Large and giant breed dogs — Great Danes, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and the like — have different nutritional needs than smaller breeds. All puppies are born with their bones still developing, but large breed puppies are more susceptible to developmental bone and joint disease during their rapid growth phase to 1 year of age. In fact, large breeds reach 50 percent of their body weight at around 5 months of age. Smaller breeds reach 50 percent of their body weight at around 4 months of age.
The growth rates of all puppies are dependent on the food that they eat. Puppies should be fed to grow at an average, rather than a maximum, growth rate. Compared to smaller-sized puppies, large breed puppies need restricted levels of fat and calcium to moderate their rate of growth. They’ll still reach their full-grown size, just over a longer period of time, which will result in healthy development of bones and joints for these breeds.
Two key nutrients that should be decreased for large breed puppies are fat (and total calories) and calcium:
- Fat: High fat/calorie intake causes rapid weight gain, and bones/muscles aren’t developed enough to support the excessive body weight. Controlling the fat level and total calories in the food for these puppies may help reduce the risk of developmental bone and joint problems.
- Calcium: Excessive calcium intake increases the likelihood of skeletal problems. It is also recommended that calcium supplements not be fed with any commercial pet food for growth.
Hill’s Large Breed products are designed to help large breed dogs live long, quality lives. We limit the levels of calcium and fat in Hill’s® Science Diet® Puppy Large Breed dog food, but we do add high levels of certain nutrients that have been shown to benefit big dogs — like omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine and the highest levels of the antioxidant vitamins E+C versus all leading brands. These nutrients help maintain healthy joints and cartilage because large breed dogs are more likely to put stress on their joints due to their size. Mastiffs, Labs and all the other large and giant breeds that we love can benefit from precisely balanced nutrition to live their lives to the fullest.