How to Feed Your Large Breed Dog


Adding a large breed dog to your family is sure to bring lots of love and great memories. But, large dog breeds (giant/big dog breeds), such as Mastiffs, Great Pyrenees and even Labradoodles, also have bigger dietary needs.

It’s easy to associate large and giant breed dogs (weighing 50 pounds or more) with big appetites, but what and how you feed big dogs greatly determines their overall health and quality of life. If you’re looking for a large breed dog food recipe for your furry friend, check out these tips on large dog nutrition to help you make the best choices for your big dog –– from the time they’re puppies to their golden years.

Preventing Common Medical Conditions in Large Breed Puppies

Large dog breeds, especially when they’re puppies, require special nutrition to prevent diseases and defects as they grow. Large and giant breed puppies grow faster than smaller dogs, which makes them very sensitive to how many calories and the types of nutrients that they digest. An unbalanced diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies and excesses that can negatively impact your puppy’s health in the long-term.

Accelerated growth in puppies can lead to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD), which includes a variety of conditions:

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

Hip dysplasia is one of the more common medical conditions in large dog breeds, and one of the easiest to recognize. In healthy joints, the ball (the upper, rounded end of the femur) and the socket (part of the pelvis) fit smoothly together to give your dog a comfortable, natural range of motion. Giant and large breed dogs with hip dysplasia have a flattened femur that awkwardly fits into the socket, or, in some cases, the socket is too shallow for the femur to comfortably slide in place. Dogs with hip dysplasia will begin to exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Discomfort upon rising
  • Reluctance to run and jump
  • Hind leg lameness
  • Swaying or staggering

Excess body weight can lead to early onset of hip and elbow dysplasia, or intensify symptoms in existing cases. That’s why it’s important to avoid over-feeding large breed puppies. Diets for large and giant breed puppies should meet three key nutritional requirements:

  • Lower in energy
  • Lower in phosphorus
  • Lower in calcium

Large breed dog food formulas with limited amounts of calcium andphosphorus can help reduce the risk of DOD. These large breed formulas for puppies might also contain fewer calories to help slow growth rates in puppies. Before your puppy reaches adulthood, talk to your veterinarian about breed-specific dog foods that can help your pup stay healthy into their adult years.

Large Breed Adult Health Concerns

Once your large breed dog reaches adulthood (about one-and-a-half to two years old), talk to your veterinarian about transitioning them to an adult dog food formula. Specialized dog foods for large and giant breed dogs are formulated to help them stay healthy and avoid problemslike orthopedic disease, obesity and bloat.

Orthopedic diseases

Musculoskeletal and orthopedic disorders, including arthritis, osteochondrosis
and hip dysplasia, are more likely to occur in large and giant breed adult dogs. Rapid growth, genetics, exercise and nutrition are contributing factors in the development of these disorders. Although we can’t control genetics, pet parents can help their large breed dog maintain a healthy weight through nutrition and exercise.


The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 53 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight, putting them at risk for developing orthopedic diseases later in life. Extra weight puts additional stress on joints, muscles and bones, which can negatively affect their quality of life and limit mobility. Obesity can also lead to more serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure.


Bloat, also known as gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV), affects large and giant breed dogs more than smaller dogs. It is a serious (and sometimes fatal) condition. Dogs develop bloat when gasses build up quickly in the stomach without a way to escape. You can help prevent bloat by taking the following steps:

  • Prevent rapid eating by feeding multiple times a day instead of one large meal
  • Feed at floor level by putting their food bowls on the ground
  • Make sure their large breed dry dog food features a larger kibble
  • Avoid foods with a high fat content (typically those with oil and fat within the first four ingredients on the nutrition label)
  • Avoid exercise 1–2 hours after eating

Large Breed Dogs Need the Right Balance of Nutrients

Calcium and phosphorus

The unique growth rates of large breed dogs make it critical that your dog has a balanced nutritional diet, especially between six months and two years of age. Look for large and giant breed dog food formulas with appropriate calcium and phosphorus levels to promote strong bones and growth, plus protein and other essential nutrients to support healthy joints and easy digestion.

Protein and fat

A dog food formula rich in protein and low in fat helps balance your puppy’s growth and keep your adult dog at an ideal weight. Look at the pet food nutrition labels on the back of their food to find out if their dry dog food or canned dog food features qualityproteins, such as chicken, venison, lamb and fish.


Larger dogs have a shorter digestive tract, which means an increase in moisture in their stools. A diet that is rich in fiber will help prevent loose, watery stools and maintain a healthy digestive system. Look for ingredients that include fiber sources, such as whole grain oatmeal and brown rice, rice bran and beet pulp.

Other nutrients, vitamins and minerals

The larger your dog grows, the more stress they’ll put on their joints. To help nourish healthy cartilage and connective tissue, add the following to your list of ingredients to look for in your large breed dog’s food:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Manganese

Switching to a New Large Breed Dog Food

Once you find the right large breed formula for your dog, consult the feeding guidelines on the back of the package. While most brands will recommend introducing the new food by mixing it into their current recipe, it’s important to remember that every dog is different and might require a special transition plan. Also, be sure to monitor your dog’s behavior and stool during and after the transition to ensure they are tolerating the new recipe.

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