Feeding Giant Breed Puppies: Your Complete Guide

Feeding giant breed puppies like this black Great Dane the correct diet is essential for their long-term health
Feeding giant breed puppies like this black Great Dane the correct diet is essential for their long-term health

When it comes to feeding giant breed puppies, we aren't always aware of how essential the right food is for their long-term health. Giant dogs such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, or Bernese Mountain dogs have particular nutritional needs. And, this is especially true when they are puppies.

Many companies, such as Fromms, Hill Science Plan, and Purina, have giant puppy feeding charts. However, they don't always tell you what you need to know feeding dogs that will usually be over 90 lbs as adults. So let's look at everything you need to know about feeding giant breed puppies.

You can see our article here if you would like to know more about feeding aging and senior dogs.

What makes feeding giant breed puppies different from feeding a smaller puppy?

Calories and Macronutrient Profile for Giant Breed Puppies

Food processing for giant breed puppies

Ingredients to look for when feeding giant breed puppies

Essential nutrients for Giant Breed Puppies

Check your giant breed puppy's health status.

Feeding Giant Breed Puppies For Hips, Elbows, and Joint Health

Feeding Giant Breed Puppies For Bloat

Feeding Giant Breed Puppies For Heart Health

How much should I feed my giant breed puppy?

How many times a day should a giant breed puppy be fed?

Final thoughts

What makes feeding a giant breed puppy different from feeding a smaller puppy?

Feeding giant breed puppies the correct nutrition is vital since they can grow up 150 lbs in just 18 months
Feeding giant breed puppies the correct nutrition is vital since they can grow up 150 lbs in just 18 months

To understand what makes giant breed puppies' nutritional needs different from smaller dogs, we need to consider some key factors.

  1. Large and Giant breed puppies grow extremely fast over a very short period. Giant breed dogs can weigh only 1 lb at birth and reach 150 lbs by 18 months. Their most rapid growth period is between 3 and 6 months, but they grow in dramatic spurts throughout. Growing so fast makes giant breeds extremely vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies and the problems that come with excesses.
  2. All puppies are vulnerable to diet imbalances, but when it comes to giant puppies, they are most susceptible to a group of developmental orthopedic diseases (DODs). DODs include:
  • hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD) or severe pain in areas of the long bones,
  • osteochondrosis (OC) or disorders that affect the growing skeleton,
  • osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) where diseased cartilage separates from the bone,
  • retained cartilaginous core,
  • panosteitis or growing pains,
  • hip dysplasia (HD),
  • and canine elbow dysplasia (CED)
  1. Heart health is another primary consideration when feeding giant breed puppies. Giant breeds are not only prone to severe joint and bone abnormalities, but their massive size puts an excessive amount of strain on their hearts. Diets for giant breeds should always be optimized for heart health.
  2. Finally, giant breeds often have poor gut health and cancer issues.

Keeping these significant factors in mind, we can begin to paint a picture of what to look for when feeding giant breed puppies.

If you want to read about the nutritional needs of small breed puppies, you can see our article here.

Calories and Macronutrient Profile for Giant Breed Puppies

When feeding giant breed puppies such as Irish Wolfhounds or English Mastiffs, it is critical to slow their growth as much as possible. The best way to do this is to manage their portions and calories. A giant breed puppy should stay lean while growing because excess weight puts extra strain on their joints and can worsen joint problems.

Therefore, look for a balanced food with a calorie intake of about 350 to 380 calories per cup. Because giant breeds are so susceptible to deficiencies, avoid any sort of limited ingredient or restricted diet. If they have a food allergy, identify and remove the allergen, but never keep a growing giant breed puppy on a hypoallergenic or limited ingredient diet.

Secondly, the important thing is to gauge the macronutrient profile. For a healthy giant breed, you want to see:

  • Crude protein: 30%
  • Crude fat: 10-15%
  • Crude ash: 4-6%
  • Fiber: roughly 4 to 5% of dry matter.

