When we think about what makes strong bones, we intuitively think calcium. So, this makes us think that growing large breed dogs need more calcium than growing small breeds, because they must put together considerably bigger bones. However, it is in fact the opposite. Large breed puppies require lower levels of calcium per the same number of calories.
It is true that large breed puppies have a lot of growing to do, and a lot of bone mass to build, much more so than small breeds. It is unrealistic to think that large breeds should do more growing, in the same amount of time; it takes much longer for large breeds to grow to their adult size. Issues arise when the growth process happens too rapidly. Rapid bone growth can be caused in two main ways: excess energy intake and excess calcium intake.
Large breed puppies can end up consuming too much energy if they are over fed or fed a diet that is very calorically dense (high fat). Body condition for growing puppies should be maintained at ideal condition (5) or slightly leaner than ideal (4). *See body scoring chart below.
Excess dietary calcium can result in rapid, uneven bone mineralization. Puppies, unlike adult dogs, do not have mechanisms in place to regulate how much calcium is absorbed and deposited into the bones; excess calcium in the diet results in excess calcium deposit in the bones. This causes a deficiency of phosphorous in the rapidly growing bones, leading to skeletal abnormalities. Calcium and phosphorous should be provided to large breed puppies in a very tight ratio from an even 1:1 ratio up to 1.3:1 calcium to phosphorous.
When looking for a puppy food for your growing large breed, you will want to look for lower calcium levels to prevent excessive intake. Most food ingredients contain smaller amounts of phosphorous so a food with less calcium is also likely to give a closer ratio of calcium to phosphorous, but it is a good idea to check this ratio before purchasing.
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