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Any responsible dog owner knows that all dog foods are not created equal, but do you need to buy dog food formulated for a specific breed? Not necessarily.
Breed-specific diets lead 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 a high-quality dog food for large breeds. We’ll also provide you with our top 15 picks for 2019.
Do Large Breed Dogs Have Different Dietary Needs?
A Golden Retriever doesn’t need a completely different diet than a German Shepherd because they’re both large, active breeds with similar health concerns. If you took a closer look at the ideal diet for a Yorkshire Terrier versus that of a Golden Retriever, however, the differences would be more noticeable.
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 (to be used as energy).
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 large breeds may use as little as 20 calories per pound. Your dog’s activity level certainly comes into play, but this is the biggest differences in large versus small dog nutrition.
In addition to having a lesser requirement for calories, large breeds have a higher risk for certain health problems, including bone and joint issues, obesity, and bloat.
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 AAFCO guidelines for calcium and phosphorus, nutrients which 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 with less fat and calories to prevent rapid growth.
What About Grain-Free and BEG Diets?
In July 2018, the FDA began investigating reports of a 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 diets from boutique companies containing exotic ingredients as well as grain-free diets (which Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN collectively refers to as BEG diets).
In February 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 300 reports of DCM were reported, over 90% 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.
- 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 a main ingredient.
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.”
What to Look for in a Food for Large-Breed Dogs
Large-breed dog foods tend to be lower in calories than small-breed diets 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 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 portion size, reducing the dog’s risk of bloat
The Best Dog Food for Large Dogs
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 large versus small breeds.
Here are our top picks for the best dog food for large dogs:
This protein-rich recipe is supplemented with a Super 7 package of antioxidant-rich ingredients with DHA for brain development and omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.Buy Now on Amazon for $1.67/lbs.
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.Buy Now on Amazon for $2.10/lbs.
With real chicken as the first ingredient, this protein-packed formula features a trio of proteins and the Nutro Ultra Holistic Superfood Blend to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for your puppy.Buy Now on Amazon for $1.98/lbs.
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 his needs for energy.Buy Now on Chewy for $3.18/lbs.
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 recipe has it in spades but is still limited in fat and calories.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.25/lbs.
Large and giant breeds have unique requirements for protein, calories, and joint-supporting nutrients. This holistic, natural recipe provides for those needs in a digestible, flavor-rich formula.Buy Now on Chewy for $2.10/lbs.
Slow cooked in small batches to ensure optimal nutrition and maximum flavor, this large breed formula features whitefish, duck, and whole grains in a highly digestible recipe fortified with probiotics.Buy Now on Amazon for $4.54/lbs.
If your dog is sensitive to grains, this grain-free formula featuring superfoods like sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries may be the perfect option.Buy Now on Amazon for $2.39/lbs.
A premium-quality, all-natural food formulated for large-breed adult dogs, this recipe offers 23% protein for lean muscle maintenance with limited fat and calories to support healthy body weight.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.56/lbs.
For dogs with food allergies and sensitivities, a limited ingredient diet is a must. This formula contains a handful of key ingredients as well as a single source of novel animal protein.Buy Now on Chewy for $2.57/lbs.
Made with just 10 main ingredients or less, this grain-free diet is formulated for large breed dogs and is free from chicken, artificial additives, and other common allergens.Buy Now on Chewy for $2.64/lbs.
Designed to support healthy weight management in senior large-breed dogs, this formula features a protein-rich blend of turkey, salmon, and duck with fresh fruits and vegetables.Buy Now on Amazon for $3.16/lbs.
A dog’s risk for food allergies increases with age, making this limited ingredient diet featuring just 9 simple ingredients an excellent choice for your senior large-breed dog.Buy Now on Amazon for $3.33/lbs.
Keep your large-breed dog fit and free well into his senior years with this grain-free formula featuring fresh trout, turkey meal, and dried fruits and veggies to provide balanced nutrition.Buy Now on Amazon for $3.36/lbs.
Formulated to support your large-breed dog’s digestive health, skin & coat, and hip and joint function during his senior years, this recipe features lean protein and whole-grain carbohydrates.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.89/lbs.
When choosing a dog food formula, the important thing to remember is that all dogs have the same basic requirements, though there are slight differences for large breeds. Take what you’ve learned here to heart and use that knowledge to make the smartest, healthiest choice you can for your dog.
If your dog is allergic or sensitive to grains and you’re looking for a grain-free diet, check out our top picks for the best grain-free dog food here.