What Is The Best Dog Food for a Large Breed Dog?
The Ultimate Large Breed Dog Food Buyer’s Guide
Dog food companies today make a number of foods designed for large breed dogs. However, not all “large” dogs are created alike. Technically there is a difference between large breed dogs such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers and giant breeds such as Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds.
Many dog food companies consider the term “large” to include all dogs that weigh more than 50 pounds as adults. Obviously, there’s a big difference between the 75-pound Labrador Retriever and the 200-pound Great Dane! But not every dog food company is careful about this distinction.
*There are some companies that make foods specifically for giant breed dogs so you can find special food for really big dogs.
However, for the most part, you should assume that large breed dog foods can be fed to both “large” and “giant” breed dogs, unless the packaging states otherwise. If you have a giant breed dog and you want to make sure that your extra big dog is getting the nutrition he needs, you will need to look for foods labeled for giant breed dogs. There are not very many dog foods with this specific labeling, but there are a few.
Another term you will sometimes see with regard to large dogs is “medium-large.” This is usually applied to dogs and breeds that are just barely over the 50-pound mark as adults and which weigh less than 70 pounds. It can apply to Dalmatians, the Afghan Hound, Airedale Terriers, Australian Shepherds, Basset Hounds, Boxers, the Chinese Shar Pei, the Chow Chow, Collies, English Springer Spaniels, German Shorthaired and German Wirehaired Pointers, Siberian Huskies, Norwegian Elkhounds, Vizslas, and Weimaraners.
True large breed dogs usually include Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Alaskan Malamutes, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Bloodhounds, Borzois, Bouvier des Flandres, Bullmastiffs, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Giant Schnauzers, Great Pyrenees, Old English Sheepdogs, Rottweilers, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
Larger dogs, such as those weighing over 100 pounds as adults, are usually considered giant breeds. They include Akitas, Great Danes, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, Irish Wolfhounds, Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards.
Individuals within these breeds can vary. Some dogs can be smaller than ordinary within a breed while other dogs can be larger than normal.
*It’s probably not fair to place the blame for combining large and giant breeds on dog food companies. AAFCO and some of the other organizations that make recommendations for dog food nutrition do not call for a distinction between large and giant breeds. These organizations are also responsible for determining the recommended calcium and phosphorus percentages in large breed puppy foods, among other things. More on this subject later.
Diet & Nutrition for Large Breed Dogs
Most large breed dogs will weigh over 50 pounds as adults but this still leaves a lot of leeway. A Rottweiler is much more muscular and stouter than a Dalmatian, for example. Rotties will top out at a much higher weight than many other large breed dogs and need more calories. So feeding your large breed dog will depend on many individual factors such as ideal size, activity level, metabolism, and other things. For the most part, large breed dogs use less energy than very small dogs. Unless they are actively working, many large breed dogs will spend a lot of time sleeping or resting. They can also have a slower resting energy rate than many small breed dogs. It’s not always easy to account for these differences mathematically, if you are familiar with using a Resting Energy Rate (RER) formula to figure your dog’s calories. Most large breed dog foods have fewer calories than dog food for small and Toy breeds. This is by design so these larger dogs will not gain too much weight and become obese due to their slower metabolism. Big dogs may eat more food than small dogs but it’s important that they don’t over-indulge.
Growing puppies and young adults use a lot of energy. They require a diet that features good quality protein. According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, an active adult large dog weighing 70 pounds requires an average daily caloric intake of 1740 calories. Dogs that have been spayed/neutered, or that are older, or that are less active may need slightly fewer calories. Some dogs may need more calories depending on their level of activity and their individual metabolism. Growing puppies, for example, consume more calories than adult dogs and so do young adult dogs. A young large breed puppy weighing 30 pounds needs an estimated 1490 calories per day. However, these figures can vary greatly depending on the breed, the age of the dog, and the activity level, the dog’s general health, and other factors.
Virtually all experts agree that it’s important for large and giant breed puppies to grow slowly. Studies have shown that this helps prevent bone and joint problems later in life. It’s also important to pay special attention to the calcium and phosphorus levels in the food. For these reasons, we recommend feeding a good large breed puppy food to these puppies. Adult dogs can eat food made for large breed dogs or all life stage foods. Foods made for large breeds and large breed puppies usually have slightly fewer calories than other dog foods. This is done because added weight on the skeletal structure of a giant breed dog is thought to contribute to hip dysplasia and other joint and musculo-skeletal problems. It’s important for giant breed puppies and adults to stay slim and not carry excess weight.
