Giant dog breeds like the Great Danes are well known for many things; their noble stature, their sheer physical presence - and in particular, the amount of food they eat. Owners of Great Dane puppies are often thrust into the world of canine nutrition without knowing much about the pros and cons of different foods, diets, and perspectives on dietetics.
Great Dane puppies grow at an exponential rate, often capable of doubling their weight from 5-8 pounds at 4 weeks of age, to on average, approximately 20 pounds by 6 weeks of age. Dane puppies will typically grow until they are 2-3 years old, tapering off their surprising weight gain around the 6-7 month marker. This begs the question, what should responsible owners feed such a boisterous and fast-growing breed of dog?
There are many, many diets, meal plans, and opinions on what food is the ideal diet for Great Dane puppies, but the science and facts of Great Dane nutrition can easily be misconstrued as they cycle through word-of-mouth, prompting some breeders, veterinarians, and owners to prescribe diets and meal plans that don’t support a healthy metabolic rate. Alternatively, some diets can contain too much calcium, protein, or carbs for the breed to thrive, others neglect meat entirely.
In this post, we’ll dive into the world of Great Dane feeding and nutrition to help you make the best decision for your Great Dane puppy, based on scientific opinion from the industry’s foremost experts.
The American Kennel Club dictates in its official Great Dane Breed Standard that Danes shall adhere to a very specific ratio between length and height, both of which can be heavily influenced by diet. The Standard cites that Danes should appear square, while in females a slightly longer length is permissible to encourage the slight impression of femininity.
While the AKC offers little specificity in their nutrition and feeding recommendations, they do address issues of unique digestive needs in a dog food formula that helps the breed through various phases of their life cycle. The ideal diet for a Great Dane puppy should address both issues of digestion, and sustenance.
Domestication of wolves began to occur around 33,000 years ago according to fossil and DNA evidence, meaning that dogs descended from a strictly carnivorous species. The raw diet replicates the traditional diet of the domesticated dog and consists of raw meats, bone, and organ meat. The benefits of the raw diet are vast, and can include improved appetites, higher energy levels, shinier coats, fewer health-related issues, and complete control over the contents and quality of your dog’s meals. Other benefits include eliminating allergens from processed foods, and safety - over the past few years, pet food recalls have damaged the public opinion of store-bought processed kibble - home prepared raw diets give owners complete control over the contents of their pets’ food.
Raw diets have long been fed to both racing Greyhounds and sled dogs, but feeding a raw meat diet to the family pooch was formally introduced to mainstream society in 1993 by Australian vet, Ian Billinghurst. He contested that the manufactured dog foods we typically give our pets today are unhealthy for the animal, citing grain-based foods fraught with preservatives and other chemicals.
Billinghurst’s raw diet includes raw meat, bone, organ meat like liver and kidneys, raw eggs, and even vegetable and fruit roughage like broccoli, spinach, apples, and celery. It includes a vegetarian diet model, as well as how to get started on a raw diet after feeding a puppy a kibble diet.
Proven risks associated with a predominantly raw meat diet for dogs include the increased exposure to bacteria (listeria and salmonella) through raw meat contamination, as well as an unbalanced diet over time that may damage a dog’s health. In 2012, the FDA published a study that found 15 out of 196 raw pet food brands tested positive for salmonella, while 32 tested positive for listeria contamination. Choking hazards do also exist when feeding animals whole bones. Bones may also cause tooth breakage and internal intestine/stomach punctures.
People routinely adjust and restrict their eating habits according to religious, societal, ethnic/cultural, and environmental factors, and this can sometimes carry over to what they choose to feed their puppy. Some vegan pet owners find that feeding their animals a diet that comprised animal-byproducts is intolerable to their belief structure, so they feed their puppies a vegan diet.
Cailin Heinze, VMD, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says that vegan dog diets can be accommodated, but must be carried out with extreme caution. In part because dogs metabolize nutrients and vitamins differently than human beings. For example, vitamin D cannot be absorbed by dog’s skin, meaning that they must receive vitamin D via food. More specifically, dogs require vitamin D3 - which comes from animal sources, not D2 - which comes from plant-based sources.
“There is a lot of room for error, and these diets probably are not as appropriate as diets that contain at least some animal protein," Heinze told WebMD-Pets.
