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The Golden Retriever is consistently ranked among the top three dog breeds in the United States, according to AKC registration statistics. These dogs are known for their soft golden coats, gentle temperaments, and goofy personalities.
Though all dogs are prone to certain health issues, Golden Retrievers are plagued by genetic joint problems, various forms of cancer, and allergies. Unfortunately, many of these conditions are undetectable in growing puppies, which is why responsible breeding practices are so important. Choosing a high-quality dog food for your Golden may also reduce his risk for health problems.
In this article, we’ll talk about the unique dietary requirements of Golden Retrievers to help you pick the best food for your dog. You’ll also see our top picks for 2019.
Do Golden Retrievers Have Specific Needs?
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, adult dogs require a minimum of 18% protein in their diet, and puppies need at least 22%. Protein provides the building blocks for strong muscles in puppies and, in adults, supports lean muscle maintenance. For most dogs, higher protein content is a good thing.
Fat provides your dog with a concentrated source of energy in the form of calories and should make up at least 8% of the diet for puppies and 5% for adult dogs. This is where your Golden Retriever’s needs start to differ.
Small dog breeds have fast metabolisms and need a higher concentration of calories in their diet. For large breeds like the Golden Retriever, however, excess calories can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which increases the risk for other issues like bone and joint problems. For this reason, Golden Retrievers need a protein-rich diet with low-to-moderate fat and calorie content.
What about growing puppies?
A puppy’s needs for protein and calories are higher than an adult’s, but large-breed puppies need to be kept on a calorie-controlled diet to prevent them from growing too quickly. According to AAFCO nutrient profiles, they also need lower calcium and phosphorus levels to reduce the risk for joint issues.
What to Look for in a Good Golden Retriever Food
To ensure that your Golden Retriever’s basic nutritional needs are met, it’s best to choose a large-breed dog food formulated for his life stage.
Here are some other things to look for in a good Golden Retriever food:
- Made from wholesome, natural ingredients with no fillers, by-products, or artificial additives
- Rich in lean protein from high-quality animal sources like poultry, meat, and fish
- Limited fat and calorie content to control growth in puppies and maintain lean mass in adults
- Controlled calcium and phosphorus levels with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health
- Nutritionally complete and balanced according to AAFCO nutrient profiles
In addition to making sure your Golden Retriever’s food meets these requirements, you should also check to see if it comes in a bigger kibble size. Large and deep-chested breeds have a high risk for bloat which is exacerbated by eating too fast or eating too much at once—bigger kibble means that your dog gets the same nutrition in a smaller portion size.
Are Grain-Free Diets Safe for Golden Retrievers?
Over the past year or so, there has been a great deal of debate surrounding the subject of grain-free diets for dogs. It began in July 2018 when the FDA announced that it had received several reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, related to grain-free diets.
In response to these reports, the FDA launched an investigation with the following results:
- Out of 300 reports of DCM, 90% of dogs eating a single primary diet were fed grain-free food.
- Some reports involved multiple affected animals (both dogs and cats) in the same household.
- These reports spanned a variety of breeds, not only large and giant breeds that are known to have a genetic predisposition to DCM.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is not a condition typically seen in Goldens, but a report from UC Davis shows an increase in cases of DCM, often in dogs following a grain-free diet.
What does this mean for your Golden Retriever?
The FDA has yet to issue an official statement, but experts like Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, suggest that the correlation with DCM “may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets but may also be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits.”
Feeding a grain-free diet is still a personal decision, but keep in mind that these diets are not inherently healthier than grain-inclusive diets. The exception is for dogs who are allergic or sensitive to grains, in which case a grain-free diet may be recommended.
The Best Dog Food for Golden Retrievers
Though breed-specific dog food formulas might be fine for your dog, it’s better to understand your dog’s nutritional needs and make an informed decision based on those needs. Keeping in mind your dog’s age, breed size, and activity level will help you make the best decision.
Here are our top picks for the best dog food for Golden Retrievers:
Formulated to support your Golden Retriever puppy’s growth and development without going overboard on fat or calories, this recipe features fresh chicken and digestible brown rice.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.67/lbs.
If you already know that your puppy is sensitive to grains, this chicken and sweet potato recipe is an affordable option formulated specifically for large-breed puppies.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.67/lbs.
Made with fresh chicken as a lean source of protein and chicken meal to provide glucosamine and chondroitin, this large-breed puppy recipe will get your Golden off to a healthy start in life.Buy Now on Amazon for $1.98/lbs.
A nutritious blend of high-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw bites of real meat, this recipe provides the nutritional benefits of raw food with the convenience of dry food.Buy Now on Amazon for $3.18/lbs.
Formulated for digestibility, this holistic natural recipe features real chicken as the main ingredient, acting as both a lean source of protein and a natural source of joint-supporting glucosamine and chondroitin.Buy Now on Chewy for $3.05/lbs.
Pasture-fed lamb is the protein-rich foundation of this large-breed recipe, balanced with whole brown rice, whole grain oatmeal, and assorted vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure optimal nutrition.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.76/lbs.
If your Golden Retriever is allergic or sensitive to grains, this holistic grain-free recipe may be a good option. With chicken meal as a concentrated source of lean protein, it’s also fortified with joint-supporting glucosamine and chondroitin as well as chelated minerals.Buy Now on Amazon for $1.86/lbs.
Not only is this large-breed recipe loaded with lean protein and digestible whole grains, but it’s fortified with natural fibers, digestive enzymes, and probiotics to ensure healthy and regular digestion.Buy Now on Amazon for $2.10/lbs.
Large breeds like your Golden Retriever have a higher risk for obesity which makes this healthy weight formula featuring lean chicken and 25% less fat an excellent option.Buy Now on Chewy for $3.32/lbs.
Golden Retrievers eat a lot, so if you’re concerned with cost, this recipe is highly affordable and designed to help large-breed dogs maintain lean muscle and healthy body weight.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.47/lbs.
If food allergies and sensitivities aren’t a factor, this dry food recipe is a protein-rich source of quality nutrition that’s also limited in fat and calories to help your Golden maintain his weight as he gets older.Buy Now on Amazon for $1.37/lbs.
All dogs have the same basic nutritional needs when it comes to protein, fat, and essential nutrients. As you’ve learned here, however, there are some disparities among breeds of different sizes. To learn more about the nutritional needs of large dogs, check out our guide to the best dog food for large dogs here.