Did you know that large breed dogs have different nutritional requirements than smaller dogs? Large breeds need more calcium and phosphorus than small breeds, along with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for bone and joint health, for example. There are tons of dog foods out there, so we want to help you find the best for your fur child. Here are our picks for the best large breed dog food.
Our Top Picks
What To Look for in Large Breed Adult Dry Dog Food
How can you tell which foods are good for large breeds, and which ones aren’t? Here are some things you do - and don’t - want to see in your dog’s food.
Animal Protein as the First Ingredient
Dogs need meat to build lean muscle mass, so you don’t want to feed them something that has corn, rice, or anything else plant-based as the first ingredient. Whole meat is best, but meat meal is acceptable as long as the animal it comes from is identified. For example, chicken meal is fine, but you should stay away from poultry meal.
Some foods will also use dried egg as a protein, but real meat makes a better high-quality protein.
By-products are what’s left of an animal carcass after everything that humans will eat has been removed. That leaves things like beaks, hooves, horns, and feathers, which can be ground up and cooked at high heat to be included in dog food. That’s what by-products are. As you can imagine, they have little to no nutritional value. They’re just cheap filler ingredients.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Large breeds are far more prone to arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other joint problems than small breeds. You might take (or know someone who takes) a supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin to help support joint health. It turns out, those are good for dog joints, too.
While you can give your dog a supplement (created for canines, not humans), it’s better to find a food that includes glucosamine and chondroitin in its formulation.
Some large breeds are more prone than others to a life-threatening condition called bloat, where the stomach fills with gas and can twist on its axis, cutting off the blood supply to the intestines. Gulping food is thought to be one of the things that can contribute to bloat, so larger kibble that encourages dogs to chew is recommended for large and giant breed dogs.
Small kibble shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, though - there are plenty of food puzzles and kibble-dispensing toys to help slow down your fast eater.
No Artificial Ingredients
Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are unnatural and unnecessary in high-quality dog food dog food. Stick with all-natural ingredients. While artificial ingredients themselves may or may not be harmful, they can indicate a lower-quality food. Food with high-quality ingredients won’t contain anything artificial.
Low to Moderate Fat Content
All dogs are prone to obesity. In fact, more than half of all pet dogs are overweight or obese. Unless your dog is extremely active, look for a food with a low to moderate fat content.
No or Whole Grains
Vets are split on whether or not dog food should contain grains. If you choose to feed your large breed a grain-inclusive diet, look for one with whole grains rather than grain castoffs.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are crucial for your large breed’s skin and coat health. If your dog is prone to dry, itchy, or flaky skin or if their coat seems a little dull, look for a food with higher levels of essential fatty acids.
Apart from omega-3 and omega-6, DHA is another crucial fatty acid, especially for puppies. It helps support healthy eye and brain development, so make sure it’s included in your large breed’s puppy food.
Probiotics are as beneficial for dog digestive health as they are for humans. While you could supplement your dog’s food with yogurt or probiotics, it’s helpful to choose a food that includes probiotics. Even better, look for a food that also has prebiotics, which help feed the beneficial bacteria provided by probiotics.
Best Large Breed Dog Food (Adult)
1. Merrick Large Breed Grain Free Dry Dog Food
Want real ingredients with no fillers? Want a food with glucosamine and chondroitin? Want a food made in the USA? Then you’re looking for Merrick Large Breed Grain-Free with Real Meat + Sweet Potato. Deboned chicken is the first ingredient, and it contains leading levels of glucosamine and chondroitin.
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, peas, sweet potatoes, potatoes
Customer Reviews:There aren’t very many negative reviews about this food. Some people thought the kibble size was too small, and some people had delivery problems. Most dogs love this food, and one reviewer called this the “Best dog food ever!”
Our Take: This is a high-quality food with real ingredients that you can feel comfortable feeding your large dog.
2. Wellness Complete Health Natural Large Breed Dry Dog Food
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned chicken, deboned whitefish, chicken meal, oatmeal, ground peas
Customer Reviews: While some dogs experienced digestive upset after switching to this food, many of the complaints revolve around delivery issues or the lack of a resealable zipper on the bag. Overall, most dogs enjoy and thrive on this food, even dogs who had digestive problems on other food.
Our Take: This is an excellent grain-inclusive option for large breed dogs.
