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You want to do everything you can to take care of your large breed puppy, including giving them the proper nutrition to support their growth, development, and overall health. A specially formulated and balanced large breed puppy food can help deliver optimal nutrition for your fast-growing pup.
But why, exactly, do large breed puppies need special food? How is it different from “normal” puppy food? And what are the best dog foods for large breed puppies for 2020 (and beyond)?
We tapped the expertise of Dr. Nicole Fulcher, Assistant Director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, for some of the answers to these questions, and suggest some brands in a product round-up of some of the best options available.
“Growth is a physiologically demanding process for a puppy, and it requires adequate amounts of energy as well as the best possible intake of nutrients,” says Dr. Nicole Fulcher, Assistant Director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, who recently answered our questions about via email. “Key nutritional points are energy and calcium, especially for large breed puppies. A Labrador retriever, for example, has a genetic tendency toward a fast growth rate that can stress their developing skeleton and could lead to bone malformations.
“Feeding a puppy food designed for small or medium dogs could lead to heavier body weight as well as faster bone growth with abnormal bone remodeling. The end result could be a less dense skeleton supporting a heavier load,” Fulcher says. “Large breed puppy food efficiently controls the growth rate and provides nutrients in amounts better adjusted for energy intake.”
Puppy food for large breeds is specifically formulated to support your dog as she grows into her full size—and, as mentioned, that includes having the right balance of energy and calcium.
“Large breed puppy diets from reputable companies have a lower energy density than the regular puppy food [such as the brands available at the supermarket]…and have controlled calcium levels designed for large breed puppies,” says Fulcher. “This helps decrease the risk of the dog developing orthopedic diseases later in life.”
While dog food specifically formulated for large breed puppies is definitely the best option, in a pinch, it’s totally fine to feed your dog food formulated for smaller pups—as long as it’s from a reputable brand. “Puppy food that is approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is safe to feed large breed puppies,” says Fulcher.
But just because the food is formulated for smaller dogs doesn’t mean your pet is entitled to an all-you-can-eat-buffet. “Large breed puppies should not be fed as much as they want. They need portion control, no matter what diet is being fed, to avoid growing too rapidly or gaining too much weight,” says Fulcher.
“I recommend feeding a large breed puppy diet from a reputable manufacturer, ideally that has undergone feeding trials, and one that is approved by AAFCO,” says Fulcher.
What dog food you choose is important—but so is how much (and how long) you feed to your dog. “Offer it in controlled amounts to ensure a slow rate of weight gain and a lean body condition score,” says Fulcher. “For large breed dogs, puppy food is to be fed at least until adult body weight is reached at approximately 18 months of age.”
On the lookout for the best dog food for your large breed puppies? Here are a few of our picks:
Not only does the Complete Health Large Breed puppy food from Wellness Natural Pet Food contain a balance of nutrients essential for the health of your large breed puppy (like added DHA for brain health and a blend of high-quality fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to deliver controlled energy), but it also has a larger kibble size than your typical puppy food options—perfect for your puppy’s bigger teeth.Shop Now on Amazon
The Nutro Ultra combines a trio of proteins (chicken, salmon, and lamb) with a variety of superfoods (including coconut, blueberries, kale, and chia) to create a nutrient-packed kibble specifically designed to support the growth and development of large breed puppies.Shop on Amazon
If you want a grain-inclusive large breed puppy food, you’ll definitely want to check out the Nutro’s big breed puppy formula, which combines farm-raised chicken with whole grains without the use of any artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.Shop on Amazon
In addition to choosing a dog food formulated for large breed puppies, you also want to choose a dog food made from healthy, high-quality ingredients.
This grain-free favorite from dog food brand Orijen delivers a potent dose of protein courtesy of real animal ingredients like deboned free-run chicken and turkey, cage-free eggs, and wild-caught fish.Find on Amazon
The Wolf Cub Large Breed Puppy Food from Solid Gold combines a number of high-quality ingredients—like bison, oatmeal, and barley—to deliver the nutrition your growing puppy needs.
Plus, this dog food also comes in a large kibble size that’s ideal for large breed puppies.Discover on Amazon
Formulated with optimal levels of calcium to support bone development, this grain-free option is also packed with a variety of nutrients and “LifeSource Bits,” what the company calls a “precise blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals” that specifically support your puppy’s development.Find on Amazon
All puppies have big hearts—but some puppies will grow into big bodies to match.
We made sure to only include the highest-quality diet options for your puppy on this list. But before you introduce anything new into your puppy’s diet—including the foods we suggest here—it’s important to consult your veterinarian. Your vet can assess your puppy, their health history, and their unique dietary and nutritional needs—and then help you choose the best dog food for your growing puppy and their overall health.