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.
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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:
Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Large Breed Dog – Best for Puppies
|Special Diet:||High protein|
Just because you have a puppy that is a large breed doesn’t mean that they should be eating the same food as the adults of that breeds. Hill’s Science is a veterinarian-trusted brand that provides your young dog with the precise nutrition they need to help their development. They use controlled levels of calcium to support bone growth, as well as high protein ingredients, which they turn into kibble right here in the USA. However, it is a little pricey, and there are some reports of it having a fishy smell.
Rachel Ray Real Chicken and Veggies Recipe – Best Value
Finding the best dry dog food for the money is a challenge because you don’t want to sacrifice quality for money, especially if it will negatively impact your pet’s health. This recipe by Rachel Ray uses farm-raised chicken and real veggies in its recipe. It’s not often that you see quality protein listed on a budget brand. It isn’t just the fact that real chicken as the first ingredient, though. The recipe also contains beet pulp which is high in fiber and aids in digestion. While it is full of antioxidants and taurine for heart health, this brand has been recalled in the past.
Purina Pro Plan Adult Shredded Blend – Best Overall
|Special Diet:||High protein, high fiber|
This dry kibble made by Purina is the best overall dry dog food for large dogs. The recipe contains large chunks of meat and encourages your dog to consume the nutritious pieces. It is also high in protein to keep your dog full and stick to its carnivorous diet. On top of that, they added glucosamine to help with joint health: an issue many larger dog breeds face.
Inside the kibble lives lots of probiotics that help aid in digestion. The crunchy texture helps to keep their teeth clean, but it does get a little messy for some dogs.
Ollie Baked Chicken Recipe Dog Food – Premium Choice
|Special Diet:||High protein|
Ollie is best known for its fresh dog food, but did you know they have a dry food line as well? Ollie Baked Chicken Recipe is our premium choice for dry dog food, with a delicious high-protein, real ingredient recipe that is sure to make dogs go wild. This food comes in at 26% protein and 16% fat, which is ideal for the average dog in all life stages. The first ingredient is chicken, a healthy protein source and the main source of protein. The other main ingredients are oats, whole dried eggs, chicken liver, chickpeas, and pea flour. Oats are a healthy and easy-to-digest whole grain, and whole dried eggs and chicken liver are great sources of additional protein and fat.
Chickpeas and pea flour are a little more controversial—these can be cheap protein sources meant to bulk up a food without much nutrition, but since they are lower on the list, they are likely not major sources of protein. These ingredients do add extra vitamins and fiber to the pet food. Overall, Ollie Baked Chicken is an amazing—if expensive—dry food option.
All in all, we think Ollie’s Baked Chicken is the best premium dog food for large dogs.
Hill’s Science Diet Adult Large Breed Dog Food
We list Hill’s Science again because they truly produce quality kibble for our pets. The first ingredient in this recipe for large adult breeds is real chicken with pork fat and chicken meal for even more nutrients. This food is also full of omega fatty acids, fiber, and vitamins. Unfortunately, they do use wheat and grains, which some dogs have sensitivities and allergies for. This could also cause some digestive issues.
Holistic Select Large Breed Dry Dog Food
|Special Diet:||Sensitive digestion. pea-free, gluten-free|
While you may be paying a high price, this kibble by Holistic Select Natural keeps all the undesired ingredients out of their recipes and only includes the good ones. Their food is free from wheat, gluten, and all artificial colors and flavor. They do use chicken meal instead of real chicken. However, their food is still full of fiber and contains flaxseed and cranberries for probiotics and digestive health.
Diamond Natural Large Breed Adult Dog Formula
|Special Diet:||No corn, wheat, or soy|
Even though a lot of us stick to feeding our dogs beef and chicken, one of the best lamb recipes comes from Diamond Naturals. The lamb flavor offers dogs a change of pace from their regular food, but it does use lamb meal instead of real lamb. It could also take dogs some time to adjust to the new flavor and high salt content. However, they do include chicken fat and glucosamine, as well as healthy superfoods such as chia seeds and kale that are rich in fiber.
Iams Adult Large Breed Dog Food
This food by Iams strives to give large dogs all the food they need without making them suffer from obesity. While it is a budget brand, the recipe does include real chicken, chicken meal, and fat to give them lots of protein and use as many parts of the bird as possible. There are grains and artificial colorings inside, but we find that it is a safe option for those who are on a budget.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula
|Special Diet:||No corn, wheat, or soy|
The biggest draw to the Blue Buffalo brand is how much protein they pack into their foods. This recipe contains over 22 percent protein and is free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients. The first two ingredients are chicken and chicken meal, so you can be sure they are getting plenty of good meat.
This is another food that seems to have a strong odor. The food isn’t of the highest quality. Plus, they have been recalled in the past.
Eukanuba Adult Large Breed Food
|Special Diet:||High protein|
One thing that we really enjoy about the Eukanuba brand for large breeds is that they focus on joint health since it is so common in big breeds. The kibble contains lots of fish oil and glucosamine to help these issues. However, the food is rather expensive for the ingredients it uses. The sodium content is high, and they use corn as a filler for their food. This could cause some severe health issues for dogs with allergies.
Buyer’s Guide: Selecting the Best Dry Dog Food for Large Dogs
There is no doubt that buying dog food for a specific breed can be confusing. How are you supposed to know the difference between what small breeds need and what large ones needs? Skim through our buyer’s guide to find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Is My Dog Considered a Large Breed?
In general, dogs that weigh at least 50 pounds and stand at least 2 feet tall are considered a “large” breed. Dogs that weigh over 100 pounds and are over 26 inches tall are usually considered giant breeds.
What Do You Need to Look for in Large Breed Dog Food Recipes?
- The main thing you need to pay attention to when picking out a food for your dog is the amount of protein in it. Dogs eat a mostly carnivorous diet, and protein that comes from real meat should always be the first thing listed on the ingredients list. Other things that tend to help large dog breeds are high amounts of fiber without empty fillers like corn.
- Beyond the protein and fiber, check to ensure that the brand added the vitamins glucosamine, taurine, or chondroitin. These vitamins are crucial for joint health. Big dogs are more likely to suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other painful conditions, and these ingredients help to combat those as your pet ages.
Do Dogs Need Special Food for Their Size?
While we can’t technically tell you that your dog needs a specific type of dog food, there is a purpose for it. When you buy a recipe that pertains to a specific dog size, it ensures that you are giving all of the essential nutrients and calories that your dog needs to live a healthy life. High-quality dog foods do tend to cost more money, so check and make sure that the ingredients listed align with what you are paying for. If you’re still unsure about it, always go to your vet for advice on good brands to feed your pet.
What if Your Dog Doesn’t Like the Food?
There really isn’t any way to tell if your dog is going to like the food you buy until you feed it to them. Sometimes, that means wasting money on food your dog won’t touch. Instead of throwing it away, donate the unused food to a dog shelter or other places in need.
Do Giant Breeds Require Different Food?
Even though your dog may be a giant breed instead of a large breed, you will likely still have to buy large breed dog food. Unless your vet tells you otherwise, these dogs tend to need the same nutrition but with a slightly larger portion.
With so many reviews to look over, it can become overwhelming to pick out a dog food brand for your large breed. Purina Pro Plan Adult Shredded has proven to be the best overall dog food for large breeds, but Rachel Ray is an excellent budget brand if you’re looking for something less expensive. If you’re really feeling like treating your pets, then Ollie’s Baked Chicken Recipe is the best premium option. Don’t assume that all dog food is the same. There are a lot of differences between each brand, and the last thing you want is to feed your pet low-quality foods that could make them sick.