Hovan Slow Grow Plan 2005

The goal of this Plan is to produce a slow rate of growth for puppies between the ages of birth and 4 months. The purpose of the slowed growth rate is to permit the healthiest possible development of bones and joints. Rapid growth and overweight has been linked to a greater incidence and severity of orthopedic disease such as hip and elbow dysplasia (Kealy et al, 2000), and panosteitis. Faster growing pups are also more likely to sustain soft tissue injuries during play or exercise. Additionally, there is compelling evidence that heavier pups may be at increased risk for developing cancer later in life, and may have a significantly decreased life span as compared to trim puppies (Kealy et al, 2002).

A slowed rate of growth will cause pups to be shorter and less physically developed than faster growing pups of the same age. However, adult height and body development will not be permanently altered, and these pups will eventually reach their full genetic potentials. They do this by growing more slowly, but for a longer period of time, than faster growing pups. That is, their growth curves will be more gradual and even, avoiding the steep, unnatural acceleration that is produced by overfeeding.

The rate of growth can be influenced by the type and amount of food that the puppy eats. Culturally, most of us have been conditioned to believe that nutrient and calorie dense “Puppy” foods are beneficial to a pup. But in fact these can be harmful, for they are often in opposition to how Nature intended young canines to eat and grow. Thousands of years of evolution have designed dogs with an optimal growth rate that is slow and steady, and an ideal body composition that is lean and muscular. (Wild fox kits and wolf pups are not roly-poly sedentary youngsters!) The common misconception that a plump pup is healthy and robust turns Nature upside down!

Show prospect pups are particularly at risk for over-nutrition, because their owners are often in a hurry for them to develop the bone, head, coat, and stature of mature, competitive dogs. And it is true that overfed pups will be ahead of their properly trim counterparts in those attributes – temporarily. While these differences completely disappear with maturity, the potential damage to the health of rapidly growing puppies will remain. (And those who believe that plump, fast maturing puppies are more competitive in Puppy Class, might want to examine the success of Faera puppies raised on this Slow Grow Plan – which includes numerous major wins and CH’s finished from Puppy Class, including from 6-9 month Class.)

In order to effectively maintain a normal and healthy growth rate, the pup must be quite thin and fit. Since most people are accustomed to seeing pups that are soft and growing too rapidly, these trim pups may appear extreme to many people, including many veterinarians. And in fact, the perception of “thin” varies from one person to another. Therefore, this Plan includes specific weight and exercise guidelines which have proven successful through many generations of Golden Retrievers. While following these guidelines will not completely eliminate all chance of developing disease, it will allow a pup to become the healthiest adult that his genetic potential permits.

It is important to follow these guidelines closely, because any excess food is first used for growth. That is, even if he is getting too much food, the pup will not get fat -- he will simply grow faster. By the time a pup actually looks or feels fat, he is already at an extreme, and growing far too rapidly. A weekly weigh-in will help ensure that minor deviations from the charts are corrected promptly. To increase Buyer compliance, Breeders may wish to require monthly weights to be recorded on the veterinarian’s chart as a condition of a sales contract or guarantee.


Target Weights: Birth to 10 weeks

       Age     Weight                                   Age         Weight
 Birth   Approx. 1 lb.                               5 wks.   6 lbs.

  1 wk.   2 lbs.                                          6 wks.  7 lbs.

    2 wks.   3 lbs.                                         7 wks.   8 lbs.

       3 wks.   4 lbs.                                         8 wks.   9.5 lbs.

        4 wks.   5 lbs.                                          10 wks.   12 lbs.

Monitor weights regularly from birth to 5 weeks, rotating pups as necessary to approximate a gain of 1 lb. per week. Do not be alarmed if the gain is slightly less, particularly in large litters. Try to maintain equal size between all pups, within about 4 ounces. (This is extremely important to accuracy when making comparisons between pups within a litter for the purposes of selecting show prospects.) If gain begins to exceed 1 lb. per week, take mother away for several hours periodically; after 2 weeks old, she can even be away overnight if necessary.

Wean at approximately 5 weeks, directly onto a good quality adult food (i.e., Iams Mini Chunks or comparable) or a puppy food formulated specifically for large breeds (i.e., Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Food or comparable). Do not choose a high performance grade. Feed two to three times per day, either dry or adding nothing but water. The amount will vary with activity level, so it is impossible to recommend a precise amount; although it will probably be approximately 1/2 cup per day, per pup in the beginning. (Not per meal!) This will gradually increase to about 3/4’s cup per day, per pup by 8 weeks. Very frequently, it is necessary to feed several pups separately, since there are usually some that will tend to get more than their share (or less) from a common feeding bowl. Please note that it is always more important to feed to correctly manage each individual pup's weight gain, rather than to try to schedule a certain specific amount of food.

