Like collars, beds and bowls, dog foods aren’t always one-size-fits-all. Large and giant breed dogs, particularly during puppyhood, have unique nutritional needs that should be considered when choosing an appropriate dog food.
Aim for steady, not rapid, growth
Some pet parents mistakenly believe that feeding extra food to their large breed puppy so that they grow as much and as fast as possible is best for the puppy’s development. While large and giant breed puppies have the potential for rapid growth, it really isn’t healthy for their bones and joints. And extra body weight can stress the immature and developing skeleton. When large breed puppies are overfed, they are prone to developing bone and joint problems such as hip dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans (inflammation of cartilage and bone) or panosteitis (painful inflammation of the outer surface of the long bones in the legs).
So what’s a pet owner to do?
Feed your large breed canine companion a puppy food that’s complete and balanced to promote a steady, healthy growth rate. Ideally, you’ll want to feed a large breed puppy formula. Studies show too many calories and inappropriate amounts of calcium can negatively affect the development of the skeleton. Feeding your large or giant breed pup for steady growth instead of maximum growth still lets them reach their full (and large!) size, because adult size is primarily determined by genetics. It just may take a little longer when done at a slower pace that allows healthy bone development.
Large breed puppy foods are different
Large breed puppy foods are different from “regular” puppy foods in that they are lower in fat and calories, contain slightly lower levels of calcium and phosphorus, and have a carefully balanced calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. Feeding a large breed puppy formula doesn’t completely get rid of a dog’s risk for bone and joint diseases, but it can help reduce it.
Calories (or energy)
The most important “nutrient” that affects growth rate is energy, which is measured in calories and provided by fat, carbohydrates and protein in food. It’s important to provide enough calories to meet your growing puppy’s energy needs but not to feed so much that rapid growth occurs. That’s why the number one goal of feeding large and giant breed puppies is to avoid overfeeding them. By limiting energy intake (calories), your pup’s growth rate is slowed down, and joint cartilage and bones are able to develop normally. Large breed puppy foods limit calories by containing less fat, since fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient in food.
Calcium, phosphorus and their ratio
Two minerals that are important to healthy bones are calcium and phosphorus. In fact, as much as 99 percent of the body’s calcium and about 85 percent of its phosphorus are found in the skeleton where they provide strength and structural support. Appropriate amounts of calcium and phosphorus are good, but more of either mineral isn’t better.
Too much calcium during the rapid growth period (3 to 5 months of age) can wreak havoc on a large breed pup’s skeleton, increasing the risk for bone and joint problems. Unlike adult dogs, puppies less than 6 months old can’t control the amount of calcium absorbed from the intestines. Since calcium absorption during this time is directly related to the amount in food, high levels of dietary calcium can lead to excessive absorption and retention that in turn can cause bone and joint problems. If your healthy puppy is eating a complete and balanced puppy food, there’s no need to give a calcium supplement.
One tidbit that veterinary nutritionists and pet food manufacturers take into consideration when formulating diets is the interactions between calcium and phosphorus that can occur. Excess dietary calcium can bind phosphorus, leading to decreased phosphorus absorption. Similarly, high dietary phosphorus levels can interfere with calcium absorption. So once enough calcium and phosphorus are present, it’s important to consider their ratio. Dog foods with an improper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio can lead to an imbalance in either mineral and ultimately to skeletal problems. That’s why large breed puppy foods typically contain less calcium than regular puppy foods and the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is kept within narrow limits.
Diamond Naturals Large Breed Puppy Lamb & Rice Formula is specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of your large breed puppy. It contains appropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus in the correct ratio for optimal bone and joint development. Diamond Naturals Large Breed Puppy also contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid, for proper brain and vision development. High-quality protein, carbohydrates and fat give your pup the energy and building blocks they need for muscle growth, ideal body condition and plenty of playtime.
Senior large and giant breed dogs have different nutritional needs
The point at which an adult dog becomes a senior pet is both subjective and variable, given that life expectancies vary widely among dogs depending on their breed and body size. Large and giant breed dogs are often considered seniors at 5 or 6 years old. One rule of thumb is to consider your dog a senior for the last 25 percent of the breed’s predicted lifespan.
Aging, in itself, is not a disease, but it is associated with several diseases. Like us, dogs experience several age-related changes, including loss of vision or hearing, decreased energy requirements, obesity and even cognitive dysfunction (sometimes called dementia or senility). Some of the diseases commonly seen in older dogs are arthritis, diabetes, dental problems, heart or kidney disease, and cancer. The immune system also weakens with age, which can leave your older dog at a higher risk for infection and slowed healing.
Nutrition can be a powerful tool in helping senior dogs to maintain health, reduce risk of disease and help manage disease. However, determining which dog food is best for your older dog can be challenging. In choosing a food for an older dog, the first thing to consider is your pet’s overall health. If your senior dog is healthy, in good body condition (in other words, not too heavy or too thin) and eating a good-quality adult food, there is no reason to change pet food. But if your older dog is showing signs of age-related changes or one of the common diseases, then adjustments to the diet may help.
Calories (or energy)
Many senior and geriatric dogs experience a drop in their daily energy requirements that can range from slight to moderate. To help prevent obesity, older dogs are often fed a lower-calorie food.
Senior and geriatric dogs have increased protein requirements compared with young-adult dogs as a result of higher protein turnover and lower protein production. Many senior dog foods use highly digestible protein sources to help maintain muscle mass, minimize age-related losses in protein reserves, support older dogs’ ability to respond to stress and reduce the workload of the kidneys in dogs with kidney disease.
Since older dogs may be more prone to developing constipation, a food with increased soluble or insoluble fiber may be beneficial. Examples of dog food ingredients that are good fiber sources include dried beet pulp, dried kelp, inulin, oatmeal, potato fiber, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tomato pomace and whole-grain brown rice.
Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin
In the United States, osteoarthritis (or simply, arthritis) appears to affect one in five dogs over the age of 1 year. In addition, larger dog breeds are more vulnerable to joint problems because they have more weight to support. Food for all large and giant breed dogs should include ingredients to promote joint health. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and omega-3 fatty acids (preferably from fish oil) can help support joints and help decrease joint inflammation.
Older dogs with age-related behavioral changes may benefit from antioxidant-rich diets. Examples of antioxidant ingredients in dog food include vitamin E supplement, wheat germ meal (source of vitamin E), beta carotene and ascorbic acid (source of vitamin C).
Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids also help maintain immune system function.
If you have any questions about what and how much to feed, be sure to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.