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Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Should You be Feeding a Breed-Specific Food?

June 15, 2012 / (6) comments

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

Comments  6

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  • The Dog Food Aisle
    06/15/2012 11:26am

    I confess that I usually don't go down the dog food aisle and surely don't pay attention when I do, but this is completely new information to me. Over-the-counter breed-specific dog food? Wow!

    It makes complete sense to not treat your critter for something they don't have. However, I'm curious if something like a low-fat food for a miniature schnauzer that doesn't have hyperlipidemia (especially if it's not a low-fat as would be used for a dog WITH hyperlipidemia) might help keep the dog from having the problem in the first place.


  • 06/15/2012 02:39pm

    If the dog was going to develop hyperlipidemia anyway and if the food had the appropriate fat levels, it might preven some of the problems associated with the condition otherwise it wouldn't be helpful.

  • Lowfat food 4 small breed
    06/15/2012 06:53pm

    I'm an advt reader of this blog and it seems it talks about much of low-fat food for pets. But never refers to a specific brand that is recommended. I also own a small breed dog which requires a low-fat diet for another specific illness but have not been able to find it anywhere and I must say I have read and gone through many labels with not much luck. Even when it says low-fat when I read the label it's higher in fat than my vet recommended. My vet had my dog on prescription food for a while but when I had to transition to regular food it became a challenge.....

    Does any one recommend a specific BRAND of food which is low-fat? Which works for your dog with those specific needs?

    Any recommendations?

  • 06/15/2012 07:49pm

    We have a Maltese of about 7 lbs. We feed him a balanced "small breed" dog food (Iams). We had to try a few different brands because he had problems digesting different ones. You can see him on our website and how healthy he is.. he's the model. :) www.whirlydogsupplies.com

    I think you need to remember the author of this article is being diplomatic, they don't want to recommend one brand over another... read your ingredients, consider the breed, it's lifestyle (how much exercise it gets), and any medical conditions or allergies your dog has.
    After researching and learning about the breed of your dog and take all things into consideration, try various brands of food that best meets the need of your pet.

  • 06/16/2012 03:26am

    You may have trouble meeting your dog's needs with an over the counter food. Diets that are very fat restricted are available by prescription only to prevent illnesses associated with their use in the wrong individuals.

  • Consider Dogs Lifestyle
    06/15/2012 07:44pm

    I would also like to mention that lifestyle of the dog is also just as important as the breed. There are many factors to take into consideration. We (http://www.whirlydogsupplies.com) have a little Maltese who gets only a small amount of activity each day. We feed him a balanced dry food. You can see him, as he is our model on our website, and see how healthy he is.
    I think that every dog owner should do research and learn about the type of dog they are bringing into their family. They are important parts of our lives and we want them to be healthy and happy.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.