Remember the days when dog food was just, well, dog food? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not nostalgic for the days when our knowledge about the nutritional needs of dogs was in its infancy, but when it comes to choices in the dog food aisle, the pendulum may have swung just a bit too far in the opposite direction. In particular, I’m talking about breed-specific foods. Are they a valuable option or just a marketing gimmick?
The first thing to keep in mind is that despite their outward appearances, dogs are dogs. The similarities between a rottweiler and a pomeranian are far more numerous than are their differences, but those differences can be important under certain circumstances. For instance, a rottweiler puppy should definitely eat a large breed puppy food to help lower the risk of developmental orthopedic diseases, but other than that and the possibility that the pomeranian might prefer a smaller kibble size, most healthy rotties and poms could eat the same dog food and thrive.
What the makers of breed-specific foods have done is pick some popular types of dogs and determined their most common health problems and which of those problems can be managed, at least in part, with food.
Here’s an example: Miniature schnauzers have a higher than normal incidence of a disease called hyperlipidemia (i.e., increased amounts of fat in the blood), and part of the treatment for that condition is to feed a low-fat diet. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise then that a miniature schnauzer’s food is advertised as being low in fat "to help reduce the amounts of fat in the bloodstream."
The problem is, not every miniature schnauzer has hyperlipidemia, and if yours doesn’t, a low fat food might not be the best choice for him. In addition, to successfully manage the condition, dogs with hyperlipidemia often have to eat diets with fat levels much lower than that found in an over-the-counter miniature schnauzer food. So while these products might be beneficial to some individuals within the breed, they aren’t appropriate for everyone.
Don’t get me wrong, breed specific diets are not inherently bad. Feel free to consider them, but be careful not to be drawn in by the hype. A dog may do just as well or even better on another high-quality food that provides balanced nutrition — even if the picture on the label doesn’t look exactly like him.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Mini Schnauzer Molly by Stephanie Bond / via Flickr