Continue to feed as above, but cut back to two meals a day at eight weeks. As before, the correct amount of food may vary due to differences among puppies. DO NOT add any vitamin or mineral supplements, such as vitamin C or calcium.

Target Weights: 12, 16 & 20 weeks

Age              Weight

12 wks.          15-16 lbs.

16 wks.          22-23 lbs.

20 wks.          28-30 lbs.

Notice that the charted Target Weights jump several weeks at a time. Between 8 and 12 weeks, the recommended weight gain totals about 6 lbs. This divides to approximately 1-1/2 lbs. per week. Don't let the pup gain it all the first week! The total weight gain in the next eight weeks from 12 to 20 weeks is 14 lbs., or about 1-3/4's lbs. per week.

Of course, there may be minor variations from these charts without upsetting the Plan. But remember that sometimes just a few pounds can represent a large percentage. For example, at the 12 week target weight of 15 lbs., a three pound increase would actually be 20%. So while 3 lbs. may not sound like a lot, 20% would certainly be significant enough to accelerate the growth rate.

Over 20 Weeks

Once the pup has reached the final check point of 20 weeks old, his growth rate will have been slowed for the most critical period of his development. It is now time to begin encouraging a mildly increased growth rate. And of course, this is done by increasing the amount and density of food. Four months old is also an excellent time to do an OFA preliminary hip x-ray, because pups raised on the Slow Grow Plan have a very high likelihood of rating the same at this age as they will at their two year old final x-ray (Corley et al, 1997)


At this point, gradually switch to a premium adult food (i.e., Eukanuba Large Breed Premium Performance or comparable) and increase the amount. Pups should to begin to look a bit fuller, but never fat. One good indicator of soft muscle tone or too much weigh gain is a side to side "roll" over the loin when the pup gaits. Of course, it will take some time for these pups to catch up completely. They may even appear slightly undersize as they reach the 6-9 month Puppy Class; but should be within lower limits shortly thereafter, usually by approximately 7-8 months old. And their growth will continue until they reach their normal genetic potential.

Exercise Recommendations

Exercise is a vital component of the Slow Grow Plan. An active puppy can eat more food, and thus will be more assured of getting enough nutrients. Furthermore, his muscle-to-fat ratio will be more favorable, reinforcing the desired goal of a slowed rate of growth. And the stronger muscles will properly support the skeletal system, which combined with greater coordination, will help protect him from injury.

Free-walking is a suitable exercise for dogs of any age, because it permits them to chose their own pace and level of exertion. Of course, this must be done in a safe environment. While this may not possible on a regular basis for most people, perhaps it can be a special weekend treat. Alternatively, flexileads are workable.

Begin with approximately 1/2 mile walks with the 8 week old pup, 4-5 days per week. Add about 1/2 mile every other week. If you fall behind schedule, do not jump ahead to make up for lost weeks. Instead, resume where you left off. If there has been an extended layoff, begin back several weeks and build up again, as below. An exercise level of 3 miles per day will result in a fit, healthy puppy. Of course, as with any exercise, be very cautious in hot weather; cold is rarely a problem.

              8 wks. old = 1/2 mile, 4-5 times weekly   
 10 wks. = 1 mile, 4-5 times weekly
          12 wks. = 1-1/2 miles, 4-5 times weekly
   14 wks. = 2 miles, 4-5  times weekly
          16 wks. = 2-1/2 miles, 4-5 times weekly
 18 wks. = 3 miles, 4-5 times weekly

Do not jog, bike, or otherwise roadwork a young Golden under 4 months of age. Prior to beginning these types of more stressful exercises, it is advisable obtain a preliminary OFA hip evaluation. Only puppies with a preliminary rating of “Good” or above should be considered candidates for this more serious athletic training. Always build speed and distance very gradually.

This information is provided for the benefit of all Golden Retrievers, and may be copied only in its entirety (must include Faera Goldens contact information) to be shared with others on an individual basis. However, any large scale distribution (Internet or hard copy) or publication is prohibited without the specific written permission of the author.


Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, Lust G, Biery DN, Smith GK, Mantz SL. Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000 Dec 1;217(11):1678-80.

Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, Mantz SL, Biery DN, Greeley EH, Lust G, Segre M, Smith GK, Stowe HD. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002 May 1;220(9):1315-20.

Corley EA, Keller GC, Lattimer JC, et al. Reliability of early radiographic evaluations for canine hip dysplasia obtained from the standard ventrodorsal radiographic projection. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1997; Vol 211, No. 9; 1142-1146

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