After gauging whether the food is low in calories and has a good macronutrient profile, we can look at how the food is made and what kind of ingredients are best for feeding giant breed puppies.

If you're about to bring a new giant breed puppy into your life, see our new puppy checklist to ensure you are ready.

Food processing for giant breed puppies

There are several reasons to look for less processed or raw diets for giant breeds. We have discussed the health risks of heavily processed diets many times. Nevertheless, some of the most pressing issues are:

  • Heavy heat processing not only compromises nutrients but also produces glycotoxins. These compounds are connected to many health issues giant breeds are prone to. These include obesity, heart issues, chronic inflammation, diabetes, and more.
  • Raw, meat-based diets are anti-inflammatory while high-carb, processed diets are inflammatory. This is very important since giant breeds have many chronic joint inflammation issues.
  • Protein aggregates from heat-processed starch and protein tend to be more allergenic, resulting in more allergies and gastrointestinal issues later in life.

For these reasons, less heat processed diets are better for a giant breed puppy's long-term health.

Ingredients to look for when feeding giant breed puppies

Giant and large breed dogs have a significant difference in their digestive tract from smaller breeds. Essentially, large breed dogs have poorer digestion overall. Their intestines tend to weigh only 3% of their overall body mass, while they comprise 7% of a small breed dog's weight. Food also stays in their colon longer, fermenting and gathering water. This makes watery stools an issue for giant breeds.

This has genuine implications for what a good diet looks like for giant breeds. Essentially, they need:

  • Highly digestible proteins such as egg or chicken meal quickly break down and are absorbed. Hard-to-digest proteins collect in the colon, where they ferment and cause loose stool.
  • Giant breeds also need more non-fermentable fiber than fermentable fiber in their diet. This is mainly cellulose. There has been some criticism of cellulose in dog food, and we discuss the problems with demonizing this ingredient here. Essentially, larger dogs need more insoluble fiber than soluble fiber (the opposite is true for small breeds). The reason is that soluble fiber causes more water to gather in the colon. In contrast, insoluble fiber helps move the food through faster and leaves a firmer stool.
  • Finally, resistant starch is better for large dogs than fermentable starch. This makes grains such as rice or oats a better option. However, the issue of extreme processing in commercial dog foods means much of the nutrient value in an ingredient such as oats is lost. This is one reason that Dr. Ken Tudor suggests that most commercial diets are not suited to large and giant breeds.

Essential nutrients for Giant Breed Puppies

Since giant breed puppies use so much energy just to grow, it's vital to check that their food contains some extra nutrients. These are:

  • Plenty of zinc, preferably chelated zinc. This will be listed as zinc proteinate, zinc amino acid chelate, or zinc methionate. Avoid non-chelated zinc such as zinc sulfate since it tends to bind in the gut with calcium and can cause a deficiency.
  • The omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, found in marine oils such as fish and krill oil, is vital for your puppy's proper brain development. Do not be fooled by plant omega-3s. You want DHA when feeding your giant breed puppy, and your dog food should specify DHA on the label. Another omega-3, EPA, is also a potent anti-inflammatory.
  • Most puppy foods have too little vitamin E. This is one supplement you can safely add on your own. Try to ensure your puppy gets between 300 and 500 IU of vitamin E daily.

Check your giant breed puppy's health status.

When feeding giant breed puppies like this Irish Wolfhound it’s important to remember they may have conditions that affect their ideal nutrition
When feeding giant breed puppies like this Irish Wolfhound it’s important to remember they may have conditions that affect their ideal nutrition

One final detail to check when picking a diet for a giant breed is that they have no underlying health problems. Too often, puppies are born with congenital issues that affect their ideal diet, and pet parents are usually unaware of it. For example:

  • Large breeds generally, but mostly Nordic breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes or Norwegian Elkhounds have trouble absorbing enough zinc.
  • Black Russian Terriers sometimes have trouble breaking down the purines in red and organ meat, and this can give them urate kidney stones.
  • Newfoundlands can develop heart disease from a taurine deficiency.
  • Irish Wolfhounds are sometimes born with liver shunts. This condition can limit how much protein and what kind of protein they can metabolize safely.

