Your dog relies on one type of food to meet all of their nutritional needs. Think of the vast array of foods we consume to meet our standards of a ‘balanced diet.’ For your dog, those unremarkable looking bits of kibble need to be packed with protein, complex carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals in the proper proportions.
With this in mind, choosing the right food for your dog can seem almost daunting. There are now more options than ever and each dog food manufacturer proclaims to have your pup’s health and wellness in mind when rolling out their product lines. Unfortunately, not unlike the myriad of health trends that we humans are bombarded with, you can’t always trust the claims. It is critical to be informed. Knowing what a quality dog food label should look like will save your pup from a food that is devoid of essential nutrition, or what’s worse, filled with harmful fillers.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an association of local, state and federal officials tasked with regulating the distribution of animal feed and animal pharmaceuticals. They have published several nutrient profiles that advise dog food manufacturers on what their foods should and should not contain. You may see some dog foods labeled with AAFCO approved or something similar, which is certainly a plus. However, there is still no agency with the authority to enforce top standards for healthy animal food. It is important to always do your own research before making any decisions about your dog’s nutrition. It is our aim to help you do just that here. Specifically, we’re going to take a look at what makes the best dog food for large breeds.
Proper proportions start at puppyhood
A dog is considered a large breed if it is over 50 lbs. at maturity. From the time they are puppies, large breeds have many special nutritional needs. Large breeds grow faster and for a longer period of time. Some large breeds can almost double in weight over a period of 12 months, but continue to develop until 2 or 3 years of age. Their bones in particular can grow quickly, which puts them at risk of improper formation. This can lead to conditions like hip dysplasia when they are older.
There have been a number of studies trying to pinpoint exactly what causes orthopedic issues in large dogs. The factors that seem to play the biggest role are genetics, excessive calcium and excessive calories. While only responsible breeding measures can correct the first issue, the remaining two causes can be controlled.
Luckily, most dog food manufacturers have paid heed to the issue of calcium. Puppies need calcium to support bone growth, but as we now know, too much can cause unsafe rapid growth. Studies have shown that maintaining a calcium percentage between 1% – 1.5% in dry foods keeps a large breed’s calcium intake at safe levels. This is just enough to sustain growth while not enough to accelerate it disproportionately.
Most dog foods that are designated for large breed puppies keep their calcium levels within this safe range. Always try to select a dog or puppy food that is labeled for large breeds. Moreover, it is still critical that you – as a consumer and concerned parent of a large breed – always check the label to make sure the manufacturer is following these guidelines.
The issue of too many calories does not only lie in overfeeding. Food that is created for adult dogs or small breeds will have a higher caloric density. If you feed your puppy something other than a large breed puppy food, even in moderate amounts, you may be providing too many calories in each serving. Your puppy food needs to have the right density of calories to meet their needs without providing too much too quickly. Again, stick with a puppy food that is designed for large breeds. These are formulated to meet your puppy’s delicate daily caloric needs.
Once you have settled on the best large breed puppy food, you need to be sure you monitor his food intake. A lot of puppy parents think that the more their puppy eats, the better. They equate more food with more nutrients for his growing body. The truth is that this can be very harmful in the long run. The best way to prevent problems down the road is to follow the recommended daily food intake for your pup’s age, weight and breed.
Nourishing your dog’s natural cravings
Whether your dog is age 10 months or 10 years, their body needs natural food based largely on what their cousins in the wild are eating. Yes, that ancestral ‘raw’ diet trend is a good thing for pups everywhere. Your dog is still around 99% genetically matched with his wolf ancestors. Domestic dogs still need the same food that has sustained their species for tens of thousands of years. For large breed dogs and puppies, foods that embrace this trend are ideal because their bodies need natural nutrition for sustained development.
As a general rule, you want a label that is full of identifiable, wholesome ingredients. Artificial flavors or colors do not belong in your dog’s food. Neither do excess fillers based on corn, wheat, gluten or soy – all of which are known allergens and could cause a bad reaction in any dog.
Here is the foundation for the best large breed dog food:
• Meat – the first ingredient(s) must be from an identifiable protein source like beef, salmon or chicken. Chicken meal or salmon meal should also be high on the list as it adds even more valuable protein.
• Complex carbohydrates – look for healthy, fiber and nutrient rich sources like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, barley, brown rice and quinoa.
• Healthy fats and oils – ingredients like chicken fat are good for your dog’s digestion, skin and coat. A quality food will also include things like flaxseed oil or fish oil to add essential omega fatty acids for the heart and brain development, as well.
• Fruits and vegetables – these add fiber, nutrients, trace minerals and antioxidants to support immunity.
• Vitamin and minerals – a quality food with supplement their formula with everything your dog or puppy needs for healthy development.
Since larger breeds to have a predisposition for joint issues, it is even more critical to keep them at a healthy weight. Dog foods for larger breeds should accommodate this with plenty of lean protein and moderate carbs. It is also important that the food contains significant amounts of those healthy oils help support your dog’s movement.
