The Large Breed Dog

The large breed dog versus the rest; let’s take a look at some of the facts we know.

Different investigations over they years have demonstrated a definite need for specific nutrients to be in ranges for the proper development of a puppy; for instance, let us look at calcium.

Studies were done feeding Great Danes diets with calcium levels of 0.55% dry matter, 1.1% dry matter and 3.3% dry matter (DM). The puppies on the 0.55% showed pathological fractures, indicating too low of a calcium amount in their diet. This was reversible once they transitioned to a higher calcium based diet.

The 1.1% calcium diet fed to the Dane pups had normal growth, while the 3.3% calcium DM fed diet had abnormal bone deformities. Interpretation: we want a calcium in the range of 1.1% dry matter or thereabouts for proper bone growth in a large breed dog.

A similar study was then performed on miniature poodles with calcium levels of 0.05% calcium (DM) basis, 0.33% calcium (DM), 1.1% calcium (DM) and 3.3% calcium (DM). Only the 0.05% diet showed any abnormalities with pathological fractures occurring in those pups. Interpretation: a diet with a calcium level between 0.33% and 3.3% works with regard to bone development in a miniature poodle.

That means both a miniature Poodle and a Great Dane could have the same level of calcium in their diets and grow properly, doesn’t it?

Caveat time for folks that like to supplement; remember that adding extra vitamin and nutrients can indirectly cause nutritional disease, in that many of these vits and mins use the same uptake system from the gastrointestinal tract, so too much of one can impede another from being absorbed. So be careful.

Another worry with large breed dogs (Great Danes, Pyrenees, Labrador Retriever) would be the protein level of a food fed to a young, growing puppy. Diets with protein levels of 31%, 23% and 14% on a dry matter basis were fed and no differences in skeletal problems were found between the groups.

One real issue to be aware of with a large breed puppy is the weight they carry. Studies have definitely shown that dysplastic conditions can be created or encouraged if a large breed puppy is carrying too much weight at a young age. Breeds to consider regarding this relationship are Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and others incurring higher incidences of elbow and hip dysplasia. There is a genetic component to this disease, but diet can influence this happening in an overweight dog. How does this happen and what can we do to lower the chances?

See, an overweight puppy is carrying too much load on joints that have yet to fully ossify or become completely bone. This extra weight damages these joints and becomes permanent. The lesson to be taken here is to keep a lean puppy until the growth plates are all ossified, usually around 12-14 months in most breeds. You want to always be able to feel their ribs, and that would indicate they are lean.

So, it is the not the percentages of protein, fat or carbs that are vitally important to a large breed puppy, but rather overall weight needs to be optimum. Watch the total calories going in along with a calcium level in the 1.1% dry matter range.

Lastly, some will point to neutering as a causative factor of the above issue. I agree, a neutered dog will slow their metabolism somewhat and be more prone to gaining weight than a non neutered dog. So, the recommendations I give for these large breed dogs have changed over the years, and I tend to encourage waiting to spay or neuter until a year of age or thereafter based on each individual case.