected!

The treatment for knuckling is also helpful for treating flat feet, which are another symptom of improper flooring, inadequate exercise, poor nutrition, and poor breeding practices.


knuckling 16 1

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How to treat Great Dane puppy knuckling

There are five big changes to make when treating knuckling.

  • Change Food Immediately
  • Supplements
  • Nail Maintenance
  • Flooring
  • Exercise

We are going to use the space below to outline each one, including the best foods to offer when correcting knuckling in addition to information on supplements that we recommend.

As always, consult your veterinarian.

Of course, we say to consult your veterinarian often because we really do think that you should.

However, it is extremely important to note that you find a veterinarian with giant breed experience, who is well studied in the latest research when it comes to nutrition and more. Ask questions!

When you notice the early signs of knuckling, it is imperative that you change foods immediately.

Knuckling is largely related to nutrition.

The food you choose for your Great Dane puppy MUST have the correct calcium, and phosphorus ratios.

More research is needed into the exact mechanisms behind nutrition and knuckling, but it is believed that an imbalance of amino acids and meat proteins may also contribute. For this reason, we only recommend research-backed brands for Great Dane Puppies. These brands include Purina, Royal Canin, Iam’s, Hill’s Science Diet, and Eukanuba.

A food with the ‘correct’ calcium and phosphorus ratios may still cause knuckling if it is not professionally formulated by a veterinary nutritionist!

The best Great Dane puppy foods to treat knuckling

We like to see:

Protein at or below 30%

Fat at or below 20%

Calcium at or below 1.4%

Phosphorus at or below 1.3%

Calcium and Phosphorus should be balanced together as close as possible, with phosphorus being the lower value. Calcium values of 1.2% or lower are ideal.

Science-based formulation from a company that follows WSAVA Guidelines and utilizes research and science, not marketing buzzwords (Purina, Iams, Eukanuba, Hills, Royal Canin)

If possible, look for an AAFCO statement on the bag with information about the formula being correct for the “growth of large size dogs (70 lbs. or more as an adult)”.

Better yet, the AAFCO statement should indicate that the food was substantiated in food trials.

Ingredients: Science-backed formulation with meat, meat meals, and/or meat by-product meals in the first ingredients. Be wary of any food that uses an excessive amount of legumes or pea protein in lieu of real meat protein (which may also be linked to heart problems).

Added probiotics and ingredients such as DHA and fish oil that promote healthy brain development and a shiny coat are recommended.

NOTE: It used to be said that ‘adult food’ was the only choice for Dane puppies. Formulations and science have been updated. Puppy food may be helpful in ensuring that your puppy is receiving enough of the right protein and fat for brain development and growing muscles.

Formulations, research, science and kibble diets have changed for the better in the last 10 years.

You can now choose a puppy OR an adult formula, as long as it’s formulated correctly for the growth of giant breed dogs and from a science-backed, heavily researched brand such as Purina.

Great Dane puppy foods that we recommend

Always consult with your veterinarian before a diet change or adding supplements! The brands listed below are heavily tested and researched by Veterinary Nutritionists, and are thus formulated with up-to-date information about the growth of large and giant breed dogs.

These brands are recommended by veterinarians and many of the Top Breeders in the U.S.

For all Great Dane puppies, but especially those that are knuckling, we also recommend the following:

Probiotics & Digestive Enzymes (We like Nature’s Farmacy Probiotic Max)

Fish Oil (We like Nordic Natural’s Large Breed with DHA)

Vitamin C (We like Ester C. Work up to 1000mg/day)

Some people believe that vitamin C does very little for knuckling and that proper food is all you need, but we believe that it’s a helpful vitamin that can reduce inflammation and promote health and healing following stress (ear cropping, training, knuckling, injuries, etc.). Some studies indicate that it may be helpful in the prevention of hip dysplasia as well.

Breeders, handlers, trainers, and Great Dane enthusiasts have maintained for years that Vitamin C is important for Dane puppies. We agree!

