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Despite mistaken notions to the contrary, large breed dogs exhibit significant differences when compared to their small- and medium-sized counterparts.
Of course, some big breeds reach three to four times the size of your average 45-pound dog, but this doesn’t mean they are just super-sized versions of average dogs: These size differences also have several important biological implications.
As the owner of a large breed, you’ll need to understand your dog’s unique needs and embrace the strategies that will give him the best chance at a long healthy life. Some of these needs relate to things like providing enough exercise and the importance of proper obedience training, but your feeding practices are likely to be the single most important determinant of your dog’s lifespan and well-being.
We’ll discuss the types of problems from which large breeds often suffer, as well as the best ways to prevent them. Then, we'll recommend five of the best options for your large breed dog.
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Whether you are trying to feed a Chihuahua or a Great Pyrenees, you’ll always want to look for foods that satisfy a few basic criteria:
The diet must provide your dog with “complete and balanced” nutrition. Dog foods who claim to do so must meet the approved standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Fortunately, most mainstream dog foods in the market meet these standards.
A whole protein should be the first listed ingredient. You want to see an ingredient like chicken, duck, salmon, beef, pork or lamb as the first listed ingredient on any dog food. There is only one exception to this rule: Canned foods can feature water or broth first, but a whole protein must be the second ingredient.
All meat meals and meat byproducts must be properly identified. While there is nothing inherently wrong with using these types of rendered products as supplemental protein sources, they must always be derived from a single type of animal (although more than one type of meat meal can be used in a food). This will help you avoid foods that contain carcasses that come from undesirable sources.
The food should be produced in a country with strict food-safety standards. This typically means purchasing foods produced in the United States, Canada or Western Europe, but foods made in Australia or New Zealand are also acceptable.
Pick a food made without artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Artificial colors and flavors are unnecessary if high-quality ingredients are used in the recipe, and natural preservatives (tocopherols) can be used in place of artificial preservatives. While these artificial additives may not be strictly dangerous, they often lead to food allergies and coat problems.
These are the basic requirements for any food, so you’ll want to avoid any that don't satisfy these criteria.
In addition to the basic acceptable standards mentioned above, you’ll need to use a food that also addresses the health concerns that are unique to large-breed dogs. According to the AKC, the three common food-related health problems large breeds often exhibit include the following.
Obesity can cause a number of health problems and drastically shorten your pet’s lifespan. Because of their low surface-to-volume ratio, big breeds spend fewer calories per pound heating their bodies than small breeds do. But their appetites and eating habits don’t always account for this, so many large dogs become overweight as they age.
To help your dog avoid obesity, it is important to provide him with an appropriate number of calories and sufficient exercise for his breed. Your veterinarian can help you determine the proper amount of food to offer and explain how to best monitor your dog’s body weight over time. However, you can get a rough idea of your dog’s food needs by consulting the manufacturer’s guidelines that are printed on the bag.
One way that some dog foods try to address this issue for large breeds is by reducing the amount of fat in the recipe. This lowers the number of calories in each bowl of food, thereby helping to keep your dog fit and trim.
Hip dysplasia, arthritis and other joint problems are typically caused by a combination of factors. Genetics play a large role, but growth rate and dietary factors are also important.
For example, feeding a large-breed dog too much food may not only lead to obesity, but it may also cause his joints, bones and muscles to develop incorrectly. This is particularly true of large breed puppies, who not only grow much more than their average-sized counterparts, they also grow for a much longer period of time too.
But in addition to providing the correct amount of food, a food’s mineral content – specifically as it relates to calcium – is also an important consideration. For large breed dogs, this typically means providing them with a food that has a reduced amount of calcium, especially while they are in the puppy stage. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to determine the actual calcium levels in dog foods, because they are often listed as minimum or maximum values, rather than specific percentages.
Another important way some dog foods attempt to prevent joint problems is by including glucosamine and chondroitin in their recipes. These substances are thought to protect and repair joint tissues, thereby helping to prevent and treat arthritis and similar ailments.
Bloat is a serious, life-threatening condition in which gases become trapped in your dog’s digestive tract. There isn’t a strong consensus regarding the reasons it occurs, but it appears that dogs who eat too quickly or have large, deep chests – as most big breeds do – may be at the greatest risk.