One veterinarian, Susan Wynn, DVM, makes these recommendations for feeding large breed puppies and they agree with most of the information we have found:
Dietary recommendations for large breed puppies
- Make sure the diet is complete and balanced for “all life stages” according to AAFCO guidelines, or if homemade, has been analyzed by a veterinary nutritionist. 2. Diets that have been tested in feeding trials are preferred to those that have been formulated according to AAFCO guidelines only. 3. Never free feed. 4. Keep the puppy lean (4/9 or 5/9). 5. Look for these guidelines: a. A dry matter content of about 30% protein, 9% fat, 1.5% calcium and 0.8% to 1% phosphorus. The calcium:phosphorus ratio should be between 1:1 to 1.3:1. b. If the diet deviates from these guidelines, refer back to #1-4. (Emphasis added.)
Breeders often recommend that you do not add supplements to a good, balanced commercial puppy food. Over-supplementation or supplementation of the wrong thing can upset the nutrient balance of a food. This is particularly important with puppies when bones are developing. Adding extra calcium or other supplements to your puppy’s diet can lead to skeletal problems later, such as osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, HOD, other developmental bone diseases, and arthritis, and perhaps a need for surgery. Supplements are not recommended until a dog has stopped growing. If you have invested the money to buy a nice dog from a knowledgeable breeder, please follow their advice. Even if your dog comes from a shelter or rescue, adding supplements while the puppy is growing can be harmful. Vitamins and minerals seem like good things but you can harm your puppy by giving too many while he is growing. Feed a good quality puppy food and let it do its work.
Feeding Your Large Breed Dog
There are a number of large breed dog foods on the market today. Some are better quality than others. We recommend that you choose a good quality food for your dog. This is especially important for large breed puppies while they are growing, but it continues to be important for large breed adult dogs. Your dog’s health depends on the nutrition you provide so cutting corners is not recommended.
We suggest that you measure the amount of food you feed and only leave the food sitting out for about half an hour. Then put it away. This should give your dog time to eat. If you free feed and leave the food sitting out all the time dogs usually nibble which puts on pounds. Most adult dogs do well eating two meals per day. Puppies can usually eat three meals per day until they are old enough to start eating on an adult schedule.
It’s particularly important that large breed dogs are not allowed to become obese since being overweight puts added stress on their joints and bones. This can increase the likelihood that these big dogs will have problems like arthritis or hip dysplasia as they get older.
Large Breed Dog Health Problems
While each breed is different and can have some of their own issues, in general large breeds can be prone to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and some other developmental bone diseases. Some of these diseases can crop up while the dogs are puppies and are directly related to rapid growth such as HOD and panosteitis. HOD is Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, a bone disease that usually affects young, rapidly growing, large breed dogs. There are protocols for treating HOD but it can be very dangerous to pups. Pano is a painful bone disease of dogs that is characterized by bone proliferation and remodeling that can often last for months.
Other health issues that can occur in some large breeds include autoimmune thyroiditis, eye problems, deafness, and cardiac issues. If you are considering a specific breed you should talk to breeders and research the breed to make sure you are aware of potential health issues in the breed.
Some large breeds with a deep chest cavity can be prone to bloating. These breeds can include the German Shepherd, the Irish Setter, and others. Bloating is a life-threatening illness in which the stomach fills with air or gas then twists. The air cannot escape, the blood supply to the heart is compromised, and the dog can quickly go into shock. Unless the dog is treated immediately he can die.
Many dog lovers try to protect their dogs and keep them healthy by feeding a dog food with more natural ingredients so their immune system will stay as strong as possible. Many people recommend feeding a food that is free of some of the most common food irritants such as corn, soy, and wheat. These are not the most common dog food allergens – beef, dairy products, and chicken, for example, lead to more food allergies for dogs than corn, soy, and wheat. But many people like to avoid soy and grains in dog foods. There are many good grain free dog foods today if you want to feed one to your dog.
Avoiding artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives is also suggested as a way to help keep the immune system stronger.
Ingredients to Look for and Some to Avoid
Protein and fat are the main ingredients in the diet for large breed dogs, as they are for most dogs. However, not all proteins and fats are the same. It’s important that the protein and fat in the dog food comes from good sources if you want your dog to be healthy.
