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 veterinarians are alarmed. 

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 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. 

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

NORMAL GREAT DANE PUPPY LEGS

These are four young Great Dane puppies with normal legs.

You can see that they 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. 

However, this bump is the growth plate, and it is normal. It may even swell a little before a growth spurt. 

BONE GROWTH DISORDERS THAT CAUSE EXCESSIVE SWELLING OF THE GROWTH PLATE

 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. 

HOD  – Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy is a painful disorder in growing large and giant breed puppies that can cause swelling and abnormally large limbs and joints. 

PANO – PANOSTEITIS is also known as growing pains, and can cause swelling and pain. 

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. 

KNUCKLING in GREAT DANE PUPPIES

These puppies are both examples of a Great Danes with fairly severe knuckling.

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

Knuckling can be mild, or even more severe than we see in these images.

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

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 (more info below). 

Another contributor 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. 

Knuckling occasionally goes hand in hand with flat feet (weak knuckles and toes). Poor overall foot structure can have a genetic component. 

Because knuckling is in some ways a symptom of a weak front assembly, puppies that aren’t offered adequate play on varied terrain or that live in homes with a lot of hard, slick floors may be more prone. 

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. 

TREATMENT OF KNUCKLING

There are five big changes to make when treating knuckling.

  • Food
  • 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! 

FOOD

When you notice even early signs of knuckling, it is imperative that you change foods immediately. Do this without spending more than day or so on transitioning. A ‘cold turkey’ approach is best here!

Knuckling is largely related to nutrition. The food you choose for your Great Dane puppy MUST have the correct fat, 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. 

Some puppies may do completely fine on a formula that other puppies struggle on; it’s helpful to chat with your breeder (who may have vast knowledge of the food that tends to work best with their genetic lines). 

We like to see:

Protein at or below 26%

Fat at or below 18%

Calcium at or below 1.5%

Phosphorus at or below 1.4%

Calcium and Phosphorus together as close as possible, with phosphorus being the lower value.

AAFCO statement on the bag that says ‘formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages including growth of large size dogs (70 lbs. or more as an adult)”

Ingredients: Holistic formulation with real meat as the first ingredient. Be wary of any food that uses an excessive amount of legumes or pea protein in lieu of real meat protein. Added probiotics and ingredients that promote healthy brain development and a shiny coat are recommended.

Note: Some Purina Pro Plan formulas meet these specifications, however knuckling has been reported and appears to be a notable occurrence in Great Danes, Dobermans and Bernese Mountain Dogs on that food. More information is needed. 

Great Dane Puppy Foods We Recommend

Nutrisource Large Breed Adult Chicken and Rice or Beef and Rice
Nutrisource Large Breed Puppy
Holistic Select Large & Giant Breed Puppy Food

SUPPLEMENTS

Always consult with your veterinarian before a diet change or adding supplements!

For all Great Dane puppies, but especially those that are knuckling, we 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 a 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.  

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

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

There are a few outliers out there that have done this, who have breeders that do it, and veterinarians that have recommended it. When I hear that a breeder recommended this, I want to ask who their breeder is.

Given the sheer volume of unethical backyard breeders in the world, we have to be cautious about taking their advice.  Additionally, many veterinarians are NOT well versed in nutrition, let alone giant breed nutrition.

While this seems counter-intuitive, growing giant breed puppies do NOT need additional calcium, especially if the calcium is not properly balanced with appropriate phosphorus levels. 

NAIL MAINTENANCE

Overgrown nails lead to:

  • Flat feet
  • Weak pasterns
  • Unnecessary pressure into the toes and joints
  • Altered gait/walking
  • Pain
  • Damage to 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:

FLOORING

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

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 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. 

EXERCISE

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!

Exercise ideas for strengthening Great Dane puppy feet and pasterns:

  • Lots and LOTS of free play on varied terrain such as grass, sand and pea gravel.
  • Walking up and down gentle 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. Encourage puppy to stand with both front feet on the 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) or keeping your puppy on a tile or linoleum floor while you are at work all day. This practice can contribute to weak feet, knees and hips.

Make sure that your puppy receives plenty of time to move outside of the 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. 

 

Both of the puppies below have weak flat feet, weak pasterns, and show what may be early signs of knuckling. 

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! 

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!

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.  Find a veterinarian with GIANT breed experience, and chat with them. 

Some of the products we list on our website contain affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase, we may receive a small commission for referring you. We only recommend products that we truly believe in. This commission does not affect the price of the product and is used to fund our content and expenses related to operating this website. 

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