By Ashley Gallagher, DVM
Choosing a food for your beloved dogs has become an overwhelming task. Pet stores are filled with aisle after aisle of different dog food brands, each one boasting that if you feed this food your pet will live a longer and healthier life. Some brands have even developed breed-specific dog foods that are said to address the health needs of your specific breed of dog or cat. One can see why pet owners gravitate to a dog food that claims to be tailor-made to their own dog’s genetic makeup, but is it the right choice?
Unfortunately, breed-specific dog foods are little more than a marketing gimmick and do not have sound nutritional science backing them. We do not yet have the research that pinpoints the difference in nutritional requirements between different specific breeds of dogs. A small breed dog’s metabolism, for example, is much different from a large breed dog, but it is unlikely that a Yorkie’s dietary needs vary all that much from a Shih Tzu's.
Will Breed-Specific Dog Food Help My Pup?
Breed-specific dog foods are not necessarily harmful; they are just somewhat redundant if you (and your veterinarian) are already correctly assessing your dog’s dietary requirements based on life stage, size and specific health needs. Take a large breed puppy like a Golden Retriever, for instance. He can develop serious joint disease if fed a diet that is too high in calories or calcium. It is critical that Golden Retriever puppies grow up eating an appropriate diet so their bones develop properly. However, there is no benefit to feeding a Golden Retriever specific puppy food rather than any high quality large breed puppy food. When comparing a Golden Retriever puppy food to a Labrador Retriever puppy food, there are no differences in the critical nutritional components of the diets.
Dachshund specific foods are another good example. They make claims that their diets contain ingredients to promote lean body mass that will help prevent back disease. This may seem like a good idea since a Dachshund’s elongated body structure predisposes it to back injuries that can results in paralysis, but there is nothing exceptional in these diets to accomplish this goal. As long as Dachshund owners choose a high quality small breed diet and don’t let their dogs get fat, they will be just as effective at helping to prevent back disease.
Breed-specific dog foods can also become a concern to veterinarians when owners expect too much from them. Let's say a Poodle develops gastrointestinal issues on a specially formulated Poodle diet and then requires a new dog food, perhaps even a therapeutic diet, in order to address a specific health condition or disease. Some owners may be reluctant to switch foods because they are under the impression that the Poodle-specific dog food contains special ingredients that will keep their Poodles healthy for the dog’s entire life. It is important for pet owners to discuss their concerns with their veterinarians so that they can work together to ensure that all the nutritional needs for each specific dog has been addressed.
If Not By Breed, How Should I Choose My Dog's Food?
When choosing a pet food, you should focus on selecting a high quality diet from a trusted brand that meets your dog's life stage, size and lifestyle needs. These three factors are more relevant to your dog's nutritional needs than his breed. Not sure where to start? Your veterinarian can help you choose a diet that works best for your dog. He or she can also suggest a dietary plan if your dog has a specific health or genetic concern that needs to be addressed. That way you can give your dog the long, happy, and healthy life he deserves.