Ideally you will select a dog food that features two or three meat proteins in the first several ingredients listed. Both whole meats and meat meals are good sources of protein. Whole meats refer to foods such as whole chicken, beef, fish, and lamb. Some people don’t like meat meals as much as whole meats but they are a concentrated form of the meat in which the moisture has been removed. They contain several times as much protein as a whole meat. Meat meals are usually quite acceptable as one of the first ingredients in a good quality dog food. They are used by many good dog food brands.
Dogs also need good sources of fat. You should look for named fat sources such as chicken fat. Other named fats also provide needed nutrients such as fish oil which can provide omega-3 fatty acid to help keep the skin and coat healthy. Puppies can benefit from DHA which is Docosahexaenoic acid. This is a specific form of omega-3 fatty acid that helps with brain and eye development. Older dogs seem to benefit from medium chain triglycerides which feature medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). These have been found to help older dogs feel and act younger. They are often made from a combination of coconut oil and other oils.
If you want to avoid corn, soy, and wheat in your dog food, your large breed dog may still be able to eat rice, barley, oats, or some other grain or cereal. Oats and barley, for example, can be good sources of dietary fiber. Or you can feed a grain free dog food that uses an alternate source of carbs such as sweet potatoes. You don’t have to feed a dog food with an excessively high percentage of protein but it’s a good idea to keep the carb percentage low to moderate.
Many, or even most, large breed adult dog foods contain added glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate. Even some dog foods for non-large breed dogs routinely add these supplements. These are the same supplements that humans often take for arthritis and other aches and pains. There seems to be a consensus that they can help, at least with humans. However, the FDA does not allow dog food companies to make very extravagant claims about glucosamine and chondroitin for pet food. Such attempts have been shot down. Companies can include these ingredients, but the FDA isn’t exactly happy about the situation. If you would really like for your large breed dog to take glucosamine and chondroitin – and to know how much he is getting – you should probably buy these supplements yourself at your drugstore or online so you can give him a daily dose. There are some other supplements for joints that you sometimes see added to large breed dog foods such as green-lipped mussels, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and other things. Again, if you really want to know what your dog is taking, and how much, we recommend that you buy your own supplements so you can be sure of the quality and viability of the products.
Recommended Dog Food For Large Breed Dogs
Every dog is an individual. Even dogs in the same breed can have different food needs. Some dogs need more calories than others. Some dogs will do better with more protein or fat than other dogs.
We are recommending a variety of foods for large breed dogs, for obvious reasons. There are so many different breeds considered “large breed” that it would be impossible for one or two foods to satisfy every dog. Some have grains and some don’t. We have selected foods without corn, wheat, and soy unless otherwise noted. You may have to try a couple of foods to find which one is best for your dog. You should also keep in mind that your dog’s diet needs can change as he grows and ages so you may have to change foods to accommodate him.
Best Dog Foods for Large Breed Adults
Acana is made by Champion Pet Foods, the same company that makes Orijen. Their Regional formulas, like Wild Prairie Regional, are 60 percent meat/fish from local sources. The first five ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, green peas, turkey meal, and chicken liver oil. Acana is made in Champion’s own facilities and the company has an excellent reputation. This particular food has 31 percent crude protein and 17 percent crude fat; with 5 percent crude fiber. Metabolic Energy for ACANA Wild Prairie Dog Food is 3615 kcal/kg (434 kcal per 250ml cup) with 30% of energy from protein, 40% from fat and 30% from fruits and vegetables. It is AAFCO-approved for all life stages. We think this food, or one of the other Acana Regional formulas, would be very good for many large breed dogs.
We have heard great things about Victor dog food from lots of people. Victor is made by Mid America Pet Food – a company that co-packs for some other well-known brands. Mid America is a family-owned and operated company located in east Texas. According to the company, more than 80 percent of the ingredients used in their foods come from a 200-mile radius of their facility. They currently have six highly active and sporting dog formulas; five formulas for normally active dogs; and five grain free formulas. All of their foods are free of corn, wheat, soy, gluten, and grain by-products. They use no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The Yukon River Salmon formula has 32 percent crude protein, 15 percent crude fat, and 34 percent crude carbs. Seventy-six percent of the protein in the food comes from fish. We think this is a food you might consider for your large breed dog, or check out one of Victor’s other formulas.
Now Fresh Grain Free Large Breed Adult Recipe is made by Petcurean. You may be more familiar with some of the other product lines from this Canadian company, such as Go!, Spike, or Summit. This food for large dogs is made from 100 percent fresh turkey, salmon, duck and 100 percent fresh omega 3 & 6 oils from coconuts and canola. It has no corn, wheat, or soy, and no other grains, gluten, or beef. It uses no rendered meats, no by-products, and no artificial preservatives.
