Appropriate Nutrition for Skeletal Development in Large & Extra-Large Breed Puppies

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Feeding Large & Extra Large Breed Puppies

When focusing on nutrition needs of large & extra-large breed puppies, it is important to feed a highly digestible, quality and balanced diet, ensuring the amount of energy being provided is appropriate. Large and extra-large breeds need to be fed according to their current weight with consideration of their energy requirements but not based on energy requirements. This is because of their propensity towards growth disorders. I mention this in many areas of the website because it is very important to know and factor when feeding large and extra-large breed puppies. 
Too much energy grows a pup too fast. Larger breeds take longer to reach their full growth so keeping their diet balanced and the puppy fed for a medium/moderate rate of growth is ideal. It is important to monitor growth by checking weight and height every week during early growth and then every two weeks in later growth so you can make the appropriate changes to their meals according to their nutrition needs. I recommend weighing larger breed puppies weekly until they are about 5 months old. 
Critical Note: It is crucial to learn about your large or extra-large breed so you can provide the correct diet for the nutrition needs of large & extra-large breed puppies. Not all dogs are the same and some breeds are predisposed to growth problems that can be avoided through proper nutrition during the first two years of life. Great Danes are an example. The Great Dane breed has their own energy requirements and have more changes when it comes to their needs than those of other extra-large breed dogs.

Energy, Fat & Protein

You want optimal growth not maximum growth to protect the skeletal structure of your growing puppy. Feeding excess amounts of fat or too much protein can cause a puppy to gain weight too quickly.
Use nutrition standards as guides and ensure you feed within the recommended range, applying them according to your dog. The minimum proportion of energy that should be supplied by protein for large/extra-large breeds dogs is lower than the recommended percentage for a smaller breed dog. However, the actual % of protein is not as important as the balance of energy to protein when it comes to raw feeding growing large and extra-large breed puppies. 

Calcium Metabolism

Puppies younger than six months old cannot fully regulate calcium absorption yet. Too little calcium can affect a puppy’s growth rate + their bone mineral content & strength; while too much can increase the risk of Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD). The requirements for calcium depend on breed and age. 
The skeleton acts as a calcium buffer in which 99.5% of the body calcium is present. The calciotropic hormones parathormone, calcitonin and vitamin D are the most important factors, which particularly affect the processes of absorption, resorption and accretion of calcium. A prolonged abnormal calcium intake will result in skeletal changes, particularly in young dogs.
Critical Recap: Feeding too much calcium can increase a dog’s susceptibility to diseases. Large and extra-large breed dogs fed excess calcium are more likely to develop long term skeletal issues such as hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis, and others.
Critical Tip: Calcium & Phosphorus supplements should not be added to a growing large or extra-large breed puppy’s balanced diet. Adding these types of supplements to a balanced diet can contribute to skeletal issues due to changing the balance of Ca:P.

Calcium Requirements 

It is very important not to under feed or over feed calcium to large and extra large breed puppies. Calcium absorption has been studied many times across many types of puppies at various stages of growth.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is composed of a group of sterol compounds that regulate calcium and phosphorus metabolism in the body. There are two pro-vitamin forms of this vitamin.

  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)
    • D2 is formed when the compound ergosterol is exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UV Rays). D2 is found in many plants and the conversion is only possible in harvested or “injured” plants, not living plant tissue.
    • D2 is only of significance to ruminant & non ruminant herbivores eating sun-dried or irradiated plant materials. D2 is used less efficiently than D3 by dogs.
  • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol)
    • D3 is of great nutritional importance to dogs, and they are dependent on getting it via dietary sourcing because they have limited ability to convert 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin to cholecalciferol.

Vitamin D’s functions are intricately involved with normal calcium and phosphorus homeostasis in the body. At the site of the intestine, vitamin D stimulates the synthesis of calcium-binding protein, which is needed for efficient absorption of dietary calcium & phosphorus. Vitamin D affects normal bone growth & calcification by acting with Parathyroid Hormone (PHT) to mobilize calcium from bone and by causing an increase in phosphate reabsorption in the kidneys. <—- What does all that mean?! It means vitamin D’s actions in the intestines, bones, and kidneys creates an increase in plasma calcium and phosphorus, to the level needed for normal mineralization of bone.

