Dietary Requirements for Large Dog Breeds

What type of nutrition do large dog breeds need?

For a new dog owner, understanding what type of food to give your dog can take a bit of time. Every breed and every size of dog has their own specific requirements for what will keep them healthy. In this article, we’ll explain a bit more about what a large dog needs in order to keep them healthy.

We have a responsibility to look after our dogs and keep them happy and healthy. A big factor in giving your dog a long happy life is the diet that you feed it. It all begins with a solid nutrition plan. A well thought-out, high quality diet is an extremely vital aspect to prevent illness and keep your dog healthy.

If you go into a pet shop or the super market, the amount of different foods to choose from might be overwhelming. With a little bit of knowledge, you can understand exactly what your dog requires from its diet and you can choose the right food accordingly.

Common nutritional needs for large dog breeds

Large dogs that are purebred all have a lot of similar requirements. Some of these include needing a large amount of exercise, with a large appetite to match. All  big dogs have to be fed with knowledge of some of the health problems that they can often get. For instance, their nutrition has to help keep their skeleton and joints healthy, whilst also supporting their muscle mass. Whilst there are a lot of similarities between the requirements of large dog breeds, each breed and individual dog has to be assessed for their own personal needs.

That being said, below are some of the common trends between large dog breeds, before we move onto some individual breeds needs.

A Healthy Balance of Vitamins

Because of their size, large dogs will require different vitamins to support their body mass compared to smaller breeds. Orthopedic disease, (that’s issues with their skeletons) can be reduced by a feeding formula that balances calcium and phosphorous at a marginally lower level.

The weight of a large breed, with their heavier skeletons and bigger muscles often means that as a dog gets into its later life, arthritis is a common issue. Because of this, it’s a good idea to incorporate glucosamine and chondroitin into your dogs diet, to help keep the bones healthy. Alongside this, these two supplements help your dog to move more comfortably by also encouraging joint health. For a dogs heart, many quality dog foods include taurine.

Count the Calories


This might not sound like it’s the right way round, but most large dogs actually require a lower caloric density compared to smaller breeds. This is because most large breeds have a slow metabolism in comparison to other sized dogs. This means that the calories they eat don’t get burned away as fast. As a result of this, the calories need to be in a lower density for larger dog foods.

For your dog to be full and happy, providing the right amount of calories is essential. By larger dog breed feeds having a lower calorific density, it lets them eat enough to feel full whilst not giving them so many calories they put on weight.

Large Dog Breeds Specific Feeding Needs

Providing your dog with a healthy, balanced range of food takes a bit of thought. The levels of vitamins and minerals need to be planned carefully. Many commercial diet brands have already thought of this and created their food with the dogs needs in mind, which makes using these the easiest way to give your dog what it needs. However, knowing what goes into them is very helpful as an owner.

Commercial dog foods have to meet certain standards within the US and UK, so you know that there is at least a base line to every feed. Most of these will include a mix of vegetables, grains, fruits and meats. Each of these food types will offer your dog a source of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fiber in a way that your dog can extract from the food when it is being digested.

There are a lot of similarities between what all sized dogs need to eat, however there are some big exceptions for large dogs. For a puppy of a large breed, they need to have a special diets to promote healthy growth and avoid health risks in the future. For an adult large breed, the food is designed to prevent symptoms of common health risks such as orthopedic disease like hip and joint dysplasia, as well as obesity. Every one of these can be dramatically impacted by the diet you feed your dog.


If you are considering feeding your dog a personalised, home-cooked diet, it’s recommended you speak to a vet. They will be able to provide you with all the detailed advise you need to keep your dog healthy. Whilst there are similarities across breeds, all will need to have their unique needs met.

What food should you give a puppy of a large breed?

Puppies of all sizes have to have theirs diets thought out carefully, this is no different for large breeds. What you have to be careful of with dogs of this size is that the puppies can grow very quickly. To put this into context, if your dog was born weighing 1 pound, it could have got up to 150 pounds after 18 months. That’s a lot of growing. What this means is that the calories and nutrients that go into the puppies will really have an effect on their bodies. If they are missing any particular nutrients or it is poorly balanced, your pup’s health could well be impacted.

As mentioned, a pup’s growth needs to be steady. If one grows very fast, it’s not healthy. Growing too quickly can create issues with the skeleton and create developmental orthopedic disease (DOD). Parts of these conditions include:

  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy
  • Osteochondrosis
  • Retained ulnar cartilage core
  • Panosteitis
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia

One of the reasons a puppy might grow too quickly and too much is over-nutrition. This is why it’s important to have your feed specifically tailored towards a large dog breed. The difference in these compared to smaller puppy breed food is that they have

  • Less fat
  • Less calcium
  • Less phosphorus
  • Less vitamin D

With many of the health problems associated with large dogs being around their skeletons, it’s easy to think that a puppy should be given as much calcium as possible. This is in fact not the case. Studies, like this one by Susan D. Lauten correlate larger amounts of calcium and phosphorus to DOD. With these scientific studies in mind, we have to limit the amount of specific nutrients we give our puppies.

