Top Dog : Best Food For Large Breed Dogs
Have a large or giant breed dog? It’s important to feed them the right food.
AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) defines large breed dogs as those who weigh 70 lbs or more as adults, but many experts prefer a broader range and define large breed dogs as those who weigh 50 lbs or more as adults.
Large breeds include:
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Doberman Pinscher
- Labrador Retriever
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
….To name a few!
There’s no universal definition of giant breed dogs, but generally speaking, dogs weighing over 100 lbs as adults fall into this category.
Giant dog breeds include:
- Great Dane
- Irish Wolfhound
- Saint Bernard
- Great Pyrenees
But remember this: not only purebreds are considered large breed dogs. Any dog that meets the weight requirement falls into this category. All large dogs, especially giant dogs, face many of the same size-related health issues.
While diet is important for dogs of all sizes, it’s particularly pressing that you pay attention to what your large breed dog eats.
Proper nutrition is especially important for large breed puppies.
The way that you feed your puppy builds the foundation for a lifetime of health…or giant – sized problems.
While a young Great Dane bounces around on paws that look four sizes too big, they’re undergoing an extraordinarily fast growth process. A giant-breed dog might gain 140 pounds over the course of one year. This places a tremendous amount of pressure on their skeletal system.
Allowing your dog to grow too rapidly is a recipe for painful disabilities and disease associated with the muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and nerves. While genetically, large and giant breed dogs will naturally grow at a very rapid pace, we shouldn’t add to the problem by encouraging even faster growth.
It’s important to manage your dog’s weight gain during this time to make sure that they don’t gain too much, too fast. Perhaps counterintuitively, you want to keep your puppy as slim as possible and for them to grow as slowly as possible.
Experts like Karen Becker, DVM, recommend that you keep your puppy at about a 4 out of 9 on the Purina Body Condition Scale. This ensures that they are not bearing too much weight on their developing bones and joints.
Low calorie diets help to keep your puppy slim. Some people believe that in order to moderate your puppy’s growth, you should feed them a low-protein diet. Today, it’s generally accepted that this is completely untrue. High-quality protein is more satiating than carbohydrates, meaning that a diet containing moderate levels of protein is far superior to one packed with high-calorie carbs. You should avoid feeding your dog too much at mealtimes or allowing them to free feed.
Additionally, mineral content plays a part in the process of healthy growth.
Over-supplementation of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorus, can cause bone abnormalities and lead to chronic pain and problems later in life.
Foods made for large breed dogs and puppies have been specially formulated in order to decrease the likelihood that your dog will suffer from common orthopedic issues like hip and elbow dysplasia.
Common Large Breed Health Problems
A number of factors contribute to the development of common health problems in large and giant breed dogs. Genetics, exercise, trauma, and, yes, nutrition all play a part. Since it’s the easiest of these factors to control, nutrition is uniquely important.
Here are some of the common health issues that afflict large breed dogs:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD)
- Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD)
- Wobbler syndrome/cervical spondylomyelopathy
What makes a good food for large breed dogs?
Let’s start with the fundamentals.
Before we can start considering the large breed specific merits of a dog food product, we’ll need to weed out those foods that are junk for both a Doberman and a dachshund. There are plenty of large breed foods out there that may be designed for the unique health needs of large dogs, but which don’t meet minimum requirements for quality.
General requirements for a high-quality dog food:
- Only uses named meats. A high-quality food names the meats that go into it. You’ll see an ingredient list including “chicken”, “beef”, “lamb meal”, and “duck fat”. A low-quality food contains “meat”, “animal by-products” and “poultry”. The difference between the two is that the latter could contain any number of different animals and body parts of varying quality. This is particularly crucial when shopping for a dog with allergies.
- Free of any artificial flavors, dyes, or preservatives. These ingredients can have health implications that should be difficult to ignore.
- Minimally processed. The more that any ingredient is processed, the more it loses its natural nutritional value. Consequently, a highly-processed dog food includes more additives that attempt to compensate for the loss of natural nourishment.
