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Feeding Your Large Breed Puppy for Healthy Growth

If it seems like your large breed puppy is growing up before your eyes, it’s not your imagination. Large to giant breeds can gain between five and fifteen pounds each month until they reach their adult size at about 18-24 months old. Around half of the calories your pup consumes are used to form all of that bone and muscle tissue.
Large breed puppies have unique needs beyond requiring more calories than smaller pups. Their diet must contain the right balance of nutrients to ensure they grow correctly and at an appropriate rate.

Why Do Large Breed Puppies Need A Special Diet?
Large breed dogs are more likely to suffer from developmental orthopedic diseases (DODs) such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis, panosteitis, and retained ulnar cartilage core. These diseases lead to painful inflammation of the bones and joints, lameness, and/or bowing or “knuckling over” of the front legs.
For some puppies, DODs can be overcome with treatment, but in other cases there may be permanent bone deformities that the puppy may never outgrow. DODs can lead to lifelong orthopedic issues and can contribute to the development of arthritis later in life.
DODs have multiple risk factors, including genetics, injuries, and strenuous exercise. Diet is also a known risk factor. Large breed puppies are sensitive to deficiencies and excesses of certain nutrients in their diet that control bone growth. When fed too much or too little of certain nutrients, or when fed incorrectly, large breed puppies are more likely to develop DODs.

What Should Large Breed Puppies Eat?
In 2016, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) updated their guidelines for puppy and “all life stages” foods to specify whether they meet requirements for large breed puppies, defined as those that are expected to weigh more than 70 pounds when fully grown.
Calcium and phosphorus are the main components that make up your puppy’s skeleton, and they work together to create strong, well-formed bones. Large breed puppies need a diet with a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio that’s between 1:1 and 1:2.
Vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and D, copper, zinc, and manganese are also essential for healthy skeletal development.
While small puppies need food that’s higher in fat to ensure their smaller portion sizes contain enough calories, it’s the opposite for large breeds. All-breed puppy foods may contain around 20% fat, but large breeds require food with a fat content of around 9-13%. A diet that’s too high in fat can make large breed puppies overweight, putting them at a higher risk for bone deformities.
Though some all-life-stages dog foods and all-breeds puppy foods do meet the AAFCO standards for large breed puppies, it’s best to feed a kibble that’s specially designed for them.
Purina Pro Plan Large Breed Beef & Rice Probiotic Dry Puppy Food and Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Large Breed Probiotic Dry Puppy Food are fortified with live probiotics to support your puppy’s digestion and developing immune system. They both contain DHA from fish oil, plus additional glucosamine to support growing joints.
Blue Buffalo Chicken & Brown Rice Large Breed Puppy Food contains DHA from flax seeds. It’s made with antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies like cranberries, blueberries, carrots, and sweet potatoes. It’s also boosted with probiotics for digestive health.

How To Feed Your Large Breed Puppy
With big paws comes a big appetite. Large puppies need plenty of fuel for growth, but it’s crucial that they are not permitted to free-feed. Free-feeding often leads to excessive weight gain, which puts a strain on growing bones and joints.
Large puppy food is typically lower in fat and less caloric dense than typical puppy food. It may contain more fiber to satisfy your puppy’s appetite while providing an appropriate amount of calories.
Keep in mind that complete, balanced foods are no longer balanced when fed inappropriately. A food formulated with fewer calories and less fat can still cause your puppy to gain weight too quickly if you overfeed them.
Generally, puppies should eat their daily serving split into at least three meals. After six months of age, you can divide their food into just two meals per day. Feeding just one daily meal is best avoided, as it has been associated with an increased risk of bloat.
Always talk to your veterinarian for feeding recommendations. Every puppy, even those of the same breed, has unique dietary needs. While the guidelines on the bag of kibble are a good start, you’ll need to monitor your pup’s growth, body condition, and weight gain to ensure that their diet is working for them.