Dietary sources of vitamin D3 for dogs are relatively low. Moderate amounts can be found in foods such as mackerel, salmon, whole egg, turkey liver, beef liver, beef kidney, domesticated duck meat, and turkey heart. Fish liver oils and cod liver oil are two concentrated food sources of vitamin D. Cod liver oil should be used with caution and careful attention paid to the amount given. 

Critical Recap: Vitamin D3 plays an important role in regulating calcium and phosphorus metabolism. A deficiency in vitamin D3 can impact bone mineralization and cause skeletal issues.

Read more about Vitamin D and the Foods that Offer High Amounts of it Here

Effects of Complex Carbohydrates on Growth 

 Starch is not needed to balance a puppy’s diet nor is it recommended as a main component of a puppy’s diet. Complex carbohydrates are starches or fibers, which are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates. Starch requires additional breakdown by enzymes that are produced by the pancreas and intestinal wall. When starch isn’t prepared properly or it is fed in excess, it can rob the puppy of essential nutrients and starch can also create systemic yeast infections. Sometimes people reach for starch to fill calories with but we do not want to do that in growth and so leaving starch out of a growing puppy’s diet is best. 

Fiber and Growth

It is important to provide fiber in moderation but fiber sources shouldn’t be looked to for balancing a diet. Dietary fiber reduces energy intake by way of dilution. Feed fiber that is in the form of low glycemic vegetables or high fiber, lower sugar fruits. Fiber is best fed to growing puppies after a meal, not before. Fiber is discussed more in depth in other puppy guides here on the website. 

National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, 2006.
Canine and Feline Nutrition, A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals, Third Edition.
Calcium Metabolism in Dogs Abstract, Tijdschrift Voor Diergeneeskunde, 
Association of American Feed Controls Officials : Pet Food Regulations.
Case Notes from A. Granillo. 

10 thoughts on “Appropriate Nutrition for Skeletal Development in Large & Extra-Large Breed Puppies

  1. Hello, thank you for this blog…I am feeding my puppy home cooked meals because she got sick with industrial meals. My vet is no help, he just wants to switch food and I want to make her a balanced meal.
    If I calculate how much calcium my Great Pyrenees should need I get as follow:

    31kg, 7 months intact, as per your calculator is 2732.65 Kcal/per day (she is quite active puppy)
    That means I need approximately 8g of calcium per day (if I need 3g/1000 kcal)
    UPCO bone meal lists on their website that a teaspoon of their bone meal has 720mg (or 0.72g). That means that I have to give her 11 teaspoons of bone meal per day when the packages suggests 1! Is that correct? It seems way off!

    1. Hello Gabriella! I am sorry, I am just seeing your comment today.
      The bone meal isn’t only calcium so you would need to specifically formulate the recipe using its information.

  2. I want to learn how to make my own raw food for my dogs but it seems extremely complicated. I have read several articles but calcium percentages etc, make absolutely no sense to me. I currently rotate Primal frozen raw.

  3. I seen this posted in the raw feeding community on Facebook and have a mastiff puppy we feed raw to. Should I use the bone calculator to lower the % ? We don’t feed by calories so I was thinking if I used the calculator it would lower the calcium right? Thank you for any help.

  4. I wondered about the calcium to phosphorus for bigger dogs being skewed by the supplement tabs my breeder has us giving. Thank you for this article it is helpful.

  5. This is so true. Lower calcium for big puppies helps keep their bones healthy. People don’t think they need to watch the vitamin D either.

  6. Thank you for this Amy! One of the companies we have here in SoCal pushes adding Nuvet to her products but her food is AAFCO complete and balanced and she owns giant dogs too. This was a great read for me this morning.

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