Feeding your dog two or three small meals throughout the course of the day, rather than one large meal at dinner time, may help prevent bloat from occurring. And you’ll also want to encourage your dog to eat slowly at mealtimes. One way to accomplish this is by selecting foods that feature big kibble pieces. This will force your dog to chew his food more thoroughly and take more time when eating.
The following foods meet the basic requirements you’d want in any dog food, and they also address some of the concerns specific to large breeds.
Wellness Complete Health Large Breed is designed to provide your dog with complete and balanced nutrition, by relying on the finest ingredients available. The entire Wellness Complete Health product line is all-natural and made without artificial additives, corn, soy or wheat.
Additionally, like all other Wellness Natural Pet Food products, this recipe is backed by the manufacturer’s “Wellness Guarantee.”
Notable Qualities and Features:
Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Deboned Whitefish, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Ground Peas, Ground Barley, Ground Brown Rice, Tomato Pomace, Salmon Meal, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols, a natural source of Vitamin E), Tomatoes, Natural Chicken Flavor, Ground Flaxseed, Carrots, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Apples, Blueberries, Vitamins [Beta-Carotene, Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B-12 Supplement], Minerals [Zinc Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite], Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Chicory Root Extract, Yucca schidigera Extract, Mixed Tocopherols (a natural preservative), Dried Lactobacillus plantarum, Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation products, Rosemary Extract. This is a naturally preserved product
User Reviews: Most owners who try Wellness Complete Health Large Breed become instant devotees to the recipe. Most dogs appear to find the formula very tasty and exhibited improved energy levels, coat condition and digestive function after making the switch. Virtually all negative reviews related to shipping problems (which can occur with any product) and the occasionally, palatability.
Bottom Line: Wellness Complete Health Large Breed is a premium food available at a relatively competitive price point. It has a very impressive ingredient list, and all of the important supplements you’d expect in a top-notch food. While all five foods in our review will likely work well for your large breed, this one is perhaps best suited for dogs suffering from coat problems, thanks to the high omega-fatty-acid content of the recipe and lack of common allergens.
Notable Qualities and Features:
Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Tomato Pomace, Dried Ground Potatoes, Ground Flaxseed, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Natural Chicken Flavor, Pea Fiber, Potassium Chloride, Spinach, Broccoli, Carrots, Parsley, Vitamins [Vitamin E Supplement, Beta-Carotene, Niacin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Biotin, Folic Acid], Apples, Minerals [Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate], Blueberries, Kale, Sweet Potatoes, L-Carnitine, Mixed Tocopherols added to preserve freshness, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Taurine, Chicory Root Extract, Yucca schidigera Extract, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Green Tea Extract. This is a naturally preserved product.
User Reviews: As with most of the other products we recommend, Wellness CORE Grain-Free Large Breed was very highly rated by most owners, and those who tried it were quite pleased with their choice. Most dogs seemed to enjoy the taste and many experienced a reduction in skin and coat problems. By any reasonable measure, Wellness CORE Grain-Free is one of the best available foods for large breeds.
Bottom Line: If you are looking for a grain-free option for your large breed, Wellness CORE is likely the best option available. Although it is the most expensive option among the five products reviewed here, it is priced comparably to other premium, grain-free recipes.
Blue Buffalo is widely regarded as one of the best pet food manufacturers in the marketplace; and after perusing their ingredient lists, the reasons become quite obvious. Blue Buffalo products, including their Life Protection Large Breed Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe, are made with some of the finest proteins, grains and supplements you’d want in a premium product.
Notable Qualities and Features:
Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Whole Ground Brown Rice, Peas, Whole Ground Barley, Tomato Pomace (source of Lycopene), Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Natural Chicken Flavor, Whole Potatoes, Flaxseed (source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids), Sunflower Oil (source of Omega 6 Fatty Acids), Whole Carrots, Whole Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Cranberries, Barley Grass, Dried Parsley, Garlic, Alfalfa Meal, Dried Kelp, Yucca Schidigera Extract, L-Carnitine, L-Lysine, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, Turmeric, Dried Chicory Root, Oil of Rosemary, Beta Carotene, Calcium Carbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3), d-Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Biotin (Vitamin B7), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Calcium Ascorbate (source of Vitamin C), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Choline Chloride, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate, Salt, Caramel, Potassium Chloride, Dried Yeast (source of Saccharomyces cerevisiae), Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, Dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation product, Dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product.
User Reviews: By and large, reviewers had nothing but good things to say about Blue Buffalo’s Large Breed Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe. Most dogs found that it tasted great and many enjoyed a reduction in skin problems, which is likely due to the abundance of omega fatty acids included in the recipe, as well as the common allergens (such as wheat and corn) that are left out.
