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Choosing the Best Puppy Food for Your Growing Large Breed Dog

Choosing the Best Puppy Food for Your Growing Large Breed Dog

I adopted my Golden Retriever when he was six weeks old, immediately after weaning. The puppy looked healthy, and I wanted to make sure it grew healthier. I knew Golden Retrievers are prone to obesity, so I needed puppy food with the right balance of nutrients for brain, bone, and vision development without causing obesity.

After doing lots of research on puppy foods, I discovered the difference between foods for medium and smaller breeds and those for large breeds and what exactly to look for when buying. Let me walk you through what nutrients large breed puppies need, and how to choose the best puppy food for your growing large breed dog.

Our pick of puppy food for large dog breeds

Puppy Food




Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Puppy Food


Turkey, chicken, fruits,vegetables


AIMS Dry Dog Food


Chicken, whole grains


Hill's Science Diet Dry Dog Food


Chicken, whole grains, multivitamins


Pro Plan Development Dry Puppy Food


Chicken, rice, fish oil


Purina Pro Plan Dry Puppy Food


Lamb, rice


Lucy Pet Formulas


Wild Alaskan Salmon, chicken meal, quinoa, chickpeas, pumpkin


Natural Balance Fat Low-Calorie Dog Food


Potatoes, brown rice, peas, barley


How to Choose the Best Puppy Food for Your Growing Large Breed Dog

When the National Center for Biotechnology Information analyzed the Canadian dry dog foods against the nutrient contents recommended by the AAFCO, 25 out of 27 foods met or exceeded the AAFCO standards. However, things were not good with the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act compliance.

Only 9 of these foods matched all the nutrient content claims on the packaging. As a result, I believe most puppy foods on the market aren’t harmful and contain most of the needed nutrients, but some brands mislead buyers on the nutrient content.

To make matters worse, there is no enforcement in Canada to make sure puppy foods meet the industry standards like in the United States or Europe. The regulation is at the federal level and not as rigorous compared to the United States. So, it’s upon you as the buyer to do your due diligence when buying puppy food for large breeds.

For example, you need to know what nutrients large breed puppies need most and at what levels so that even if the manufacturer labels food as for large dog breed puppies, you can still tell whether it’s safe by looking at the ingredients.

Luckily, I have done the hard part for you. The following tips will help you know which food matches your dog’s specific breed, puppy age, and appetite levels.  


Not all giant breeds are the same. Some, like the Samoyed, Alaskan Malamute, and Siberian Husky, were bred for pulling sleds. Dogs like the Saint Bernard were bred for Alpine rescue work in Switzerland. Dogs like the Newfoundland are muscular enough even to pull fishing boats.

On the other hand, dogs like Greyhounds and Irish Wolfhounds are sighthounds bred for hunting. Their lean bodies are built for speed and agility, not raw pulling power. The same diversity is reflected in their diets and choice of puppy food.

Dog breeds with powerful, muscular builds, such as the Newfoundlands, need high-protein foods to build their muscles. I recommend getting puppy food such as the Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Puppy Food. This food contains turkey, salmon, trout, duck, beef, and chicken—real savory chunks, not flavors.

On the other hand, breeds like Greyhounds need foods that give bursts of energy to fuel their sprinting speeds and agility. Remember, you're looking for energy while building lean muscles and tissue repairs after sprinting workouts.

I suggest getting puppy food that strikes a balance between protein and calories, such as the AIMS Dry Dog Food. This food contains a mix of whole grains and chicken. The chicken provides the protein necessary for lean muscle development, and the carbohydrates provide bursts of energy. So, consider which category your dog falls under and go for the right food.     


Puppyhood starts at birth and lasts 18 to 24 months for large breeds like the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Mastiffs. But when talking about puppy food, we talk of puppies from about four weeks, when they need more calories than what they're getting from their mother's milk.

Continue with puppy food until the dog attains around 90% of its expected adult weight. As you can tell, the food you'll be giving a one-month-old puppy is not the same as the food you'll be giving a fifteen-month-old puppy.

In a perfect scenario, you'll adopt the puppy after weaning. That means the puppy will be around 6 to 8 weeks old. We're talking about a puppy transitioning from mother milk to puppy food. Remember, colostrum contains a good balance of the nutrients the puppy needs.

At this age, you'll need food that provides the right balance of minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, almost like colostrum. I recommend Hill's Science Diet Dry Dog Food. This food contains a precise balance of 50 nutrients—not too much or too little of certain nutrients, perfect for the transitioning period.

You can tell that it's high-quality food from the fact that the formulation took the input of over 150 pet nutritionists and veterinarians. Another thing I love about this food is that it's all natural—no preservatives, artificial colors, or fillers.

Remember, this is dry food, so keep fresh water available. As the puppy ages, you can start transitioning to foods that give more weight to certain nutrients depending on the breed category, as I mentioned above.

Calcium and Phosphorus Content

Calcium and phosphorus are the pillars of the large skeleton of a giant dog. Note that large breeds grow faster and for longer periods compared to the smaller breeds. At the same time, their skeletons have to grow stronger than those of smaller breeds to support the heavyweight.

For example, the bone structure of a male Newfoundland should be able to support its 150-pound weight without joint problems. Now, this is where things get interesting. Many people think that large dog breeds require foods with high calcium content to develop strong bones.

However, giving these dogs food with so much calcium and phosphorus can cause orthopedic issues in the future. The fast-growing bones can't regulate the high calcium content. The result is endochondral ossification, leading to a focal lesion. Finally, the dog has deformed long bones.

