Mauja at 8 weeks :)
Mauja at 8 weeks 🙂

In our society, bigger is better (just look at iPhones these days!). Unfortunately, the “bigger is better mentality” has transferred into dogs, especially giant breeds. Many people want their giant breed as big as possible, as soon as possible. I often see people exclaim proudly, “My 5 month old is already 80 pounds!” However, promoting rapid growth for a giant breed puppy is one of the most detrimental things a new dog parent can do.

Growth in giant breeds is a topic that is starting to be studied more thoroughly. The nutrition we give to a Maltese puppy surely shouldn’t be given to a Great Pyrenees puppy, but it happens all of the time. Most of the time it occurs from a simple lack of knowledge and inaccurate data from dog food companies. But just what should new giant breed puppy parents look for in a dog food?

For many years, low protein content was the recommended food strategy for giant breeds. However, that was debunked in 1991 by Nap et al. that found dry matter protein from 23% to 31% did not have an adverse effect on skeletal growth. We know now that there are two important factors when choosing a food for your giant breed puppy: overall caloric intake and calcium level. Both aspects play an important role in your puppy’s growth rate which should be kept slow to avoid developmental orthopedic diseases, such as osteochondrosis.

Osteochondrosis in dogs is noted as a disruption in endochondrial ossification that results in a focal lesion. It occurs in the physis or epiphysis of growth cartilage. When it occurs in physeal cartilage, it may cause growth abnormalities such as angular limb deformities in long bones. Osteochondrosis of the articular epiphyseal cartilage commonly occurs in the shoulder, stifle, hock and elbow. – Ed Kane, PhD

The Problem With Excess Fat & Calcium

Giant breed puppies should be kept lean as a primary risk factor for developmental orthopedic diseases (DOD) is being overweight; making calorie control essential. Most veterinary nutritionists recommend diets of giant breed puppies consist of at least 30% protein and around 9% fat. Since most commercial puppy and adult foods often contain 10 – 25% fat, it is important to thoroughly read the nutrition facts prior to choosing your puppy’s food. Most raw diets contain 20 – 40% fat which is also too high for giant breed puppies. Giant breed puppies fed a high fat, low carbohydrate diet have been shown to have a high body fat level and increased risk for DOD.

The second risk factor for DOD is a diet high in calcium and excess minerals. A high level of calcium means too high of absorption into the bone structure and furthermore, skeletal abnormalities. These include hypertrophic osteodystrophycraniomandibular osteopathy, and lesions in the skeleton and joints.The diet of a giant breed puppy should contain approximately 1.5% (or 3 grams/1000kcal) calcium content and 0.8 – 1.0% phosphorus (make sure you include treats in that calculation).

Ensuring Optimal Growth

After finding a giant breed puppy appropriate food, the next step is ensuring an ideal body weight. First, don’t free feed. You want to ensure your puppy is getting the necessary food and not any more. Second, ignore the feeding charts on the back of the bag (especially if you have a Great Pyrenees – their metabolism is very slow). The charts are usually grossly overestimated. Instead, go by look and feel of your puppy and try to keep him/her between a 4/9 and 5/9 for Body Composition Score (click here for a detailed BCS chart). Personally, I like to keep my giant breed puppies closer to a 4/9 to keep less weight on their joints.

To Sum It Up
  • At least 30% protein
  • Approximately 9% fat
  • 1.5% calcium
  • 0.8 – 1.0% phosphorus
  • Don’t free feed
  • Keep your puppy at a 4/9 or 5/9 body composition

Feeding a giant breed puppy may be a little difficult, but don’t let it overwhelm you. You are setting the foundation for your puppy to have a long, healthy life. While we don’t want your puppy to grow too fast, enjoy the little days because they won’t last long!

Determining what to feed your giant breed puppy can be challenging. Here is what you need to know.


Hazewinkel H. “Nutritional Management of Orthopedic Diseases”. Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, Fascetti AJ and Delaney SJ, Eds. John Wiley and Sons, Oxford, UK, 2012.

