Linda Arndt ~ Canine Nutritional Consultant

Large and Giant Breed Nutritional Research Update

Albert S. Townshend DVM
Staff Veterinarian, Eagle Pet Products, Inc.
December 28,2001

On November 17,2001 an Iams symposium was held in Venice, Italy. The general topic was Nutrition and Health Care in Large Breed Dogs. Topics included the selection of breeding stock, effects of dietary protein, updates on calcium metabolism, diagnosis and treatment of skeletal problems, the influence of nutraceuticals, arthritis and finally, the dietary management of growing large breed dogs.

The seminar lasted for two days and provided veterinarians with a variety of concepts regarding the health and welfare of large and giant breed dogs. Most of the information supported ideas established in the mid-nineties or earlier.
With regard to diet and developmental bone diseases, there were three areas discussed in detail. The effects of protein, energy and calcium on the incidence of developmental bone diseases in these rapidly growing puppies.
Protein levels in diets for large and giant breed dogs were once thought to play a major role in the incidence of developmental bone diseases in young dogs. The seminar presented sufficient data to completely refute this false hypothesis. High protein levels in the diet were found to have no effect on the incidence of disease. Low protein levels were found to play a major role in inhibiting the maximum developmental potential of individual dogs.

The energy (calories) in a particular diet was found to play a major role in the incidence of bone disease in young growing large and giant breed puppies. Also the amount of food fed and the method of feeding were found to have an impact on the incidence of problems. Pups fed free choice or ad lib had a far greater incidence of disease. Pups fed high calorie diets in excess were also at risk. Increasing calories consumed, increased the rate of growth, which increases the stress on the bones and encourages developmental bone disease to occur.

The calcium level in diets for large and giant breed dogs should be less than that of small and medium breed dogs. There is a controversy as to the levels of calcium that are safe in larger dogs. Data presented in this seminar is not new and has been accepted by the pet food industry. However, the data is not complete. All of the information presented was to establish the minimum safe level of calcium for large and giant breed dogs. None of the data presented establishes the maximum safe level of calcium (all data assumes the proper ratio of calcium and phosphorus).

Studies done by Hazewinkel et al, Goedegbuure et al and Goodman et al have concluded that the minimum safe level of calcium is 0.8%. Their studies all used very high levels of calcium (3.3% and 2.7% as high levels) known to encourage an increased incidence of disease. These high levels were also above the maximum standards of AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials). There was a large gap in the levels of calcium in their test diets (up to 2.5 %). It was also concluded by the presenters in the symposium that no safe maximum level was established for large and giant breed puppies. It is obvious that further studies are needed in order to establish the maximum safe level.

The Iams Company seminar also discussed the fact that breeders are moving toward larger and larger dogs through selective genetics. In order for a puppy to reach it's maximum growth potential, or to come as close as possible, one must consider many factors and not just calcium levels.

The discussions included in the seminar also acknowledged that by using lower calcium levels there is a loss in maximum growth potential in these pups as there is in diets that are low in protein and energy. It is the goal of every pet food manufacturer to provide a food that allows for the maximum growth potential while going as far as nutrition can in discouraging all developmental problems.

In considering a pet food to recommend or use one must consider many factors including those discussed in the Iams seminar.

  • Good genetics is essential to the success of any breeding program.
  • Sufficient exercise to encourage proper development.
  • Adequate protein levels, keeping in mind that traditionally as the protein level increases so does the energy level (fat) in the diet. (Eagle Natural Pack = 23% protein and 12% fat, Eukanuba Large and Giant Breed Puppy = 26% protein and 14% fat)
  • Sufficient energy levels so as to encourage maximum growth potential without increasing the incidence of developmental bone problems. (Eagle Natural = 330 kcals. per cup, Eukanuba Large and Giant Breed Puppy = 362 kcals. per cup)
  • Calcium levels that don't sacrifice growth potential yet inhibit developmental problems. (Eagle Natural Pack = 1.5% Eukanuba Large and Giant Breed Puppy = 0.8%)

Dr Rebecca Remillard PhD, DVM, DACVN of Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts states in an article titled "Practical Nutritional and Dietary Recommendations: Minimizing Clinical Aspects of Orthopedic Diseases" that "The AAFCO recommendations for calcium (1% to 2.5%) is well within a range that should not contribute to skeletal diseases as demonstrated in their Great Dane studies." She refers to; Richardson, DC: The role of nutrition in canine hip dysplasia. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Prat 22 (3): 529-540, 1992 and Hazewinkel HAW: Influences of different calcium intakes on calcium metabolism and skeletal development in young Great Danes. (Thesis) Utrecht, The Netherlands, Utrecht State University, 1985. AAFCO standards are also an important consideration. Minimum levels of calcium for growth and reproduction have been established as 1% (not 0.8%) and maximum levels are 2.5% (not 2.7 or 3.3%). (Eagle Natural Pack is within the AAFCO limits, Eukanuba Large and Giant Breed Puppy is below the AAFCO standards)

One must always look at the established record of a diet. Newer diets, such as the diets developed specifically for large and giant breed puppies have not been in the market for very long and have not been proven by the test of time. Whereas foods such as Eagle's Natural Pack have been available for the past eleven years and are used by many of the top breeders in the country. Over half of the top ten winners in the 2001 Great Dane Specialty feed Eagle Natural Pack and credit much of their success to the benefits of the diet.

Eagle uses quality specific mea mealst, lamb, pork,chicken and fish meal (not by-product meal) inl their diets. Our quality protein, fats and carbohydrates combined with our "custom supplements" provide the large and giant breed puppy with all of the components to reach its maximum growth potential without increasing the risk of developmental bone disease.
Eagle Natural Pack is naturally preserved with natural mixed tocopherals, citric acid and rosemary extract.

* Note: the largest feed trials ever done on giant breeds have been done using Eagle Natural Forumla, Eagle Large and Puppy Giant Breed Formulas.


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