- Filler-free. Common dog food fillers include corn, soy, and wheat. These ingredients offer minimal nutritional value and can cause digestive issues.
What makes a large breed food great?
Now that we have a foundation for dog food excellence, what are the qualities that we’re looking for in a large breed dog food? Dietary needs vary based on age. Let’s break down your dog’s needs by age group.
- Limited calcium and phosphorus levels to encourage healthy bone development. AAFCO recommends the following levels: 1.2 to 1.8% calcium, 1.0 to 1.6% phosphorus, and a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 1:1 to 1.8:1. You can calculate the percentages of these minerals in your dog’s food here.
- Limited calories to ensure a moderate growth rate and minimize the weight burden on your puppy’s joints and overall skeletal structure.
- While some people still believe that a low protein diet is a good choice for large breed puppies, this isn’t true. Choose a large breed puppy food that’s rich in high-quality protein.
For Adult Dogs
- Glucosamine and chondroitin are supplements that are often included in dog foods. They encourage good joint health. This is a particularly helpful dietary addition for large dogs, whose joints are under additional pressure.
- German Shepherds and other dogs with deep chests can suffer from bloat, a common and life-threatening condition that involves sudden gas buildup in the stomach. In addition to making sure that your dog eats slowly, feeding from a floor-level bowl, and avoiding vigorous exercise for 1-2 hours after eating, a low-fat diet can help to discourage bloat.
For Senior Dogs
- Weight management is particularly important for large breed dogs, who have lower bone density than small breeds and are less well-equipped to deal with the weight burden. Obesity can become a major issue as your dog ages and their metabolism slows down, so a low calorie senior diet is worth looking into. You probably won’t find a commercial diet designed specifically for large breed seniors, but you can choose from grain-free, low-fat diets that maximize nutrition while cutting back on calories.
The Nutritional Needs of Large-Breed Dogs
No two dogs are exactly alike but, for the most part, all dogs have similar nutritional requirements. All dogs need a healthy balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in their diet as well as certain vitamins and minerals. Protein is the most important nutritional consideration for all dogs, especially for large-breed dogs, because it helps puppies to grow strong muscles and healthy tissues. As adults, protein helps dogs to maintain their lean muscle mass which reduces the risk for obesity. As a puppy, your large-breed dog needs a minimum of 22% protein in his diet but, as an adult, he only needs a minimum of 18%. It never hurts to throw in a little extra, however. Most of the protein in your dog’s diet should come from high-quality, animal-based sources to ensure that it offers optimal bio-availability for your dog. Plant proteins are not necessarily harmful, but your dog can’t digest or utilize them as well.
The second most important nutrient for dogs is fat because fat provides a concentrated source of energy for your dog. While protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories of energy per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram. This means that the higher the fat content of your dog’s food, the higher the calorie content. Large-breed dogs do need a minimum of 8% fat in their diet as puppies and 5% as adult dogs, but that fat needs to come from healthy sources. Animal-based fats like chicken fat and salmon oil are ideal for dogs because they offer higher bioavailability than plant-based fats like canola oil or flaxseed. You should be careful about having too much fat in your large-breed dog’s diet, however, because if he gets too many calories he could gain an unhealthy amount of weight.
In addition to plenty of protein and moderate amounts of fat, there are other nutrients which can be extremely beneficial for large-breed dogs. Dogs don’t have specific requirements when it comes to carbohydrate content, but you should be careful to make sure that any carbs in your dog’s diet are highly digestible. Whole grains, for example, are digestible for most dogs. If your dog has an allergy or sensitivity to grains, however, something like sweet potatoes, tapioca, legumes, or white potatoes may be a better option. Other nutrients your large-breed dog may benefit from include joint-supporting nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin as well as probiotics like dried fermentation products. Antioxidants will also help to protect your dog’s cells against free-radical damage and they will support his immune system as well.