Alongside this, you should be conscious of how much you are feeding your dogs. They should be placed on a regular meal plan that limits the amount of food they get. Free feeding can encourage excessive growth that is linked to health problems discussed above. You should establish what the healthy weight range of your dog is and regularly weigh it to make sure it stays within the limits. If you are unsure what the weight range would be for your breed, a vet will be able to help.

What is the best food for large dog breeds?

Once your dog has reached a certain age and size, you need to move it onto another course of food. At this point, if you haven’t already consulted your vet about the particular dietary needs your dog has, they will be able to help you with them.

The main considerations for your dogs nutrition will be:

  • Orthopedic disease
  • Obesity
  • Bloat

Below, we will go into more detail about each of these conditions.

Orthopedic Disease

As discussed above, one of the main health issues that large dog breeds face is with their weight putting a strain on the skeletons and muscles. Some of the most common health issues are hip dysplasia, arthritis, and osteochondrosis. Exercise, nutrition and hereditary factors all play a part in whether your dog will suffer from these problems. Unfortunately, hereditary problems, can’t really be addresssed. The only thing you can do is make sure you buy from a respected breeder that understands how to look after and breed healthy dogs.


An issue mainly considered with humans, obesity can actually have a very detrimental effect on your dog’s life. In large dogs, it will increase the risk of diseases such as the orthopedics ones mentioned above. Mobility and quality of life will be impacted as the increased weight applies pressure to their joints and bones. Further to that, obesity can impact heart health and has been linked to high blood pressure, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.


Bloat is the layman’s name for this issue, probably because the medical term is gastric dilation and volvulus, which is a bit of a mouthful. This problem can be extremely serious in large dog breeds, so much so that it can be fatal. Bloat is when, over a very short period of time, gasses build up within a dog’s stomach and it has nowhere to escape to. In bad situations, this can kill within a couple hours.

In our opinion, the best treatment option is prevention for bloat. There are a few ways that the risk can be minimized.

  • Instead of one big heavy meal a day, feed several small meals
  • Place the food on the floor, don’t raise it up
  • Let the dog rest for 1 – 2 hours after eating, or avoid hard exercise
  • Include  a large amount of kibble in the food
  • Try to not feed your dog food with high-fat contents


Best Food For Large Breed Senior Dogs


The care, love and attention you have given your dog throughout its life doesn’t stop when it gets into the Golden Years. Currently, in the USA, dog food for the ‘senior stage’ hasn’t actually been put through legislation at the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What this means is that there isn’t the same base level of quality that the other dog food stages have been approved for. Just because of this, it doesn’t mean you should neglect the needs of your dog in its later life.

It’s heartbreaking, but as your dog gets older, health problems are far more likely to occur. Whilst off the shelf dog food can help give your dog the nutrition it needs, a vet might be able to offer a prescription dog food that addresses any specific needs your dog has.

What does a dog food label actually tell you?

The food label on your dog food is where you’ll find all the information about its nutritional content. You have to be careful to read them properly, because people can easily mistake the information that is on them. As a general rule of thumb, use the below points to guide your food choice:

  • Find a dog food that has been put through and tested in a clinical trial
  • You want it to be “complete and balanced”
  • Although tempting, phrases like ‘human-grade’ and ‘all natural’ haven’t been regulated, so don’t rely on those terms
  • Look at the first four ingredients in the list and avoid foods that have oil and fat there

Unfortunately it is not a requirement to put onto dog food labels what quality the ingredients were that went into it. You are able to determine where the carbohydrates and proteins come from. This helps us if we need a particular type of protein for our pooch, or if your dog has allergies.

How much should I feed a large dog breed?

There is no one size fits all answer to this question. Just like every dog will have a unique personality, they will also have their own specific calorific needs. When reading the dog food labels, it will give you a guideline of how much to use, this will then have to be adapted for your own dog.

Have you heard of the body condition score? This is the range of weight that your dog should be in to be considered healthy. By following this, you will know if your dog is over weight, underweight or healthy. With this information, you will be able to either increase or decrease the amount of food you give your dog. A veterinarian should be able to provide you with the information you need here.

How much does it cost to feed a large dog?

As you would expect, a large dog eats a lot of food. This means that you’ll be paying a lot more for your dog to eat than if you owned a smaller breed. Some people will try to offset this additional cost by buying a cheaper food for their dog. There are a lot of quality foods at varying prices for large dog breeds, so always make sure you look into the quality of the food you are giving your dog.






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