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Large Breed Dog Food and Nutrition

What to Feed a Large or Giant Breed Dog

By Jesse Feldman. December 04, 2012 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Large Breed Dog Food and Nutrition

Big dogs have dietary requirements that are unique from those of smaller dogs. Learn about the nutritional needs of large breed dogs, from puppyhood through maturity at PetCareRx.com.

Big dogs have different nutritional demands than their smaller counterparts, to support their different body structures. Large and giant dogs will have special nutritional needs, from puppyhood through maturity. 

Some common large dog breeds are Dalmatians, Boxers, Collies, and German Shepherds. Giant dogs tend to weigh over 100 pounds and beyond. Great Danes and Newfoundlands are examples of dog breeds classified as giant.

What to Look for When Feeding Large or Giant Breed Dogs

Larger breeds experience huge rates of growth from puppyhood into adulthood, and these growth spurts can be associated with serious health risks. Weight control and proper nutrition are crucial to your puppy’s future health. Overfeeding a large breed puppy can over-accelerate their growth spurts, possibly leading to joint and bone problems. Slower, steady growth is better for these maturing dogs. Unless you are feeding your dog a puppy food labeled specifically for large breed needs, you may wish to switch your puppy to an adult formula around 6 to 8 months of age to prevent too-rapid growth.

Protein and Fat Content for Food for Large Breed Puppies

  Protein Fat Calcium
Dry Food 22% or more 10-14% 1.5% or less
Canned Food 5.5% or more 3-4% 1.5% or less


Protein and Fat Content for Food for Large Breed Adult Dogs

  Protein Fat
Dry Food 22-30% 10-16%
Canned Food 5.5-8% 3-4%


Health Risks for Large and Giant Breed Dogs

Joint Issues and Hip Dysplasia:

Larger dog breeds are more prone to bone and joint problems because their bones are larger and have more weight to support. All large and giant breed dogs’ foods should include ingredients to promote joint nutrition. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids (from fish oil) can decrease joint inflammation and can help the body repair and strengthen tissues. They are considered preventative care measures for joint and bone problems such as arthritis and hip dysplasia. However, the amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin in dog foods may not always be effective. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you regarding supplementation.

Dogs suffering from hip dysplasia and other joint problems may benefit from being on a diet high in long chain omega three fatty acids and low in fat for weight control, since obesity puts more stress on a dog’s frame. 

Gastric Dilatation or Bloat:

Large dogs with big, deep chests also have higher risk of potentially fatal bloat or Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) than other dogs. GDV is a condition in which the stomach twists, trapping gasses and swelling the abdomen. Although GDV is a leading killer of large dogs, little is known about the causes.

Symptoms of bloat include pacing, restlessness, dry heaving or attempting to vomit, and an enlarged or sensitive abdomen. If the bloating has progressed, you may see labored breathing, weakness, and possible fainting. If you have a larger breed, you should learn to recognize the symptoms of bloat and be prepared to take emergency action, including an immediate visit to your veterinarian. 

Feeding your dog in several smaller meals each day and avoiding vigorous exercise up to two hours before or after eating are considered preventative measures for bloat.

Much of the evidence on causes of bloat has been contradictory. Feeding higher carbohydrate diets and feeding from food bowls the ground (as opposed to from raised dishes) were once considered risk factors, however more recent evidence suggests the opposite. What veterinarians do know is that bloat is life threatening and requires immediate veterinary intervention.  

Moving into Your Large Breed Dog’s Senior Years

The average lifespan of giant and large breeds dogs is 6-12 years, unfortunately a shorter lifespan than many smaller dog breeds. This means your large dog will have the special needs of a senior dog earlier than other breeds.

Although bigger dogs sometimes require more care, they are known for their gentle and protective natures. With proper nutritional and health care, you can enjoy years of happiness with your gentle giant.

More on Nutrition for Dogs

The Dog Food Finder
How to Tell if Your Dog is Overweight
The Proper Nutrition for Feeding a Puppy

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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