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Feeding Tips for Large-Breed Puppies and Dogs
Now that you have a better understanding of what your large-breed dog’s actual nutritional needs are, you have a foundation to start from when shopping for dog food. You now know that large-breed dogs need a lot of protein in their diet to help maintain lean muscle mass but they shouldn’t get too much fat in their diet because it could lead to excess calories and unhealthy weight gain. To make your job of choosing a dog food easier, it is best to select a product that is specially formulated for large-breed dogs. A high-quality formula designed for large-breed dogs will be protein-rich with moderate fat content and limited carbohydrates. This is the best way to meet your larger dog’s protein needs without going overboard on calories.
When your large-breed dog is young, you should seriously consider feeding him a large-breed puppy recipe. Large-breed puppies need a lot of protein to fuel their healthy growth and development, but you need to make sure that they don’t grow too fast. Slow and sustained growth is best for large-breed puppies because if they puppy grows too fast, it could put excess strain on his developing bones and joints which could increase his risk for developing musculoskeletal issues as an adult. This is why most large-breed puppy recipes have limited fat content because excess calories can lead to excess growth which could predispose your puppy to health problems as an adult. Keep in mind that it is still possible for your puppy to grow too fast on a large-breed puppy formula if you feed him too much. Be sure to follow the feeding recommendations on the package for the best results.
When it comes to your dog’s calorie needs, his size and activity level will be the biggest determining factors. It only makes sense that a large dog will need more calories each day than a smaller dog just to maintain essential bodily processes. It should also make sense to you that the more active your dog is, the more calories he will burn, so the higher his calorie needs will be. What you may not realize, however, is that large-breed dogs actually need fewer calories than small-breed dogs when measured in calories per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 110-pound Great Dane might need about 2,500 calories per day while an 11-pound Maltese needs closer to 450 calories per day. If you do the math, however, you’ll find that the Great Dane needs just 22.7 calories per pound of bodyweight while the Maltese needs 40.9 calories per pound of bodyweight.
Given these calculations, you will see that small-breed dogs need a more calorie-dense diet than large-breed dogs. Why is this the case? Because small dogs have much faster metabolisms than larger dogs. Your Great Dane may need more total calories per day to maintain his bodyweight and healthy bodily function, but a Maltese needs more calories when measured per pound of bodyweight. What does this mean for your dog’s diet? A large-breed dog needs a diet that provides for his high protein needs but it shouldn’t be as high in calories as a diet for small-breed dogs. In most cases, this means moderating the fat content of the product and limiting the carbohydrate content to ensure optimal digestibility.
Top 5 Healthy Dog Food Brands for Large-Breed Dogs
If you want to meet your large-breed dog’s nutritional needs throughout his life your best bet is to start him off with a large-breed puppy formula. Once your puppy reaches about 80% of his expected adult size (this usually occurs somewhere between 12 and 18 months), you should switch to a large-breed adult recipe. If you need help choosing an adult recipe for your large-breed dog, consider one of the top-rated brands reviewed below:
Wellness CORE Grain-Free Original Turkey & Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food Buy It
Our Pick : Best Dry Dog Food For Large Breed Dogs
First 5 Ingredients : Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Peas, Potatoes
Wellness is an all-natural brand of pet food that follows a holistic approach to pet nutrition. The Wellness company understands that food does more than just sustain your dog – it protects his body and feeds his soul. Wellness is committed to quality and safety with each and every one of their products which is why they only use the best ingredients that nature has to offer. This includes premium proteins, wholesome carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables as well as beneficial supplements. The Wellness company employs a dedicated team of animal lovers, vets, and nutritionists to design their products and they have a wide variety to choose from. Not only does Wellness offer an assortment of grain-free and original recipes for adult dogs, but there are several large-breed specific formulas. For example, the Complete Health line of products includes three large-breed recipes – two for adult dogs and one for puppies. There is also a large-breed formula in the CORE line of grain-free recipes. Wellness does not currently offer any large-breed specific wet foods, but there is a healthy weight recipe in the CORE line of grain-free canned foods which could be a good choice for larger dogs who have trouble maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
AvoDerm Natural Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Formula Adult Dry Dog Food Buy It
First 5 Ingredients : Chicken Meal, Ground Whole Brown Rice, Ground Whole White Rice, Oatmeal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols)
