Large Breed Puppy Food: The Ultimate Nutrition Guide
By Emily Shiffer —
6 minute read
breeds, featured, Life Stage
Reviewed by Emily Luisana, DVM
If you’re the proud new pet parent of a large breed puppy, you’ve got a lot on your hands — a big, furry bundle of rambunctious cuteness, primarily. But there’s also the task of keeping up with your energetic fur baby’s basic needs. And during their first few months, proper nutrition is crucial to ensure your pup’s growth and future health and wellness.
When it comes to large breeds — dogs expected to weigh more than 70 pounds as a mature adult — puppies have distinctly different nutritional needs than smaller breeds. So choosing the best large breed puppy food or diet is extremely important to make sure they get everything they need to thrive.
According to Emily Luisana, DVM, a Tailored Pet Veterinary Advisor who is residency-trained in small animal clinical nutrition, “Large breed puppies have special nutritional needs because they grow quickly over a short period of time.”
But here’s the important part: that accelerated growth rate also requires a diet that’s precisely balanced to ensure your large breed pup doesn’t grow too large, too fast.
Large Breed Puppy Nutrition Needs
“Due to their rapid growth, the effects of too little or too much nutrition are exponential and can cause serious lifelong issues,” says Dr. Luisana.
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) — the group that establishes standard ingredient, labeling, and nutritional recommendations for pet foods — as well as the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN), a large breed puppy diet that is too calorically dense can lead to orthopedic issues caused by too much growth, at a rate that’s too fast.
Since puppies tend to eat a larger volume of food to meet their energy demands, there’s a risk of developing a mineral imbalance, especially for calcium and phosphorus. This can affect bone growth, which could lead to certain developmental orthopedic diseases (DODs), such as hip dysplasia and osteochondrosis.
When it comes to large breed puppy nutrition, “What we want is appropriate growth, not maximum growth,” says Dr. Luisana.
A balanced diet is crucial to accomplish this, which should not include free feeding. “Free-feeding can result in overeating, which ultimately can lead to quick weight gain,” cautions Dr. Luisana.
According to the ACVN, energy requirements for puppies are approximately 3 x resting energy requirements (called RER, which can be configured by an algorithm of 70 x body weight in kilograms) until your puppy is 4 months old. After that, food should decrease to 2 x the RER until your puppy has finished growing at approximately 18 months.
“Overweight dogs are prone to so many more health concerns, which can start as a puppy,” says Dr. Luisana. “Healthy eating habits start and are established as puppies.”
Best Dog Food for Large Breed Puppies
When comparing dog foods, look for information on the label specifying which dogs the food is appropriate for. AAFCO breaks down nutritional requirements according to life stages. So, until relatively recently, most foods fell into one or more of four categories:
- All life stages
However, as of 2016, AAFCO standards expanded to include additional guidelines specifying whether foods meet the nutritional requirements for large- and giant-breed puppies. This helped separate diets deemed safe for puppies, but containing levels of nutrients or minerals, like calcium, that would be dangerous for large breed puppies.
When choosing a puppy food, you should look for an AAFCO label that says: [Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).
According to AAFCO, for puppies in the “growth” stage, a few important nutrients in dog food include:
- A minimum of 22.5% crude protein
- A minimum of 8.5% crude fat
- A minimum of 1.2% calcium
- A minimum of 1.0% phosphorus
In addition, AAFCO requirements for large breed puppy diets also state that calcium content should not exceed 1.8% (or 4.5 grams/1,000 kcal).
For puppies, Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA are also incredibly important for development. DHA is especially crucial for brain development.
“An appropriate level of DHA has been studied to make pets more trainable, and also helps with brain and eye development,” says Dr. Luisana.
Current recommendations suggest pups should get 25 mg/kg body weight of DHA and 40 mg/kg body weight of EPA per day.
Feeding Tips for Large Breed Puppies
For pet parents who find all these numbers and calculations overwhelming, the most important thing is to make sure your puppy stays in a healthy weight range. And that’s not necessarily just a number on a scale, but something you can see and feel every day.
“It’s important that dogs stay trim from a young age,” says Dr. Luisana. “Knowing your dog’s body condition score, defined by WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association), will help you know what to look for.”
“For younger puppies under 4-5 months, we recommend feeding 3-4 times a day,” says Dr. Luisana.” At about 6 months, the transition tends to slow to twice a day.”
Whatever puppy food you choose, always make sure you follow the specific feeding directions provided by the manufacturer or those recommended by your vet or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
How Custom Dog Food Benefits Large Breed Puppies
Another helpful way to keep your pup healthy without getting lost in minimum and maximum nutritional requirements is to feed your pup a diet that’s tailored just for them. Incorporating custom dog food into your large breed puppy’s diet can take the guesswork out of making sure your pup is getting the specific nutrients and vitamins they need.
Tailored Pet offers precise nutrition for your puppy based on their breed- and stage-appropriate dietary needs. That’s crucial when your puppy is experiencing rapid bone, muscle, brain, vision, and digestive growth and development. And this isn’t just one-size-fits-most large breed puppy food. Each customized diet is based on a personalized quiz about your pup. Tailored Pet also has Pup Success Specialists who can provide guidance on when and how to transition your puppy to adult food, and answer any questions on your puppy’s changing nutritional needs.
Your pup’s custom diet will also be specialized to their breed, as many large breed dogs are prone to sensitive stomachs or digestive issues, including Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, Goldendoodles, Dobermans, and Great Danes.
“For all puppies, but especially large-breed, deep-chested dogs such as Poodles, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Great Danes, ensure they don’t eat too quickly and are chewing and swallowing properly. Eating too fast can reduce digestion and absorption of nutrients and cause clinical signs such as regurgitation and vomiting.”
As a new parent of a large breed puppy, there are a lot of things to consider. But with Tailored Pet, feeding your pup properly is a breeze.
“You have to be vigilant with larger breed puppies and nutrition,” says Dr. Luisana. “If they do have a problem with growing too quickly, it’s important that they are seen by a vet sooner than later for diagnosis and treatment before they become life-long issues. It is better to be hypervigilant than not!”
About the author
Emily Shiffer is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania and is a former online staff member at Men's Health and Prevention magazines. She writes for a multitude of publications, including Women's Health, Parade, SHAPE, and more. Emily loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history. She grew up with two dachshunds and aspires to one day be a Doxie mom.