Is Breed-Specific Dog Food Necessary? (Vet Answer)

Dr. Sharon Butzke Photo

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Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Vet)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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When you walk into a pet store, the vast array of food options can feel intimidating for new and experienced dog owners alike. While it is great to have choices, it can be hard to know what food is best for your pup. The decision is an important one because most dogs eat the same thing every day, so their food needs to provide them with complete and balanced nutrition.

Some pet food companies have tried to simplify things by offering breed-specific diets. Roughly half of American dogs are considered purebred, so this is a clever marketing strategy1. The question is, do these diets really offer superior nutrition compared to all-breed foods?

For a healthy adult dog with no special nutritional requirements, a breed-specific diet could be a perfectly fine choice. However, it is not necessarily the right fit for all dogs.


What Do Breed-Specific Foods Claim to Offer?

Purebred dogs tend to have predictable characteristics. For example, Labrador Retrievers are known for eating quickly, and they are often prone to weight gain. Therefore, a dog food marketed for labs will likely aim to address these concerns.

Some of the features advertised by breed-specific foods include:

  • Unique kibble shape
  • Certain nutrient levels (e.g., protein, fat)
  • Calorie density (i.e., how many calories are in each cup of food)
  • Addition of supplements (e.g., glucosamine for joint health)

It is important to read pet food labels critically in order to determine whether a particular diet really offers special health benefits for your dog. For example, just because a food contains glucosamine does not mean it is present at a therapeutic level.

close up of a dog eating from the bowl
Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych, Shutterstock

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The 4 Main Factors to Consider When Choosing a Dog Food

If you would like help deciding what to feed your dog, start by talking to your veterinarian. They can suggest some appropriate options, taking the following factors into account:

1. Life stage

Dogs’ nutritional needs change throughout their life, as they move through different stages—puppy, young adult, mature adult, and senior. If you are not sure what stage your dog is currently in, check out this free life stage calculator provided by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

All puppies have specific nutritional requirements to support proper growth and development, but this is especially true for large breeds (i.e., those weighing more than 50 pounds when fully grown). If you have a large or giant breed puppy, please ask your veterinarian to help you select an appropriate diet, rather than simply relying on breed-specific marketing to guide your choice.

puppy wants to play with white senior dog
Image Credit: Jairo Alzate, Unsplash

Healthy adult dogs are probably the best candidates for breed-specific diets, because the primary goal for most dogs in this stage of life is to help them maintain an ideal body weight. Your veterinarian can help you calculate your dog’s daily calorie requirement and determine how much to feed at each meal, while saving room for treats.

Senior dogs often have special dietary needs, which may not be met by breed-specific foods (especially if they have a medical condition). It is a good idea to consult your veterinarian for advice when selecting a diet for your senior pooch.

2. Energy requirement

Your dog’s recommended daily calorie intake depends on factors like their age, breed, activity level, and whether they have been spayed or neutered.

To a certain extent, breed-specific diets address the fact that different breeds have different energy requirements. However, if you find that your dog is struggling to maintain their ideal body weight, they may benefit from a diet change.

doberman dog is running
Image Credit: Vivienstock, Shutterstock

3. Medical conditions (if applicable)

Nutrition is a key factor in the management of many medical conditions. If your pup has any health concerns, a prescription therapeutic diet is more likely to meet their needs than a breed-specific food.

FamVeld, Shutterstock
Image Credit: FamVeld, Shutterstock

4. Additional considerations

Not all dog food companies offer the same level of nutrition expertise, quality control, and transparency. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Global Nutrition Committee has created some guidelines to help you assess pet foods more objectively.

Black Dachshund dog guarding and eating food
Image Credit: dogboxstudio, Shutterstock



Choosing a diet for your dog may feel overwhelming, but help is available! Your veterinarian is a great resource and can help you determine what type of food will best serve your dog at different stages of their life.

Here are some important points to remember:

  • Proper nutrition is especially critical during the growth phase of large breed puppies, so please ensure you are feeding a diet that is specifically formulated for their unique needs.
  • Not all dogs of the same breed have the same nutritional requirements.
  • If your dog has a medical condition, that should be prioritized over breed when selecting their food.

Featured Image Credit: Nadezhda Zaitceva, Shutterstock

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