Nap RC, Hazewinkel H, Voorhout G, van den Brom WE, Goedegebuure SA, van ‘t Klooster AT. “Growth and skeletal development in great Dane pups fed different levels of protein intake”. J Nutr. November 1991; 121(11 Suppl): S107-13.

22 comments on “What To Feed Your Giant Breed Puppy”

  1. I’m so glad they’re starting to study this more; every article I read about arthritis in dogs seems to suggest the diet might be playing a role as well. As in it’s important to have your dog grow at a normal pace, not pack in all those extra calories to promote rapid growth. Giant breeds already grow quickly enough. Awesome article – very important topic that most people aren’t familiar enough with.

    • I’m really uninformed when it comes to the toy breeds, but hypoglycemia is the only issue I’m aware of. Definitely something to look into more.

  2. Although Honey isn’t a giant, her breeder asked us to feed a set food for at least a year. She was afraid that if we fed Honey standard puppy food that she’d grow too fast and injure her joints in the future.

    It’s good to see more research being done in this area.

  3. Thank you for debunking! I remember a lecture when I was I vet tech school about nutritional needs for giant breed puppies, specifically Danes. I left that lecture with a lot of misinformation in my head. It was until I began to work with a holistic vet and started researching on my own that I learned the facts. Thank you! Thank you!

  4. Wow, you know I didn’t realize that big breed puppies needed extra attention when it comes to food. Makes sense when you think about it! Thanks for enlightening me 🙂

  5. I’ve never free fed, but I currently have him on a flavor from Petcurean. Growing up through puppyhood I was feeding Bain Taste of the Wild. Owners who don’t have the proper information can really harm their pets.

    I’ve been seeing Protein Powder for dogs recently too, I don’t want to know the harm that’s causing.

  6. Hi! I just adopted a Great Pyrenees/Lab pup from a rescue in Texas. He’s about 13 weeks old. We discovered Merrick Backcountry for our adult dog, Jameson, and decided to feed the new pup the Merrick Backcountry Puppy recipe. However, when we picked Henley up from his foster mom, she gave us a bag of Pedigree adult dog food because she said the rescue group feeds the pups adult dog food so they don’t grow too fast. I’ve been doing a lot of research and haven’t come up with a straight answer on whether the Merrick Backcountry Puppy recipe is OK to feed to my extra large breed puppy. I wish someone would just say yes or no. I surely don’t want him to grow too fast, have growing pains, or have other health issues as he ages. Any advice? Do you know anything about Merrick? Thank you!!

    • We did an exhaustive amount of research on this topic – fed our two a combination of Fromm grain free and Wellness large breed puppy until they were two years old. Heads up on Merrick – they were purchased by Purina – we buy nothing from Purina. Dog Food Advisor website it helpful if you read comments –

  7. my rescue weighed 5 lbs. at 11 weeks, it made me cry, I saw her and it was love at first sight lol, I had no idea what I was getting into ,but I would never give her up, right now I am feeding her blue buffalo for large breed puppies, along with a diet of bananas, plain lowfat yogurt, peanut butter, and oats. I sometimes feed her ground chicken and eggs with celery as well.
    What do you feed your pyrs?

  8. So…what are the brand recommendations for Great Pyrenees puppies? I have been researching for hours – everyone’s are different! Ready to pull my hair out!

  9. Very useful article. I hope readers take the time to follow your suggestions, too. Advice like this could save a lot of great animals from being overweight and skeletal diseases.

  10. Hello. I think your dog’s diet will depend on its activity level. The percentage of fat, protein and carbohydrates will change. For active dogs, I believe it should at least be 45% dry protein, with fat being below 10%. Also, different types of meat offer protein ratio. Beef, lamb and turkey offers the highest.

  11. Great article even from 2 years ago, we have just got a 9 week old Newfoundland and the food choices are immense but thankfully it seems the dog food companies have started to listen and offer much more choice for larger breed puppies.

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