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Any responsible dog owner knows that all dog foods are not created equal, but do you really need to buy dog food formulated for a specific breed? Not necessarily.
The availability of breed-specific diets leads dog owners to believe that different breeds have disparate nutritional requirements. While there may be some slight differences between large and small breeds, all dogs have the same basic needs for protein, fat, and essential nutrients.
Read on to learn more about the dietary requirements of large dogs and what to look for in the best dog food for large breeds.
Do Large Breed Dogs Have Different Dietary Needs?
All domestic dogs are descended from wolves but have evolved over the course of thousands of years into a vast array of distinct breeds. Because all dogs come from the same species (Canis familiaris), their bodies are evolved to follow the same kind of diet made up of protein, fat, carbohydrate, and essential nutrients.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, an adult dog’s minimum protein and fat requirements are 18% and 5%, respectively. Generally speaking, higher protein content is good for dogs to build and sustain lean muscle mass, while more fat means more calories, which are used as energy.
While all dogs have the same basic nutritional requirements, you wouldn’t feed a Yorkshire terrier the same thing you feed a German Shepherd because the two breeds have drastically different calorie requirements.
Biologically speaking, large breeds have slower metabolisms than smaller breeds. The average adult dog needs about 30 calories per pound of body weight per day while small breeds may need as many as 40 calories per pound and some large breeds may use as little as 20 calories per pound. Your dog’s activity level certainly comes into play in determining his daily calorie requirements, but this is the biggest difference in large versus small dog nutrition.
In addition to requiring fewer calories than smaller dogs, large breeds have a higher risk for certain health problems, including bone and joint issues, obesity, and bloat (also known as gastric dilation volvulus).
Though a large-breed adult dog may do just fine on an all-breed formula, a size-specific recipe is best for puppies. These formulas meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines for calcium and phosphorus, nutrients that need to be controlled in large breeds to prevent bone and joint issues later in life. They also tend to have higher protein content for muscle development and lower amounts of fat and calories to prevent rapid growth.
What About Grain-Free and BEG Diets?
In July 2018, the FDA began investigating reports of a potential link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and certain pet foods containing lentils, peas, legumes, and potatoes as main ingredients.
This investigation sparked a panic in the pet community, leading to a great deal of confusion and misinformation about pet foods that either came from boutique companies, contained exotic ingredients, and/or were billed as grain-free. Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN refers to these collectively as BEG diets.
In February 2019, and then again in June 2019, the FDA released an update summarizing the results of an in-depth study of these reports. Here are some of the results of that study:
- A total of 524 reports of DCM were reported, the majority of which were reported after the notification of the FDA’s investigation.
- The reports spanned a wide range of breeds, not only large and giant breeds that are known to have a genetic predisposition to DCM. (It also included a handful of cats.)
- In cases where dogs ate a single primary diet, 90% of cases were fed a grain-free diet, and a large proportion contained peas and/or lentils as main ingredients.
Though the FDA has yet to issue an official statement regarding the safety of grain-free diets for dogs, pet experts like Freeman suggest that “the apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain-free diets but may also be due to other common ingredients such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits.”
However, just because grain-free pet food is getting a second look these days, doesn’t mean that all grain-free diets are bad. Your dog might have sensitivities or preferences that could make a grain-free formula a good idea. If you are considering a change to your dog’s diet for their health, or you suspect your pet has a food allergy, always consult with your vet to ensure it’s right for your individual dog.
What to Look for in a Food for Large-Breed Dogs
Dog food for large breeds tend to be lower in calories than diets for small-breed dogs but should still provide for your dog’s basic needs for protein, fat, and essential nutrients.
Here are some things to look for in a good quality large-breed dog food:
- Made from whole-food ingredients without fillers, byproducts, or artificial additives
- Rich in lean protein, ideally from animal sources like meat, poultry, and fish
- Low to moderate fat content, depending on the dog’s activity level
- Glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health, with controlled levels of calcium and phosphorus
- Larger kibble size to control portions, reducing the dog’s risk of bloat
The Best Dog Food for Large Breeds
As a general rule, you should consult your veterinarian and not the internet for concerns regarding your dog’s health and nutrition. It doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on changes in the pet food industry, however, and to keep in mind the unique dietary requirements of your large-breed dog.
Here are our top picks for the best dog food for large breeds; we’ve included a few grain-free options in our list as well:
This protein-packed recipe is supplemented with antioxidant-rich ingredients that include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid) and other omega fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals to support brain development and healthy skin and coat.Shop on Chewy
Formulated for puppies that will grow to more than 50 pounds, this recipe contains optimal levels of protein and fat for healthy growth and development without going overboard on calories.Shop on Chewy
This “superfood” formula packs in a trio of proteins: chicken (the first ingredient), lamb, and salmon, along with nutrients such as glucosamine and chondroitin, sunflower oil, taurine and more, to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for your puppy.Shop on Chewy
A rich blend of high-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw pieces of real chicken, this recipe is formulated to help your large-breed dog maintain lean muscle while also meeting their energy needs.Shop on Chewy
A high-protein diet is the key to helping your large-breed dog maintain lean mass and a healthy body weight. This salmon and brown rice combo has it in spades while still keeping fat and calories limited.Shop on Chewy
Large and giant breeds have unique requirements for protein, calories, and joint-supporting nutrients. This holistic chicken and oatmeal recipe provides for those needs with ingredients including pumpkin, papaya, and probiotics for digestive health and glucosamine for healthy hips and joints.Shop on Chewy
Packed with protein from fresh chicken and supplemented with essential nutrients, this fresh dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for your dog. Plus, Nom Nom sends your dog’s food in pre-portioned packages according to his calorie needs.Shop on Nom Nom
Slow cooked in small batches to ensure optimal nutrition and maximum flavor, this recipe for large-breed dogs features whitefish, duck, and whole grains in a highly digestible meal that’s fortified with probiotics and leaves out fillers like corn, wheat, and soy.Shop on Chewy
Lamb is the main ingredient in this recipe; Nutro touts a “feed clean” philosophy and uses non-GMO ingredients in all of its nutrient-rich mixtures.Shop on Chewy
Designed to support healthy weight management in senior large-breed dogs, this recipe features a protein-rich blend of turkey, salmon, and duck with fresh fruits and vegetables.Shop on Chewy
Formulated to support your large-breed dog’s digestion, skin and coat health, and hip and joint function during his senior years, this chicken and barley recipe blends lean protein and whole-grain carbohydrates, including fibrous and nutritious apples, spinach, blueberries, and carrots in the mix.Shop on Chewy
Talk to Your Vet Before Choosing Any New Food for Your Dog
We’ve selected some great dog food options for your large-breed dog. But before introducing any new foods into your dog’s diet, we suggest consulting with your vet. Your veterinarian can help you understand any health issues your dog may be experiencing, and can recommend dog food that’s going to best support his specific health needs.