Breed specific diets

Do I need a diet for my dog’s breed? It makes sense when you consider how a Chihuahua’s nutritional needs may differ from a Great Dane, but how important is feeding a diet designed specifically for your pet’s breed?

Some critics of these breed-specific foods report that the diets don’t look vastly different from eachother, particularly when looking at the ingredients; however, as I’ve said many times before, just because the ingredients might be similar, the formulations and end results can be vastly different.

So let’s look at how these diets *are* different from a regular pet food, what to feed if there isn’t one for your pet’s breed and what the science says about breed-specific diets.

The science behind breed specific foods

There is an element of marketing at play here, but not as much as people might think; when I ask clients why they chose the diet they feed, one of the most common answers I get is ‘the bag had a picture of my dog on the front”. While this is clever marketing and exactly what pet food companies want – for you to make an emotional connection with the food – breed specific diets were inspired by this, not entirely based on it.

So what studies have been conducted to formulate these diets? The main research revolves around kibble shape and size; some companies have conducted studies on how different breeds of dogs pick up and chew their food, and how their jaw shape and face can affect this. This formed the basis of breed specific pet foods as the size and shape of specific kibbles have functional purposes; as an example, Royal Canin Labrador has a donut shaped kibble which is based on the results of the above mentioned study that found this reduced the speed at which Labradors eat and also increased the feelings of fullness to reduce food intake which also has a weight management benefit that as many Labrador owners will know, is very important.

Although there aren’t specific studies on the nutrient requirements of different breeds, we do know that specific breeds have predispositions to certain conditions and diseases which can be helped with specific supplements or nutritional management. An example might be Husky breeds can have zinc deficiencies, which if supplemented in the diet at a higher level than normal foods can reduce the impact and potential of these deficiencies developing. Particularly with some of these supplements, the balance needs to be precarious to avoid throwing off the balance of other nutrients in the food (or blocking their absorption altogether) which is why the formulation – not the ingredients – is the most important aspect of this, and any other type of food. Large breeds can also be more prone to joint issues and bone deformities which again can be improved by having key nutrients in different levels to that of a medium or small breed pet food, with the addition of joint supplements. Integrating these Key Nutritional Factors into the diet helps reduce the likelihood of diets becoming unbalanced by adding supplements yourself. Breed predispositions are well documented in literature, and breed specific diets draw on these predispositions to provide a better diet personalised to the pet’s needs. Given these foods target specific predispositions, they may be a useful tool in prevention particularly in the diets that add specific supplements such as for joint or skin health. However, there currently isn’t any studies that have been done to quantify this.

What if there isn’t a diet for my breed?

At the moment, breed specific foods are quite limited in their ranges – in Australia, Royal Canin has 18 breed specific diets currently available. Overseas there are a few more, but given the endless amounts of dog breeds and crossbreeds in the world, it would be impossible to make a diet to suit every breed. So what do you do if a diet doesn’t exist for your dog’s breed?

It’s important to remember a breed specific diet is not a replacement for a prescription therapeutic diet; if your pet has a genuine medical condition then your best option is to use a therapeutic diet to treat this condition. This is because regardless of breed, the condition will be treated the same way and have the same nutritional factors. So a therapeutic diet should always override a breed specific diet if your pet has a diet-responsive condition.

Next, you can look at size based nutrition and lifestage; pets of the same size generally have very similar nutrition requirements (unless of course they have medical conditions or are more or less active). So, if your breed doesn’t have a diet created for them, you can opt for a diet based on their adult size or weight; for example, a Great Dane in the absence of a breed diet, could use a food designed for giant breeds.

And last but not least, every pet is an individual. Think about your pet’s specific needs, as they may be different from another dog of the same breed and therefore may respond best to a different diet all together. If your pet is very active, has a preference to certain flavours or tendencies to gain or lose weight easily, responds poorly to certain proteins, or has some other specific need you’d like to target, consider these first when choosing a diet for your pet. A breed diet is not a requirement, it’s just an additional tool to find a personalised diet for your pet’s complex needs.

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