The AvoDerm brand is part of the Central Garden and Pet Company, the same company that makes Breeder’s Choice pet foods. AvoDerm is a high-quality, natural brand that sets itself apart from the competition by including a certain nutrient-rich ingredient in all of their recipes – avocado. Avocado is loaded with healthy fats which not only provide your dog with a concentrated source of energy, but which also help to support his skin and coat as well as his brain and his immune system. AvoDerm has been producing quality pet foods since 1982 and they currently offer a variety of recipes for dogs in different life stages and of different breed sizes. For example, AvoDerm offers a large-breed specific recipe featuring chicken meal and brown rice for both large-breed puppies and large-breed adults. There are also a number of protein-rich and grain-free adult dog recipes that could be a good choice for your large-breed dog. AvoDerm also offers an assortment of oven-baked recipes and revolving menu options to help reduce the risk for food allergies and sensitivities. AvoDerm doesn’t offer any large-breed specific canned foods, but there is an assortment of original, grain-free, and revolving menu options to choose from if your dog prefers wet food.
Halo Holistic Chicken & Chicken Liver Adult Dry Dog Food Buy It
First 5 Ingredients : Chicken, Chicken Liver, Dried Egg Product, Oatmeal, Pearled Barley
The Halo company follows the tagline, “purely for pets”, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this company only uses the best ingredients in their formulas. Halo follows a holistic approach to pet nutrition, so each and every ingredient they use serves a purpose. The Halo company makes it their mission to provide people and their pets with honest information and wholesome products to improve lives. They follow three guiding principles – balance, nature, and love – which guide the company’s choices in developing products that support the optimum health, vitality, and wellness of dogs everywhere. When it comes to their dog food products, Halo has two main product lines – Spot’s Stew and Vigor. The Vigor line of products features carefully selected ingredients that work together to promote vitality, energy, and healthy digestion for all dogs. The Spot’s Stew line includes an assortment of original and grain-free recipes, including one for large-breed dogs and another healthy weight formula. All of Halo’s products are free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients as well as artificial additives so you can feel good no matter which recipe you choose. Halo’s adult dog food products are all made with premium proteins, farm-raised vegetables, and natural sources of fiber to ensure complete and balanced nutrition as well as natural flavor.
Precise Holistic Complete Large & Giant Breed Adult Formula Dry Dog Food Buy It
Our Pick : Best Dog Food For Giant Breed Dogs
First 5 Ingredients : Chicken, Chicken Meal, Ground Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Ascorbyl Palmitate)
Precise Pet Products is a pet food company by a desire to produce high-quality and nutritious pet foods made with premium ingredients. This company understands the special bond between people and pets, so they make products that will help to ensure that every dog reaches his maximum potential for health and longevity. Precise has four different product lines – Precise Naturals, Precise Naturals Grain-Free, Holistic Complete, and Holistic Complete Grain-Free – with a variety of adult dog formulas in each line. In addition to a variety of traditional adult dog formulas, Precise Pet Products offers several large-breed specific options. For example, Precise Pet Products offers a large and giant breed puppy as part of their Naturals line of products as well as both a large and giant breed puppy recipe and a large and giant breed adult recipe in the Holistic Complete line of products. The Holistic Complete Large & Giant Breed Adult recipe features chicken as the primary protein with brown rice and oatmeal for carbohydrate support. This formula also contains plenty of healthy fats for energy with balanced calcium and phosphorus levels for healthy bones and joints. There are no large-breed specific canned foods, but Precise Pet Products does offer a weight management wet food in the Naturals line of products.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food Buy It
Our Pick : Best Affordable Large Breed Dog Food
First 5 Ingredients : Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Barley, Oatmeal
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food – When you think of high-quality pet food brands, Blue Buffalo is probably one of the first names that comes to mind. Although this company is still fairly young, it has become one of the top names in the premium pet food industry, and for good reason. Blue Buffalo offers four different lines of products for dogs in all life stages and all breed sizes, including fifteen recipes for large-breed dogs. The Life Protection Formula line includes four recipes for large-breed adult dogs made with quality proteins like chicken and lamb plus digestible carbohydrates like brown rice and oatmeal. The Freedom line of grain-free recipes features three large-breed adult recipes made with chicken, lamb, and beef plus grain-free carbohydrates such as peas, potatoes, and tapioca starch – these recipes are also fortified with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support. For limited ingredient formulas, the Basics line includes two large-breed formulas and there are five large-breed recipes in the Wilderness line of protein-rich, natural evolutionary diets. All of Blue Buffalo’s recipes also include their LifeSource Bits which are made of a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition as well as lifelong health and wellness.