The food does feature New Zealand green mussels and glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints. It has added L-Carnitine for a healthy heart and to help turn fat into lean muscle. It has taurine for good vision and heart function. And it has added pre- and probiotics for better digestion. The first ingredient is deboned turkey. The food contains 363 kcal/cup and has 27 percent crude protein and 13 percent crude fat. These levels should help your large breed dog stay at a prime weight. We think this food has some good features for large breeds in terms of bone and joint health and heart health, as well as quality ingredients.
Designed specifically for large dogs over 50 pounds, Fromm Large Breed Adult Gold is one of our favorite dog foods for large dogs. It contains duck, chicken meal, and chicken as the first three ingredients. Chicken cartilage is added for a natural form of glucosamine to keep joints supple which is important for large dogs. The food contains no wheat, corn, or soy that might irritate the digestive system. Fromm Large Breed Adult Gold features moderate protein and fat which is better for large dogs. The food is moderate in terms of calories (378 kcal/cup) which helps your big dog stay slim.
We also like the fact that Fromm is a family-owned company in Wisconsin and they make their food in small batches fresh every morning. These are good ingredients from a respected company in a formula that should be good for your big dog. Your large breed dog should stay healthy and fit with this large breed food.
Best Dog Foods for Large Breed Puppies
Large breed puppies do have some special requirements. They often do well on good quality large breed puppy foods. These foods should have precise levels of calcium and phosphorus compared to other puppy foods which is important for large breed puppies. This ratio should be very close to the following for large breed dogs: 1.2:1. That is 1.2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus. You can usually find this information in the nutritional analysis for a dog food. It may or may not be included on the label but you can usually find it on the company web site.
Here are some of the puppy foods we like for large breed puppies.
Similar to Fromm’s Large Breed Gold Adult formula, this large breed puppy formula contains no corn, wheat, or soy. The first three ingredients are duck, chicken meal, and chicken. The food is formulated for puppies who will grow to be over 50 pounds as adult dogs. Protein and fat in the food are moderate, and so are the calories, to help large breed puppies grow slowly. The technical analysis for the food shows the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio for large breed puppies. Fromm Large Breed Puppy Gold formula also has added DHA-rich salmon oil for good brain and eye development in puppies. The USDA-inspected ingredients for the food are delivered fresh each morning. We think this food should help large breed puppies grow slowly so they can avoid bone and joint problems as they get older.
Many breeders recommend Canidae to their puppy owners and feed it themselves. You can feed an All Life Stages food or you can feed a large/giant breed puppy food such as Canidae’s Life Stages Large Breed Puppy formula which features duck meal, brown rice, and lentils. It’s specially designed for puppies that will grow to be over 50 pounds as adults. Duck meal is high in omega-3 fatty acid which is good for reducing joint inflammation. Lentils are a non-grain, gluten free source of carbs. The food is also lower in protein and fat so it helps keep large breed puppies slim – which can help prevent hip dysplasia later in life.
As a puppy food, Canidae Life Stages Large Breed Puppy formula also contains high levels of DHA to help with cognitive development. And the food has no corn, wheat, soy, fillers, antibiotics, hormones, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. These are all things we look for in a good food for large breed puppies.
Best Dog Foods for the Senior Large Breed Dog
Many large breed dogs live into their teen years. This means that you will probably need to consider what kind of food to feed your dog as he gets older. As your dog ages it’s a good idea to plan an annual senior check-up with your vet. Many older dogs begin to put on pounds as they get older. For this reason, most senior dog foods have fewer calories and they can skimp on protein. You should watch your older dog’s weight as he gets older to make sure he doesn’t become overweight. In some cases you can simply cut back on the portions of his regular dog food to help him stay fit or increase his exercise.
On the other hand, very old dogs often start to have some problems metabolizing nutrients, including protein. It can become hard for them to keep good muscle tone and weight as they age. For this reason, you may wish to avoid many dog foods labeled “senior.” These foods are often formulated for older dogs that have gained weight. Instead, look for a senior dog food that we like which has lots of protein. As long as your older dog doesn’t have any problems with his kidneys or with phosphorus, there is no reason to avoid higher protein levels.
