Petfoodology

the scientific study of pet nutrition by veterinary nutrition specialists and experts.

Confused About What to Feed Your Large Breed Puppy? New Rules May Help!

Confused About What to Feed Your Large Breed Puppy? New Rules May Help!

Growth Guidelines

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes yearly nutritional guidelines for pet foods. These guidelines in the past have included two major categories of diets – those designed for growing puppies of all sizes and pregnant and lactating dogs and those designed just for adult dogs. Those designated for ‘all life stages’ mean that they meet needs of both growing and adult animals (though may not always be optimal for all adult animals as they have extra nutrients for growing animals that adults don’t need). Although AAFCO does not test or regulate pet foods (pet foods are regulated at the state level), all foods labeled as complete and balanced must meet AAFCO minimums and maximums (or at least they’re supposed to; companies without strict quality control standards may not since AAFCO does not actually test the foods). To learn more about pet food labelling and requirements, check our blog post on pet food labels. 

 

What’s New?

Previously, diets for all sizes of puppies had the same nutrient requirements for calcium. As a result, some diets were dangerously high in calcium for large breed puppies and there was no easy way to know if the diet was appropriate for large breeds (because companies could label them as they saw fit). Starting in 2016, AAFCO guidelines now require pet foods that are categorized for ‘growth’ to specify if they have met additional guidelines just for large- and giant-breed puppies (i.e., dogs expected to be more than 70 lbs at their mature adult weight).

So what are these additional guidelines? Basically, the range of calcium is now narrower for large and giant breed puppies. This is because they are more sensitive to an excess or shortage of calcium while their bones are growing (a Great Dane certainly has a lot more leg bone to grow into than a Chihuahua before they become an adult!). If you have a dog that you think will be close to or above 70 lbs as an adult, you should look for puppy foods that specify they have this more narrow range of certain nutrients. As a side note, AAFCO selected 70 lbs as the cutoff for defining a ‘large breed dog,’ but others would argue 50 lbs is a more conservative cut off.

 

What to Look For:

Pet food labels for puppies and all life stages will soon have to have one of two qualifiers for the nutritional adequacy statement (AAFCO statement), which is required on every food to show it is complete and balanced:

  • [Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).
  • [Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages except for growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).

Be sure to carefully read these statements so you don’t overlook the small, but critical, difference between “except for” and “including”!

 

Not so Fast!

Because this requires companies to redesign their labels and possibly reformulate their diets, AAFCO provides a buffer where manufacturers will have up to 2 years to comply with these new guidelines. However, many pet food companies have already started using these statements, so be on the lookout to make sure you’re selecting the optimal diet for your pet!

 

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Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN

Dr. Deborah Linder, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, is the head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals and has had articles appear in Eating Well, the Boston Globe, AARP, SHAPE, and XM Sirius Radio Doctor Channel. She has spoken at national and international conferences and a Capitol Hill briefing, and is an expert in pet obesity, nutrition communication, and in the human-animal bond. 

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