3. Taste of the Wild High Protein Real Meat Recipe Sierra Mountain Premium Dry Dog Food
Made in the USA with real lamb as the first ingredient, Taste of the Wild High Protein Real Meat Recipe Sierra Mountain is an excellent choice for large breed dogs. It contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, but it does have probiotics, DHA, antioxidants, and fatty acids. This food is available in both grain-free and ancient grains formulas.
First 5 Ingredients: Lamb, lamb meal, sweet potatoes, egg product, lentils
Customer Reviews:The most common complaint is about delivery issues. Like any food, some dogs got sick or didn’t like the taste. More dogs seemed to have problems with the ancient grains version than the grain-free version. All in all, most dogs love this food and do well on it.
Our Take: With both grain-free and ancient grains formulas, this protein-rich food is an excellent option for large breed dogs.
4. "I and Love and You" Lovingly Simple Dry Dog Food - Grain Free Limited Ingredient Kibble
Food allergies and sensitivities are becoming more prevalent. If your big dog struggles with skin or digestive issues, they may benefit from a limited ingredient diet like “I and Love and You” Lovingly Simple Grain Free Limited Ingredient. The main protein sources are lamb and menhaden fish meal, and there are no grains, by-products, or artificial ingredients.
First 5 Ingredients: Lamb, menhaden fish meal, chickpeas, ground peas, pea protein
Customer Reviews: Some dogs didn’t like the taste of this food and some got sick or had allergic reactions. Mostly, though, dogs with sensitive stomachs do well on this food, and many picky dogs enjoy it.
Our Take: As long as your dog isn’t allergic to lamb or fish, this is a great limited ingredient grain-free food that many dogs will thrive on.
5. Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein, Natural Adult Large Breed Dry Dog Food
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, peas, tapioca starch
Customer Reviews: People reported some quality control issues when having the food delivered compared to picking it up in the store, and several people complained about the price. Most dogs love the taste and are doing well on this food.
Our Take: This food is more affordable than some of the other options on our list, and it still contains quality ingredients and good nutritional value for the average large breed dog.
6. Earthborn Holistic Natural Food For Large Breed Dogs
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken meal, peas, tapioca, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), ground flaxseed
Customer Reviews: Most of the negative reviews are at least two years old. The only recent negative reviews are about the high price. On the other hand, several people referred to this as the “best dog food ever.”
Our Take: This food has good ingredients and a great mission to help improve the planet. Your large breed dog may do well on it.
7. Diamond Naturals Premium Large Breed Formulas Dry Dog Food
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, whole grain brown rice, cracked pearled barley, peas
Customer Reviews: Some dogs experienced digestive upset after eating this food, and some picky dogs didn’t like the taste. However, most dogs do well on this food, and customers say this food is a great value.
Our Take: Large breed dogs eat a lot. If that’s tough on your budget, this is an affordable option that still has good ingredients.
8. Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food Large & Giant Breed Adult
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken meal, ground brown rice, ground white rice, oatmeal, chicken fat (preserved with natural mixed tocopherols)
Customer Reviews: The main complaint is about the small size of the kibble. Some dogs also didn’t like this food. Most dogs love this food, though, and are doing well on it.
Our Take: This food is a good choice that many large and giant breed dogs should do well on.
Best Large Breed Puppy Dog Food
1. Tuffy's Pet Food Nutrisource Large Breed Chicken & Rice Puppy Food
You want your large breed puppy to grow at an appropriate rate. Get them a food designed especially for their specific needs. You get just that with Tuffy’s Nutrisource Large Breed Chicken & Rice Puppy Food. Chicken is the first ingredient, and it has perfectly balanced levels of calcium, phosphorus, protein, fat, carbs, and calories.
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, barley, white rice
Customer Reviews: There seem to have been a lot of delivery issues with this food recently, alongside the usual few dogs who had digestive problems. However, most puppies love the flavor and are growing well on this food.
Our Take: This is one of the top grain-inclusive puppy foods for large breed dogs. Most puppies should do well on it.
2. NUTRO Wholesome Essentials Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food, Chicken & Lamb
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal (source of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate), brewers rice, split peas, whole grain sorghum
Customer Reviews: Like any food, some puppies got sick after eating this one. Most puppies enjoy it, though, and are thriving.
This is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a grain-inclusive food for your large breed puppy, especially if you worry about GMO ingredients.
Is Grain-Free Dog Food Safe?