Risks of a vegan dog diet include severely inadequate levels of protein intake, and a large imbalance of amino acids like taurine and L-carnitine. Puppies may also see a deficiency in vitamins and minerals including calcium, phosphorus and iron. Of note, some vets note irreversible diet-based medical problems including taurine-related dilated cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), and eye problems. As a general rule, vegan diets should never be fed to a puppy.
Similar to a vegan diet, vegetarian dog diets are doable, but are not recommended without serious thought, preparation, and expertise. Vegetarian diets are less risk-laden than their vegan counterparts, because rather than carnivores, dogs are actually omnivores - meaning they can eat both meat and plant-based foods.
The canine body also possesses the ability to process amino acids (unlike cats) which are the building blocks of proteins, and eggs - for example, possess the highest biological value of all protein sources used in pet foods. Other plant-based sources of protein like beans, corn, soy, and even whole grains can also possess adequate building blocks for protein consumption. Again, a vegetarian diet should still never be fed to a puppy.
The gist of both vegan and vegetarian dog diets is that they are chosen as a way to make the human happy - not the dog. For this reason, we can safely determine that a vegan and/or vegetarian diet is not natural to the physiology of a dog, let alone one as large and traditionally purpose-bred for hunting boar like a Great Dane. Always do what is best for the dog, not your ideals as a human.
For most Great Dane puppy owners, kibble, or a ‘normal’ puppy diet is going to be the #1 choice to feed your new pet. Kibble is a readily available, cost-effective, and solid choice for feeding your Great Dane. Kibbles are marketed and sold by breed specific standards that tailor their ingredients to that of small, medium, or large breeds, and breed specific additives to help dogs live a long, healthy life - including glucosamine, an increased protein level, etc. There are also hypoallergenic brands, and fat-free options.
Kibble diets also feature their fair share of disadvantages. Kibble is often recalled by the manufacturers after the FDA or another governing body finds a bad batch of food. In 2015 alone, the first three months of the year saw nine individual kibble recalls in the US.
In Great Danes, who are susceptible to bloat - also known as stomach torsion - kibble is wolfed down as soon as the puppy is fed their dinner, whereas a raw diet is a more enjoyable meal to give a puppy that is typically consumed slower. Bloat can be a fatal ailment for Great Danes and other large, deep-chested breeds. Some owners will strategize giving their puppy half of their meal interrupted by 30 minutes of downtime before giving the remainder of the meal.
It’s recommended that Great Dane puppies receive a kibble that features protein-based meats as the first 5 ingredients listed on the bag, and can be chicken, fish, beef, and lamb.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that Great Dane puppies be given a bare minimum of 22% protein for growth, and 18% protein for good health maintenance as mature adult dogs. The majority of large breed quality dog foods will exceed these wish-list percentages. Fat is another important source of food and energy for Great Danes, an ingredient that provides much needed flavour to typically dry kibbles. Fat percentages for Great Dane puppies should comprise at least 8% of the diet, and 5% for adult dogs. Again, most standard dog foods on the market today have more fat content included in their makeup than these percentages.
A good kibble will also pay special attention to the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the food which is also important for giant breed puppies like Great Danes.
Great Danes should be need to achieve their full size and weight at a slow and steady pace, to avoid potential complications like bowing legs, and painful swollen metacarpals in their paws from growing too fast.
Key to steady and slow growth, it to avoid extremely high protein and high calorie kibble. Owners should invest in a high quality dog food developed for large breeds, and don’t forget to consult with your breeder to see which foods they recommend. Great Dane puppies should always appear light and lean until they are approximately 2 years of age and shouldn’t be pushed to be too active until they reach the age of 18 months. Reputable breeders will recommend feeding your Great Dane puppy multiple smaller meals per day, to help reduce the likelihood of bloat. An elevated food dispensing dish is also a great investment for feeding your Great Dane puppy, to help eliminate digestive problems. Cold, clean water should be available to your Great Dane at all times.
Great Dane puppies are full of life and energy, and their diet - whichever you should choose - should exemplify the perfect balance of nutrition, fats, vitamins, and proteins to compliment their nature. Raw diets and traditional kibble diets supplemented with high quality proteins are the best bet for making sure that your puppy is receiving all of the necessary nutrients they need to become the Apollo of the Dogs that he/she was born to be.
At the end of the day, responsible owners will strive to give their dog the best food humanly possible, whatever that choice is. When in doubt, never hesitate to contact your Great Dane breeder and your veterinarian to discuss your puppies nutrition plan.
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