Veterinarians have a common desire in wanting to see healthy puppies that grow and develop to exemplify the characteristics of their breed — the perfect litter. Unfortunately, this task is far easier to describe than to accomplish. There are several factors that influence the outcome of a breeding (reproductive factors) and numerous factors that ultimately influence the pups produced (non-reproductive factors).Reproductive factors include genetics (breed and selection of the dog and bitch), the age, health and maternal ability of the bitch, the size of the litter, and the bitch’s nutritional status. Non-reproductive factors include the environment in which the litter is born, the level and type of socialization that the puppies receive, the home environment, the ability of the owner to teach (train) expected behaviors, and nutritional support. Although nutrition remains important throughout the puppy’s life, it is especially critical during the early developmental windows of puppy growth (pre-, neo-, and post-natal). This manuscript will focus on the impact of maternal and post-weaning nutrition on the puppy’s learning ability with particular emphasis on essential fatty acids (EFA).

A significant (P<0.05) effect of dietary DHA level was observed (fig 7) with over twice as many puppies (68%) achieving at least one success criterion when nourished by the High DHA diet compared to the Low DHA group, which produced the fewest successes (30%). Results were consistent over multiple replications.

Genetics and environment are key contributors to the development of the puppy and ultimately determine the characteristics that will be predominant as an adult. Environment can be continually modified (for better or worse) throughout growth and development, however, genetic potential is fixed at the time of breeding. Traditionally, nutrition has been considered as important relative to the supplying of necessary building blocks for organ and system growth. Clearly this remains vitally important; however, it is becoming increasingly evident that nutrition can also significantly impact the achievement of genetic potential in the puppy in ways not previously appreciated. Such is the case with increased puppy trainability with appropriate dietary concentrations of DHA. The data supports the inclusion of high dietary DHA levels for puppies and for pregnant and lactating bitches. Improving trainability can strengthen the owner-companion animal bond and increase the likelihood of a successful integration of the pet into the human household. This clearly points to the importance of continuing to expand nutritional horizons beyond the current dogma and identify opportunities to fulfill the puppy’s genetic potential through optimal nutritional support. Through these efforts the puppy will have the greatest opportunity to become the “perfect puppy.”

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