Nutritional Differences for Small, Toy, and Large Breed Dogs

Published Feb. 3, 2012

A dog is a dog is a dog, right? Not quite – at least when we’re talking nutrition. While dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes do have similar nutritional needs, there are some subtle but important differences that owners should be aware of.

I’ve talked before about the importance of lifestage feeding. In other words, puppies should eat puppy food, adults should eat adult food, and so on. Today, I’d like to touch on some of the differing nutritional needs of small versus large breeds of dogs.

First, the puppies. Large breed puppies are prone to developmental orthopedic diseases like hip dysplasia. Feeding these individuals diets that are a little less energy dense, contain slightly lower levels of calcium and phosphorous, and have a very carefully balanced calcium to phosphorous ratio has been proven to reduce the incidence of developmental orthopedic diseases in large and giant breeds of dogs.

Small breed puppies have their own unique concerns. They have extremely high metabolic rates and can burn through a meal in just a matter of hours. If a small breed puppy doesn’t take in sufficient numbers of calories on a frequent basis, it can develop hypoglycemia resulting in weakness, lethargy, muscle tremors, seizures, and sometimes even death. Young, small breed puppies should be fed a calorie-dense food three or four times a day.

The differing metabolic rate of small versus large breed dogs continues into adulthood, which means that small dogs need to take in more calories per pound than large dogs. For example, a ten pound dog may need 400 calories (kcal) per day to maintain a healthy weight, while a 100 pound dog could require 2,250 calories per day.

A little math reveals that the small dog requires 40 calories/pound, while his large breed friend needs only 22.5 calories/pound. Combine this with the fact that small dogs have tiny stomachs and you’ll see why most foods designed for small breeds are somewhat more calorie rich than large breed diets.

Dogs of differing sizes also have special needs when they reach their senior years. Small breeds of dogs can live a very long time and high dietary levels of antioxidants can help prevent free radical damage over such a long life span. On the other hand, it seems like almost every older, large breed dog suffers from some degree of arthritis. For this reason, diets formulated especially for big, senior dogs typically contain ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate that promote joint health. Of course, small dogs can also benefit from glucosamine and large dogs need antioxidants, but their diets can be tweaked to address their most common health concerns.

Even if your miniature pincher likes to take on the big boys and your mastiff thinks he’s a lap dog, they can benefit from eating a well-balanced, nutritionally complete food specifically designed for dogs their size.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: cynoclub / via Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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