In July 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started investigating complaints that grain-free dog food was causing a potentially fatal heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 515 reports of DCM in dogs. Most of those dogs were on grain-free diets.
As of September 2020, the FDA has not proven that grain-free food causes DCM. There are roughly 90 million dogs in the United States, so the odds of a dog developing DCM after eating grain-free food are very slim.
If you have any questions about whether or not you should be feeding a grain-free diet, you should talk to your dog’s veterinarian. Some vets recommend grain-free food, while others advise against it unless a dog has a known grain allergy.
Common Health Problems in Large Breed Dogs
Here are some common health issues that large breeds deal with and how diet may affect those health issues.
Obesity is as much a problem for our pets as it is for ourselves. It can cause many of the same problems in pets as people, including diabetes and heart problems. Obesity can shorten your dog’s life, so it’s important to find a food that isn’t too high in fat.
How can you tell if your dog is overweight? You should be able to feel their ribs when they’re standing up. They should also have a tucked-in waist when viewed from above or the side. If you think your dog may be overweight, talk to your vet about your dog’s optimal weight and how to help them reach that goal. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight could add precious months or years to their life.
More common in large breeds than small breeds, bloat is a condition where a dog’s stomach fills with air. It can rotate on its axis and cut off the blood supply to your dog’s intestines. Bloat is fatal in about half of all dogs who get it. Of dogs with bloat who get emergency surgery, about a third still don’t make it.
If you have a large breed, it’s important that you feed them at least twice a day and slow down their eating. It’s thought that gulping food too quickly can cause dogs to swallow a lot of air, contributing to bloat.
You might consider using food puzzles or toys that dispense kibble to help prolong mealtime.
Large breeds are far more prone to arthritis, hip or elbow dysplasia, and other joint problems than small breeds. One thing that may help prevent or lessen joint pain is finding a food that contains glucosamine and chondroitin. It’s been shown to reduce joint pain in people and animals.
Increasingly, dog are suffering from food allergies and sensitivities. A food allergy involves the immune system and causes symptoms like itchy skin or chronic ear infections. Food intolerances affect the intestinal tract and cause diarrhea, bloating, gas, or vomiting.
The most common food allergens for dogs are chicken, beef, dairy, lamb, soy, and gluten. If your dog is showing symptoms of a food allergy or sensitivity, you should try to identify and eliminate the ingredient they are having problems with.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Large Breed Dogs Need Special Food?
While your large breed pup might do just fine on any food that offers complete and balanced nutrition, it’s best to choose a food that’s specifically formulated for large breeds. That’s because large breeds have specific nutritional needs. In particular, they do best with lower-fat food that contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and optimal levels of calcium and phosphorus.
Can Large Breed Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?
A large breed puppy generally should not eat adult dog food. Puppies in general and large breed puppies, especially, have very specific nutritional requirements that they won’t get from adult food. In particular, puppies need DHA, an amino acid that isn’t commonly found in adult dog food.
Large breed puppies that grow too quickly are more prone to joint problems like hip dysplasia, so it’s especially important to feed them something designed to help them grow at the right pace. Large breed puppy food also typically has higher levels of phosphorus and calcium than adult food, so puppies can develop strong bones.
While your puppy might be OK eating a food designed for all life stages, it’s usually best to look for a large breed puppy food.
When Should I Switch My Large Breed Puppy to Adult Food?
Most large breed puppies reach their adult size between 18 and 24 months old. You should keep your dog on puppy food until they stop growing. If you have any questions about when and how to make the switch to adult food, talk to your veterinarian.
How Often Should I Feed My Large Dog?
Since large breed dogs are more prone to bloat after eating large meals, you should feed your big dog twice a day. Smaller meals twice a day are somewhat less likely to cause bloat than one large meal per day.
We also don’t recommend free feeding your large breed. In addition to the chance of it causing obesity, it’s much harder to notice if your dog stops eating. A lack of appetite can be an early warning that something is wrong with your dog, so it’s best to measure out their food into twice daily meals.
Can I Feed My Small Dog Large Breed Dog Food?
Your small breed dog may not get sick on large breed dog food, but they might not thrive, either. Small dogs have faster metabolisms than large dogs, so they have different dietary needs. Some foods, including some on our list, are formulated to meet the average needs of all dog sizes. However, it’s often best to choose foods designed for your pup’s size.