Even worse, disrupted cartilage can cause acute inflammatory joint disease when the synovial fluid comes into contact with the subchondral bone. That's why the Association of American Feed Control Officials reduced the maximum level of calcium in foods for large dog breeds compared to foods for small dog breeds. 

A lack of enough calcium, on the other hand, affects bone development, blood coagulation, and muscle contraction. When blood calcium levels fall under 6 mg/dl, the pup might develop hypocalcemic tetany, tremors, muscle tension, excessive panting, weak pulses, fever, drunken walking, disorientation, and nervousness. 

So, choose pup food with a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of around 1.0% to 1.6% phosphorus and 1.2% to 2.5% calcium. Unfortunately, most brands won't indicate this information. I suggest checking the protein/fat ratio and choosing food with a ratio of around 30/15, such as the Pro Plan Development Dry Puppy Food

The ingredients are rice and real chicken. I love this food because it's specifically formulated for puppy development. It contains omega-rich fish oils, which, along with the DHA fatty acids, help with the pup's vision and brain development. 

Grain-Free or Not

The issue of grains in pup food is hotly debated, and answers are usually subjective. For instance, some people argue that dogs derive carbohydrates from grains like rice, oats, and barley. The fiber from the grains also helps digestion and gut health.

The other party avoids grains because they believe dogs are carnivores and don't benefit from plant foods. But in reality, dogs are omnivores, and their guts digest plant- and animal-based nutrients. Even wild wolves get their nutrients from animal sources and plant sources.

The good thing about grain-inclusive puppy food is their affordable price tags. However, note that there are grains that contain gluten. Just like humans, some puppies are gluten intolerant. Signs that your puppy is suffering from gluten allergies include:

  • Excessive scratching that results in hair loss and bald patches
  • Nutritional deficiencies that result in unhealthy, dull-looking coat
  • Excessive licking of body parts trying to ease the itchiness
  • Red skin, rashes and sores
  • Vomiting
  • Mucus and blood in the poop, and sometimes diarrhea

Grains that contain gluten include oats, triticale, rye, barley, bulgur wheat, durum, and wheat. Since it's challenging to know whether a puppy is gluten intolerant, it's advisable to choose foods containing gluten-free grains like sorghum, rice, millet, and corn.

I recommend the Purina Pro Plan Dry Puppy Food. Over 500 dog behaviorists, vets, nutritionists, and scientists contributed to its formulation. The end product is a well-balanced gluten-free puppy food that uses rice and real meat. It's no wonder this food has a 4.7-star rating from over 8,000 customers on Amazon.

On the other hand, grain-free puppy food doesn't mean it's purely protein. These foods use things like potatoes and pumpkin for gluten-free carbohydrates. I prefer foods that use pumpkin, such as Lucy Pet Formulas, because the natural fiber in pumpkin works just like the grain fiber. 

The food uses a combination of Wild Alaskan Salmon and chicken meal, quinoa for amino acids, chickpeas for complex starches, and pumpkin for fibers. It does not contain Chinese ingredients, salmon by-products, or artificial preservatives. 

Portion Size

One of the best ways to establish a strong bond with your growing Fido is to give him enough food. Remember, the appetite varies. For example, Boxers, Beagles, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers are heavy feeders compared to dogs like Great Danes and Greyhounds.

If you allow these heavy feeders to feed to their fullness, they'll become obese. A dog is overweight when it exceeds 10% to 30% of its ideal body weight. If it exceeds 30% of its ideal weight, the dog is diagnosed as obese.

For example, the ideal weight for a 10-month-old Golden Retriever puppy is around 55 to 65 pounds. If the puppy weighs over 70 pounds, then it's overweight. If it weighs over 85 pounds, then it's obese. So, you get stuck between giving the puppy enough food, and it becomes obese, or giving it smaller portions, and it constantly begs for food.

That's where the choice of puppy food comes in. Remember, weight gain is not about the amount of food the dog eats but the amount of calories it gets from the food. For example, one cup of vegetables contains around 25 to 75 calories. On the other hand, one chicken thigh contains around 177 calories.

That means the calories from one chicken thigh equal the calories of around 3.5 cups of vegetables. So, the best way to give your puppy enough portions to keep it full and satisfied for longer without causing obesity is to go for low-calorie foods such as the Natural Balance Fat Low-Calorie Dog Food.

This food is made of potatoes, peas, barley, and brown rice. It contains a good balance of nutrients, with protein taking the lion's share of 26%, fiber 10.5%, fat 7.5%, Omega 3 0.25%, and moisture 10%. The good thing is that fiber isn't digestible.

The high fiber content means the dog stays full longer without additional calories. Another alternative is to feed your puppy vegetables such as broccoli, celery, carrots, green beans, and cucumbers. But I only suggest this route when the pup is transitioning into adulthood.

Don't be tempted to go for puppy foods popped with air during preparation. The puppy will burp and feel hungry almost immediately.

Brand Reputation

As I mentioned, some brands mislead buyers with nutrient content on the packaging. The best way to know a buyer is reputable is to check the number of customer reviews and the star rating. A good brand has lots of reviews and high ratings.

The good thing with this method is that you get reviews from people who have bought and used the product. So, you expect to get a similar user experience. As a rule of thumb, go for brands with at least 1,000 reviews and around 4.5-star rating.            

Final Thoughts

Your choice of puppy food determines how healthy your puppy grows. Remember, puppies of large dog breeds grow faster, and a lack of proper nutrient balance causes orthopedic issues. These puppies are also heavy feeders and can easily become obese. To avoid issues, I recommend foods formulated for large-breed puppies, like the ones I recommended above.