Note, Vitamin C can cause a digestive upset! Start with a small dose with each meal and work up to 1000mg over the course of a week.

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A merle Great Dane puppy with normal front legs.

Whatever you do, do NOT give your Great Dane puppy a calcium supplement or multivitamin!

Nail trimming to prevent knuckling in Great Dane Puppies

Overgrown nails lead to:

  • Flat feet
  • Weak pasterns
  • Unnecessary pressure on the toes and joints
  • Altered gait/walking
  • Pain
  • Damage to the skin, furniture, and hardwood
  • Temporary or permanent deformity of the feet & ankles
  • Eventually: joint damage and arthritis

It is imperative that nails are kept short and round, not long and sharp. If they touch the ground, they are too long. If you have a puppy that is knuckling, has flat feet, or has another bone growth disorder, nail maintenance is even more important. 

For tips on trimming nails, read our ‘how to trim Great Dane puppy nails’ blog post here. 

Appropriately trimmed puppy nails look like this or better:

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Hard and slick flooring is extremely bad for the joints and can contribute to flat feet and knuckling in Great Dane puppies.

We recommend putting down runners and traction. These clear stick-on stair treads are amazing for wooden steps!

Discourage your puppy from jumping, especially if the landing is on a hard or slick surface. Use a washable, tough bed in the crate to keep feet off the hard crate pan when crating for extended periods of time.

Do not allow your puppy to zoomie and slide all over the hardwood and tile floors in your home. 

It is important to help your puppy strengthen those feet, tendons, and muscles.

Great Dane puppies should have large, well-knuckled feet. The toes should not be flat. We’ve included more information below on what good foot structure and strong feet should look like!

How to strengthen weak Great Dane puppy feet

Exercise ideas for strengthening Great Dane puppy feet and pasterns:

  • Lots and LOTS of free play on varied terrains such as grass, sand, and pea gravel.
  • Walking up and down gently rolling hills.
  • Have the puppy stand on the bed or the couch, gently touch each side with a flat palm to encourage the puppy to ‘balance’.
  • Use a stability disk or cushion. Encourage the puppy to stand with both front feet on the disk.
  • When indoors, keep the puppy only on soft surfaces.
  • Limit time spent walking on concrete and in the ‘heel’ position.
  • Create a puppy playground and encourage your puppy to safely explore ramps, tunnels, and things that wobble a bit.

Be careful about over-using a crate (restricted movement all day and all night) or keeping your puppy on a tile or linoleum floor all day long. This practice can contribute to weak feet, knees and hips.

Make sure that your puppy receives plenty of time to move outside of the crate or x-pen when you are home.

If your puppy has a severe case of knuckling, consult with a veterinarian and certified canine physical therapist before adding any additional exercise! 

Some cases of knuckling benefit from wraps to support the limbs; a professional can help you. We do NOT Recommend wrapping without professional guidance.

This puppy has weak flat feet, and weak pasterns, and shows what may be early signs of knuckling.

knuckling 1

Around 5-7 weeks puppies can appear to have flat feet and early knuckling, which will correct itself if the puppy is given the correct food.

Feet and pasterns may ‘fall’ a bit following surgery (ear cropping, for example) and during teething.

It’s easy to become alarmed each time this happens, but it’s important to monitor progress towards the end goal: tight knuckles and straight limbs! 

A young Great Dane puppy with slightly flat feet

Great Dane puppy knuckling can look much worse than it actually is, but it’s still VERY important to immediately begin correcting the problem.

Failure to correct knuckling could lead to permanent deformities of the limbs that may become painful and may eventually lead to arthritis or require surgery.

Have you had a puppy knuckling? What did you do to treat it? How quickly did it resolve?

Use the comment section below to tell us about it!

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Hello Danes

I'm a dog training, nutrition, and science fanatic that believes in ethical breeders, responsible rescue practices, veterinarians, and modern balanced LIMA dog training. Love the dog in front of you.

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