....................Large Breed Puppies:...What is an appropriate Diet?.................................

by Chick Newman,PhD,DVM 1

Newman Veterinary Medical Services®

Fundamentals, FeedingMethod, ChoosingDiet, Disclaimer

Nice Shepherd

There is considerable controversy regarding the role of nutrition during Large Doggiethe developmental and growth periods of puppyhood, and its possible effects on the musculoskeletal system in later life, especially in our larger (greater than 60 lb) breeds. Certain problems are believed to be at least modulated by over supplementation of various nutrients, in the mistaken belief that rapid growth is desirable. Included in the list of medical problems that are believed, in part, attributable to over supplementation are: Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, Osteochondrosis, Hip Dysplasia2.

I. Fundamental Considerations

The most significant problems appear to be related to the following, in order of decreasing importance: 1. Calcium, 2. Energy, and 3. Protein .

1. Calcium: The ideal calcium content, on a dry weight basis is 0.7%-1.2%-. AAFCO recommendation is 1%-2.5% which is generally acceptable though not ideal; however, for giant breeds, such as the Great Dane, the lower end of this range is especially recommended. It is believed that calcium in excess of 3% on a dry weight basis can predispose to significant skeletal abnormalities, such as those mentioned above. Keep in mind, also, that adding of vitamins, particularly Vitamin D, will also increase absorption of dietary calcium (to possibly excessive levels).


2. Energy: If too many calories are supplied and consumed on a daily basis, too rapid growth results and the excess mass that must be supported on an immature skeleton can result in microscopic damage to skeletal tissue, with subsequent malformation and/or malarticulation of joints, degenerative changes and potentially chronic pain. For most practical purposes, energy levels in food can be extrapolated principally from dietary fat, which should be no less than 9% (AAFCO recommendation) to maximum of 12% on a dry weight basis. Total kcal/kg of food should remain in the 3200 to 3800 range


3. Protein: As a percent of diet on a dry weight basis should range between 15%- 27% (AAFCO recommends minumum of 22%). The ideal protein concentration is difficult to specify, since it is, in part dependent upon biological value of the protein source; (i.e. if of high biological value, then less is needed {more is assimilated} and the lower end of the range is desired). Protein markedly above the upper limit described here will be converted to energy, rather then incorporated into protein tissue. This will, therefore, add to the energy burden, and potentiate the problems associated with excess energy consumption, as described above


II. Feeding Method

Even though you have painstakingly found the diet that meets the recommended calcium, energy (fat) and protein levels for your puppy, it is equally important to control the amount of this diet which is consumed. Otherwise, the puppy may overeat, and still obtain the nutritional excesses we wish to avoid. The following general rules-of-thumb have been quite helpful in preventing overconsumption and promoting an ideal growth rate:


If your puppy is under 6months old, feed three times daily and allow him to ingest as much as he wants but for a limited time (e.g.only ten minutes)!

If your puppy is between 6 months and maturity, feed only two times daily, and allow him to ingest as much as he wants, but again, for only a limited time..

If your puppy continues to gain weight BUT appears to be "illthrifty (e.g. a body condition score of 2/5) then he is probably growing at the desired rate. When he reaches the age of physical maturity, you can modify the diet to obtain appropriate weight gain and to improve the skin and body condition


III. Choosing a Commercial Diet

You should also know that the labels on many so-called commercial "puppy diet" or "growth diet" packages can be misleading, as there are just a few diets suitable for large breed puppies that are marketed as a puppy food.In fact, many that are marketed for puppies contain excess levels of some or all of the nutrients previously mentioned as of concern in promoting skeletal/ joint problems. This includes the premium commercial diets. Very few (as of this publication) offer ideal levels of protein, fat and calcium for our large breeds! Recent interest in this issue has resulted in some large-breed-specific commercial formulations, which should make this problem less troubling in the near future. Alternatively, you can consider offering certain "light" or "maintenance" diets; however, keep in mind that not all "light" nor many "maintenance" diets are suitable for growing large breed puppies. If you are not sure whether the diet you have chosen is appropriate, it is recommended that you discuss your concerns and questions with you veterinarian.


With this background in mind, the following is suggested for choosing your large breed puppy’s diet:

1. Give minimal credence to marketing claims which appear on the front of the bag!

2. Look for the desired nutrient levels on the back of the bag


3. Look for the a statement that the food is an AAFCO- feeding-trial approved diet for puppy growth.


1 The information contained herein represents the opinion and judgement of the author, based upon his interpretation of revered veterinary journals, comments and discussions with respected colleagues, anecdotal reports and comments from and to knowledgeable veterinarians world-wide via the Veterinary Information Network(VIN). This information is subject to extensive revision based upon the availability of new and pertinent clinical data. The author wishes to thank in particular Dr. Rebecca Remillard, Angell Memorial Hospital, and a respected consultant on VIN for her invaluable expertise, comments and insights upon which much of this information is based.

2 These illnesses may result from multiple factors, including inappropriate nutrient levels, genetic predisposition and unkown environmental issues.

Copyright 1997-2016 Newman Veterinary Medical Services, Seattle, WA


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