Several large breed formulas will supplement with animal cartilage, glucosamine and chondroitin, or herbs and botanicals like yucca, all known to benefit joint health. These are all great to see both in puppy and adult large breed foods.
With these factors in mind, we have perused the endless options out there and come up with a short list of dog foods that offer above-average recipes specifically formulated for large breed puppies and large breed dogs.
These are five of the best large breed dog foods that feature natural, grain-free formulas that we would feel good about feeding our own big pups:
The Blue Buffalo line of dog foods features a lot of high quality options, but the Blue Wilderness Large Breed and Blue Wilderness Large Breed Puppy formulas are particularly excellent. You can choose from protein sources including chicken, duck, bison and venison, depending on your pup’s palate. Complex carbs come from fiber and nutrient-rich sweet potatoes and barley, while flaxseed oil and egg provides omega fatty acids.
Kelp, carrots, cranberries, blueberries and more pack this food with antioxidants. They also fortify their recipes with extra vitamins, minerals and probiotics for digestive support. Blue Wilderness took special consideration for large breeds by adding both l-carnitine and taurine for heart health and glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support, making this a top choice.
Horizon Legacy mimicks the raw diet trend in kibble form with their signature recipe based on salmon. Protein from salmon meat plus both flaxseed and salmon oil makes this food very rich in healthy oils for heart, mind and joint health. This food contains very moderate amounts of healthy carbs with the additions of peas and pea fiber.
Horizon uses diverse, antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables like pineapple, carrots, broccoli, bok choy, blueberries and cranberries. This formula is very well-supplemented with vitamins, minerals and probiotics. What makes Horizon especially great for large breed puppies and adults is the addition of glucosamine, chondroitin and yucca, all to support joint health.
Orijen also offers natural, grain-free food for your large breed that is designed to keep him healthy throughout his life stages. A diverse range of quality protein sources including chicken, turkey, mackerel and herring forms the base of this food. Herring oil, plus the two fish protein sources, gives it high levels of healthy fats and omega acids. They also use complex carbohydrate sources like navy beans and lentils, both rich in fiber, nutrients and plant protein.
Kale, spinach, turnip greens, pears, apples and pumpkin bolster the antioxidant content along with extra vitamins and minerals. The pumpkin, as well as the additional probiotics, is a great digestive aid. Orijen uses chicken and turkey cartilage to give this food two all-natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin, making this recipe a genuinely natural choice for your large breed.
Castor & Pollux Organix uses protein like duck, turkey meal, lamb meal and salmon meal, giving it diversified meat proteins with added omega acids. Duck fat and salmon oil contribute increased levels of healthy oils to benefit the skin, coat, heart and joints of your large breed. Sweet potato is their complex carb choice, a fibrous tuber packed with vitamins.
Castor & Pollux fortifies their formula with plenty of vitamins and minerals on top of using a great antioxidant blend of fruits and veggies. Their recipe includes apples, peas, carrots, bananas, blueberries, cranberries and more. Probiotics are included for digestive support, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints. Castor & Pollux definitely meets the needs of large breeds.
Merrick makes a great line of dog food, but their Backcountry Raw-Infused formula is particularly great for large breeds. This recipe features high protein, grain-free kibble mixed with pieces of freeze-dried raw ingredients that are cold formed to preserve vital nutrients. Salmon and whitefish contribute both high levels of lean protein and omega fatty acids. Complex carbs come from nutritious and fiber-rich sweet potatoes.
A nice blend of fruits and veggies like peas, alfalfa, apples, and blueberries are further supplemented with vitamins and minerals, giving this food plenty of antioxidants. Merrick Backcountry also includes probiotics along with glucosamine for joint support. The addition of raw pieces makes this super healthy selection a particularly tasty one for your large breed.
Good, balanced nutrition is especially critical for large breeds during puppyhood because of their rapid growth. The pet store shelves are filled with promises, but only by researching your dogs’ needs and cross-checking the label can you know for sure if your dog is getting what he needs. Our dogs are members of our families and it is important to feed them right. By taking the time to ensure you are feeding your large breed well from a young age, you can keep him happy and healthy for many years to come. Remember, top quality foods may not be cheap, but you are making an investment in the health of your best friend.
Throughout your dog’s life it is important to ensure his food is as natural as it can be to avoid harmful fillers and maintain nutrient quality. Large breeds need plenty of protein to support lean muscle mass balanced with only moderate carbs to keep them at a healthy weight. Due to their tendency towards joint problems, it is critical to keep them fit and trim. Foods that are supplemented with joint-supporting compounds are highly recommended as extra insurance against problems when they are older.
Introduce new foods slowly to avoid upsetting your dog’s digestion. Add small amounts to their old food to begin with and gradually increase this over the course of one or two weeks. Allow a few weeks of feeding your large breed a top quality food to see the benefits. If your pup is switching from a food with a dearth of nutrients, low protein, unhealthy carbs or short amounts of healthy oils, you are likely to see a big difference.
If you are still unsure about your large breed’s dietary needs, or are concerned about his weight or potential food sensitivities, consult your veterinarian.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com