Bottom Line: This is one of the best recipes available for large breed dogs, and, like all other Blue Buffalo Life Protection recipes, it is surprisingly affordable when compared to other foods of similar quality. While certainly not priced like an economy brand, Life Protection Large Breed Chicken and Brown rice is one of the highest value options available.
Most Blue Buffalo products are fantastic options, but their Wilderness line is perhaps the very best of the best. A grain-free product line, these Wilderness formulas – including the Rocky Mountain Large Breed Recipe – are packed with great proteins, nutritious fruits and vegetables and the vitamin, mineral and probiotic supplements you’d expect from a top-of-the-line food.
Notable Qualities and Features:
Ingredients: Deboned Beef, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Tapioca Starch, Peas, Potatoes, Tomato Pomace (source of Lycopene), Natural Chicken Flavor, Dried Egg, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Flaxseed (source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids), Deboned Bison, Deboned Lamb, Deboned Venison, Alfalfa Meal, Potato Starch, Whole Carrots, Whole Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Cranberries, Apples, Blackberries, Pomegranate, Spinach, Pumpkin, Barley Grass, Dried Parsley, Dried Kelp, Yucca schidigera Extract, Turmeric, L-Lysine, Taurine, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Chondroitin Sulfate, L-Carnitine, Oil of Rosemary, Dried Chicory Root, Beta Carotene, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3), d-Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Biotin (Vitamin B7), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Calcium Ascorbate (source of Vitamin C), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Choline Chloride, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate, Salt, Caramel, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Dried Yeast (source of Saccharomyces cerevisiae), Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, Dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation product, Dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product.
User Reviews: Owners were overwhelmingly pleased with Blue Buffalo Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe. Most dogs loved the taste, but owners loved the way this food helped alleviate skin and coat problems, improve their dog’s energy level and reduce digestive problems, such as gas and loose stools. Negative reviews were exceedingly rare, and generally entailed dogs finding the food unpalatable or having digestive difficulties.
Bottom Line: If providing your dog with a diet that closely mimics the diets of ancestral dogs is important to you, it is hard to go wrong with Blue Buffalo Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe. Aside from being a grain-free recipe, it is loaded with a variety of fantastic proteins, an impressive slate of fruits and vegetables, and the types of supplements you’d want for your large breed.
Diamond Foods are designed to provide your dog with the best possible nutrition, by using only the highest quality ingredients in their recipes. Each of their formulas include probiotics to encourage problem-free digestion, antioxidant-rich “superfoods” to help maintain a healthy immune system and omega fatty acids to ensure eye and coat health.
Notable Qualities and Features:
Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, whole grain brown rice, cracked pearled barley, peas, ground white rice, rice bran, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), dried beet pulp, egg product, natural flavor, flaxseed, potassium chloride, salt, choline chloride, glucosamine hydrochloride, dried chicory root, L-Carnitine, kale, chia seed, pumpkin, blueberries, oranges, quinoa, dried kelp, coconut, spinach, carrots, papaya, Yucca schidigera extract, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus reuteri fermentation product, vitamin E supplement, beta carotene, chondroitin sulfate, iron proteinate, zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, ascorbic acid, vitamin A supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D supplement, folic acid.
User Reviews: Most owners were pleased with Diamond Naturals Large Breed Formula. Most dogs appear to love the taste and digest the food without problem. Several noted that their dog’s energy level appeared to increase after switching to this recipe and a few even reported that this food helped to clear up skin conditions. While a few disappointed customers reported that their dog didn’t find this food palatable, such complaints were clearly in the minority. However, more than one reviewer was disappointed in the small size of the kibble.
Bottom Line: Diamond Natural’s Large Breed Formula is a really good option for large breeds. It is formulated to address nearly all of the problems common to large breeds, and it is much more affordable than any of the other options recommended here. It is easily the best choice for owners with limited budgets.
While we’d eagerly feed any of the reviewed foods to our dogs, Wellness CORE Grain-Free Large Breed clearly rises above the competition. It not only satisfies every criterion we identified as important (save for a reduced calcium content, which is hard to verify for many foods), it exceeds them by a large margin. Most dogs and owners love the recipe, and the only negative mark on the product is its high cost.
Do you prefer feeding your dog a food we failed to mention? Tell us all about it in the comments below.