Top 2 Best Senior Large Breed Dog Foods
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Turkey, Yellowtail Flounder, Whole Eggs, Whole Atlantic Mackerel
By using fresh freeze-dried or dehydrated muscle meat, cartilage, bones, and organs, Orijen senior food delivers complete, biologically appropriate nourishment. This food features an impressive 85% animal content – the most biologically available form of protein for dogs. The remaining 15% of this food is comprised of nutritious, low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
To suit the needs of senior dogs and their decreased metabolism, this food is rich in healthy protein but low in calories. It contains glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. This recipe is free of anything artificial and doesn’t contain by-products, fillers, or grains.
- Supports a healthy senior weight
- Unusually rich in real animal protein
- No fillers, by-products, or artificial ingredients
- Contains glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health
- On the expensive end of the spectrum
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Turkey Meal, Fish Meal, Pea Protein, Peas
This formula for senior dogs features 40% fresh, frozen, and dried meats and is packed with nutraceuticals and enzymes to promote overall health. To support joint health as your dog ages, the recipe contains glucosamine and chondroitin.
While this food does have a long ingredient list, including numerous plant products, it’s ultimately a meat-based dog food that’s low in high-glycemic carbohydrates that can easily contribute to senior weight gain.
- Contains glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health
- Low-glycemic to keep blood sugar balanced and discourage obesity
- Packed with fresh, nourishing real meat
- Grain-free with no corn, soy, or wheat
- Free of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives
- Contains pea protein – meat protein is more easily digestible
A great diet keeps your large breed dog happy and healthy.
Because of their lower bone density, slower metabolism, and mighty physique, large breed dogs are at a greater risk of developing orthopedic disease. Genetics, trauma, activity levels, and diet all play a part in deciding whether or not your big dog will suffer from these problems. While heredity is beyond our control, we can easily manipulate the quality of the food in our dogs’ bowls.
At no time in your large breed dog’s life is nutrition more important than during their very rapid growth period. Large and giant dogs can gain over 150 lbs during their first year to year-and-a half of life. During this sensitive time, it’s doubly important that they receive the right nutrition to set them up for a long, healthy life with minimal health problems.
Over-supplementation, overly rapid growth, and excess weight during puppyhood could lead to serious problems down the road.
As adults and seniors, it’s important to keep your dog’s joints healthy and ensure that they maintain a healthy weight. You can achieve this by feeding a satiating low-carb food that’s rich in protein and low in high-glycemic ingredients. Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural supplements that keep your large dog’s joints in peak condition. As your large breed dog ages, their metabolism becomes even slower. This means that a low-calorie senior diet is a good choice to help ward off obesity and its myriad health consequences.
Whether you choose a commercial diet specifically formulated for large breed dogs or use a homemade or raw food, nutritional balance is the key to keeping your large breed dog mobile, active, energetic, and free from chronic pain.