Giant Breed Nutrition: What Makes Them Different?

by Sarah Griffiths, DCH in Dogs
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Giant breed dogs are near and dear to my heart. I’m sure many of you out there feel the same way. They are known as the “gentle giants” and they have beautiful, calm souls along with a loyal nature. I have had the honour of sharing my life with 4 of these amazing dogs and caring for them kindled the fire of my journey into animal nutrition. Red Dog Blue Kat founder, Inna Shekhtman was also inspired to start this very company when her giant breed dog, Adarha, joined the family.

Irish Wolfhound

I wanted to spend some time talking about the special needs of giant dogs. Because they are so big, often reaching 120-200lbs in their adult years, they have refined nutritional needs. As puppies, they grow rapidly and are at risk for several diet-related diseases during their younger years. If you haven’t read it already, please check out our puppy blog for the basics on puppy nutrition and then come back to this one for all the details on giant breeds.

Newfoundlander Dog

Some of the common diseases affecting giant dogs include anemia, hip and elbow dysplasia (and other orthopaedic diseases), heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy), and hypothyroidism. In conventional terms, these illnesses are viewed simply as genetic in nature but each one of them has a clear nutritional factor. Veterinary nutrition specialist Dr. Ian Billinghurst would agree. He describes many of these as “nutritional diseases.”

The main thing to understand about giant dogs is that, as puppies, they grow at alarming speed. From the time you take your puppy home to when they reach adulthood at 3 years of age, they may have grown up to 15-20 times their original size. Imagine growing that fast in human terms! This rapid growth requires some special considerations in order to support them through this process.

So how can you protect your giant breed pups from developing these disease? Nutrition is a great place to start! Raw diets have been scientifically proven to increase longevity in giant breed dogs. To see the research, check out Long Living Pets Research Projects. After reading our puppy blog, here are 8 tips for how to optimize you puppy’s raw food diet and other things you can do to preserve your giant breeds, young and old.


8 Tips for Giant Breed Health

1. Include Raw Bones In The Diet

Hip and elbow dysplasia are developmental diseases that start in puppyhood. They can stem from hypocalcaemia, a calcium deficiency, usually due to poor diet. A balanced raw diet will give your puppy access not just to bioavailable calcium but also to collagen, chondroitin and other important nutrients needs for musculo-skeletal development. This is your best protection against hip and elbow dysplasia. To learn about which bones are appropriate for your dog, check out our bone blogs. Bone broth is also a great way to get these important nutrients into your dog.

Bones for Dogs

2. Rotate 1 Part Poultry 1 Part Red Meat

Ensuring your giant breed pups get access to enough iron is important since they make red blood cells at a rapid pace and can become anemic very quickly if you’re not paying attention. A balance of red and poultry meats balanced the calcium, provides lots of iron and adequate taurine (in poultry) to protect the heart tissue.

3. Turf the Carbs

Processed/extruded grains and legumes, found in most processed pet food, promote unstable blood sugar, rapid growth spurts and inflammation. All 3 of these issues are not what you want for a growing giant breed dog. In order to grow in a healthy manner, they need to be inflammation-free and have a slow and steady growth rate. 

4. Lots of Antioxidants 

Antioxidants are nutrients that help your pet deal with inflammation and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress plays a role in inflammatory diseases, joint disease, heart disease, aging and even cancer. To reduce the risk of joint inflammation while growing and support the nervous system and the heart. 

Our favourite antioxidant-rich food products:

5. Promote Gut Health

If you feed the best diet and supplements, but your pet’s digestive health is suffering, they may not be able to absorb nutrients currently. This can put stress on the entire body so supporting the gut on a regular basis is important. Our favourite options:

6. Don't Overfeed

If you feed too much, your giant pup could grow too fast and/or become overweight which put strain on the joints. This is the last thing you want! In order to avoid hip and elbow dysplasia, your pup needs to remain lean and grow slowly. You should clearly be able to feel the ribs and spine but not see them. If you can’t feel them at all, your pup is carrying too much weight. Underweight animals could be suffering from nutritional deficiencies and this can be just as dangerous so if you can see the ribs and spine, it’s time to increase their food intake. Giant breeds need regular food adjustments as they grow and it’s important to weigh them regularly, at least every 2 weeks. If you’re not sure how to assess your pup’s body score, contact us for help. 

7. Don't Spay or Neuter Too Early

Spay and neuter drastically changes the endocrine system. The sex organs are an integral part of regulating hormones and when they are taken away in the early years of life, it can cause devastating side effects including growth-related disease and hypothyroidism. A giant breed’s growth will be altered by spay and neuter so find a veterinarian with experience specifically in giant dogs to help you decide when you might want to consider this surgery.

8. Breed-Appropriate Exercise 

Low-impact exercise is extremely important for giant breed pups. If they don’t exercise appropriately, the bones, joints and cartilage, ligaments will not develop correctly. Lots of walking on soft ground, short periods of off-leash running and swimming are all important activities for developing healthy bones and joints.

I hope these tips help you to care for your giant breeds and preserve them for as long as possible!