Orijen Senior provides plenty of excellent quality protein for your older large dog. This food features free-run chicken and turkey, wild-caught fish, and nest-laid eggs. It helps keep older dogs in good muscle even as they become less active. Made of 80 percent meats and fish, the food is low-glycemic and has low carbs to help keep your older dog’s blood sugar steady. The food also contains natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin to keep your big dog’s joints healthy. The food is 38 percent crude protein and 15 percent crude fat. It checks in at 445 kcal per 250ml/120g cup. We think this is a very good food for senior dogs who often need extra protein as they get older.
Best Dog Foods for Large Dogs with Skin Problems/Allergies
Like other dogs, some large breed dogs can have skin problems such as allergies. If your dog is having skin trouble, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet and get a diagnosis. This can ultimately save you a lot of money – and help your dog. You don’t want to keep buying expensive dog foods thinking your dog has a food allergy if he really has a problem that’s not food-related.
If your dog’s skin problems are food allergies, here is a food we think might help. It is free of ingredients that commonly result in allergic reactions.
Any dog suffering from skin problems or food allergies may benefit from Wild Calling!’s Xotic Essentials recipes. Formulas like their rabbit meal recipe use exotic meats that are rare in today’s pet food market so your dog hasn’t eaten them before – less chance of having an allergic reaction. The foods are also highly digestible. Wild Calling! also uses what they call LITe (limited ingredient technology). They don’t use any of the ingredients commonly found in most dog foods such as chicken, grain, gluten, egg, yeast, corn, wheat or soy. The foods are formulated for rotational feeding and they offer several Xotic Essentials recipes, such as kangaroo and bison, so your dog doesn’t get over-exposed to one kind of meat protein. This is an All Life Stage food. We think that dogs with skin problems and food allergies can definitely benefit from these recipes. Note that products containing kangaroo parts can no longer be imported into California as of January 2017.
Best Dog Foods for Large Breed Dogs with Sensitive Stomachs
Some dogs are susceptible to food sensitivities that affect their digestion and excretion. If your dog has a sensitive stomach it can be an indication of a food sensitivity, which is different form a food allergy. A dog with a food sensitivity will have gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting or diarrhea. Or it could be something more serious.
A dog with a sensitive stomach can often be helped by feeding the right dog food. Sticking to a limited ingredient diet food with as few ingredients as possible can reduce the chance of your dog having a bad reaction to something in the food.
If your large breed dog can eat potatoes, we recommend Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Potato & Duck Formula Dry Dog Food. This limited ingredient diet food has limited sources of protein and carbs. It’s also grain free and complete and balanced for puppies, adults, and senior dogs. The food should be easy for your large dog to digest and it contains no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Natural Balance has several LID diets, including some specifically for large/giant breeds, but they are similar in purpose. Check the ingredients to see which ones your dog can eat.
Best Dog Foods for Overweight Large Breed Dogs
If your dog becomes overweight, it may be due to overfeeding and not enough exercise. You can help your dog lose weight by cutting back on his portions and encouraging him to get more exercise. Don’t forget to watch the treats, too.
If your large breed dog needs to lose more than a few pounds, however, you may need to consider a weight control dog food.
We do not recommend a weight control dog food for a puppy or a very old dog. These foods generally have fewer calories and may have some other differences in nutrients that make them inappropriate for growing puppies or older dogs who need special nutrition.
If you have a large breed dog that needs to lose weight we recommend Merrick Grain Free Healthy Weight Recipe. We like the fact that this food has 32 percent crude protein. The crude fat percentage is between 8 and 11 percent with 5 percent crude fiber so your dog should not feel like he’s starving. It is AAFCO-approved for a maintenance diet. The food has 3,210 kcal per kilogram or 360 kcal per cup ME (metabolizable energy) on an as fed basis (calculated). It is grain free and made from 55 percent beef and poultry. And it contains no corn, wheat, or soy and no ingredients from China.
Another weight management food you might consider if your dog can eat grains is Fromm Weight Management Gold. The first three ingredients in the food are turkey liver, chicken meal, and pearled barley. It has 25 percent crude protein and 10 percent crude fat, with 7 percent crude fiber. The food has 341 kcal/cup and it’s AAFCO-approved for maintenance.
If your dog needs to lose weight, you should proceed slowly. No crash dieting. You should aim for your dog to lose no more than 3 to 5 percent of his body weight per month or about one percent each week.
Large breed dogs include many of the most popular breeds in the United States today such as the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and others. Many of us grew up with these dogs and they are widely known and loved. If you have one of these dogs or intend to get one, they can make wonderful companions and great family dogs. We hope the information provided here helps you choose a great food for your dog.