These are just a few examples of how your dog's specific genetics influence their ideal diet. Therefore, pet parents should always be aware of any genetic issues that can be made worse by the wrong diet.

Now, let's look at optimizing a giant breed puppy's diet for some of their primary health concerns.

Feeding Giant Breed Puppies For Hips, Elbows, and Joint Health

Diet plays a crucial role in developmental bone disorders in giant breed puppies. The four major factors are:

  • Overnutrition
  • Puppies becoming overweight
  • Excess calcium
  • And the incorrect calcium-to-phosphorus ratio.

So, firstly, giant breed puppies should be on carefully portioned diets and stay lean. It is cruel to overfeed a puppy to get them to grow as big as possible. Growing faster because of excess nutrition exacerbates and even creates long-term skeletal issues.

The next factor is how much calcium is in a puppy's diet. This is absolutely critical to get right. Studies on Great Dane puppies showed that skeletal abnormalities like hip dysplasia and growing pains happened when the puppies got more than 1.5% calcium in their diet.

Bone fractures and slowed growth happened if they ate 0.55% calcium in their diet. Normal development occurred between 0.8% calcium and 1.5% of dry matter.

Before allowing your giant breed puppy any extra calcium in supplements, bones, or dairy like cottage cheese, keep this in mind.

Another aspect that matters is the amount of phosphorus compared to the amount of calcium in your puppy's diet. There should always be just slightly less phosphorus in the diet than calcium. The ideal ratio is 1.4:1 Ca: P. Like calcium, too much and too little phosphorus can significantly affect your puppy's proper bone development.

One great supplement to start your giant breed puppy early is eggshell membrane (ESM). In this article, we look at what preliminary research suggests about ESM for healthy bones and joints.

Feeding Giant Breed Puppies For Bloat

The second good habit of getting into when feeding your giant breed puppies is to reduce the risk of bloat. There are not many nutritional aspects that we know that play a role in bloat, but so far, studies suggest the following:

  1. Feed a varied diet
  2. Feed your dog more than once a day
  3. Ensure that fat is not in the first five ingredients in the dog food.

Feeding Giant Breed Puppies For Heart Health

Neapolitan Mastiffs like this blue puppy often develop heart and joint issues later in life
Neapolitan Mastiffs like this blue puppy often develop heart and joint issues later in life

Finally, feeding giant breed puppies means optimizing their diet for heart health. Ingredients such as taurine and L-carnitine are not considered essential. But since these massive dogs have so much blood to pump, supporting their heart health from a young age can only benefit them.

This means looking for ingredients such as:

  • MCT oil (not coconut oil)
  • Taurine
  • L-carnitine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Co-enzyme Q10

Frequently asked questions:

How much should I feed my giant breed puppy?

Most giant breed dog foods will have a puppy feeding chart on the package to give you an idea of how much to feed your giant breed puppy. Nevertheless, the giant puppy feeding charts are only a rough guide, as your dog's metabolism, activity levels, and other factors can affect how much food they need.

For this reason, feed your giant puppy "to condition ."This means to feed them until they are lean, not skinny. Feed less if it becomes difficult to see the curve of their waist or feel their ribs. If you can see more than three ribs, feed more.

How many times a day should a giant breed puppy be fed?

When your giant breed puppy is 8 to roughly 16 weeks old, feeding about 3 times a day is best. As they grow past 4 months, you can reduce their meal times to twice daily. Avoid feeding your puppy only once daily because this has been linked with bloat in older dogs.

Final thoughts

Feeding giant puppies properly mean being aware of the factors that affect their health. Pet parents should pay attention to labels and look for their dogs' best ingredients and macronutrients. Ensure the right amount of calcium in your giant puppy's food, and be careful of nutritional imbalances.