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It is important to choose the right food for your Great Dane, as this giant breed dog is prone to some serious health problems that can be influenced by diet.
In this article, we will look at how their food should support them and what to look for when you’re next eyeing up the dog foods on the shelf.
My 4 top picks of the best dog foods for Great Danes in 2020:
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How many calories does my Great Dane need?
Great Danes are giant breed dogs (that is actually the term, I’m not just exaggerating!) Females can weigh between 108 - 130 lb (49 - 59 kg), while males tend to be much larger, weighing around 130 - 198 lb (59 - 90 kg). Given their size, it is not surprising their daily caloric needs are pretty large, too!
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I am using an average weight of 155 lb to calculate their calorie intakes*. Of course, for females who are (comparatively!) smaller, these amounts will be less.
*Worked out using Dog Food Advisor's calculator. To get an exact amount for your dog, please consult with your veterinarian.
It is important she gets the right amount of calories for her weight and activity levels, as Great Danes can put on weight easily but will find it difficult to shed. And any excess weight will increase the likelihood of them developing severe mobility problems.
Common health problems in Great Danes and how choosing the right food can help
While most Great Danes live healthy lives, they are prone to some serious health conditions.
Here they are in descending order, along with some input from me on how you can help prevent them through what and how you feed her:
Great Danes are the dog breed with the highest instance of this condition, and it is the number one killer in the breed. It happens when the stomach becomes enlarged due to a buildup of gasses, and twists, cutting off the blood circulation.
Common causes are eating a large meal in one sitting or on doing exercise straight after eating. Another factor that has been identified as a risk factor for gastric torsion is the use of raised feeders.
To prevent her suffering from gastric torsion, feed your Great Dane 2 - 3 times a day from a food bowl at floor level. It is also essential that she rests for at least one hour after eating.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is common in giant breeds like Great Danes. In dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes progressively weaker and enlarged. Symptoms can include arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), coughing, weight loss, rapid breathing, fainting, a swollen abdomen, weakness, and sudden heart failure.
If your dog has been diagnosed with this disease, I recommend a food high in omega-3 fatty acids, as they have been shown to have a positive effect on dogs with this condition. Look for a food that contains flaxseed or fish oils.
Most high-quality dog foods contain at least 0.3% omega-3s, but your Great Dane should get a little more than this - at least 0.5%.
A low sodium diet is also necessary if your dog suffers from heart problems - go for a dog food without added salt.
Great Danes are at risk of a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. It is fast-spreading and affects about 33% of large and giant breeds like Great Danes.
It usually occurs in the leg bones. Symptoms can include limping, lameness, and difficulty going up and down stairs. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but amputation is usually recommended, followed by chemotherapy. Removal of a limb can, of course, considerably diminish a large dog's quality of life.
You can reduce her risk of developing cancer by doing the following:
- Keep her at a healthy weight
- Feed her an anti-inflammatory food, which means low in carbohydrates (few grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes) and high in omega-3s
- Reduce her exposure to toxins - avoid foods that use artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
- Feed her a food high in antioxidants - look for foods with a range of fruit and vegetables for a variety of vitamins and minerals
Bone and joint diseases
Great Danes have large bodies supported by rather slender legs, so it may not come as a surprise that they can suffer from joint and bone problems. Here are the three main concerns for this breed:
Hip dysplasia occurs when the head of the thigh bone does not fit properly into the hip socket, causing joint pain, and in severe cases, lameness.
12% of Great Danes are dysplastic. Unfortunately, it is a hereditary condition, which gets worse over time.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, involves a deterioration of the cartilage that protects the joints. It often occurs in larger dogs like Great Danes, usually in senior years. Symptoms can include a stiff gait, a reduced level of activity, and occasional lameness.
For both of these joint conditions, it is a good idea to opt for dog foods that are specially formulated for large or giant breeds, as these are usually supplemented with chondroitin and glucosamine. These nutrients can help dogs suffering from joint conditions, and are also recommended for dogs that are predisposed to them but not yet suffering, particularly for very active dogs whose joints are under more stress.
Here’s what these nutrients do:
- Reduce cartilage damage and swelling
- Help rebuild the cartilage that protects joints
- Promote new cartilage production
- Increase joint lubrication
Lastly, controlling your dog’s weight is also essential, as any excess weight puts a strain on her joints.
Hypertrophic osteodystrophy and panosteitis
Great Danes are prone to rapid growth during puppyhood, which can result in painful and disabling bone conditions like hypertrophic osteodystrophy and panosteitis.
A diet too high in protein, with an unbalanced fat-protein ratio, or poor quality protein and fat sources have been identified as possible causes for these growth problems.
For your Great Dane puppy, it is important that you choose a high-quality puppy food that is specially developed for large or giant breeds. These foods are formulated to help your puppy grow slowly, containing the right levels of protein and fat in the correct ratio, and help prevent her suffering from developmental orthopedic problems.
Great Danes not only grow fast, but they also grow for a long time - about 2 years, on average. You should, therefore, feed your Great Dane large breed puppy food until she reaches this age.
Wobblers syndrome is a disease of the cervical spine occurring at the neck. It usually involves compression of the spinal cord, causing neck pain and coordination problems due to neurological damage. It is so-named due to the “wobbly” gait affected dogs have.
According to the Veterinary Medical Database, this condition occurs in 4.2% of Great Danes and the mean age for the condition to occur is 3 years old.
Symptoms include lethargy, lameness, loss of balance, coordination problems in the hind legs, and neck pain.
Nutrition can be a factor in this disease. According to Pet MD, too much calcium, protein, and too many calories have been proposed as causes in Great Danes.
So, it is important to stick to the calorie intake recommended by your vet, and do not supplement her with calcium. As for protein intake, we will take a look at that in the next section.
Macronutrient requirements for Great Danes
For Great Danes to get just enough of the good stuff, but not too much to put them at risk of gaining weight or developing Wobblers Syndrome, a moderate amount of protein is necessary - no more than 26%.
Your faithful friend needs high-quality protein sources from whole meats like beef, chicken, lamb, or fish.
Drop the packet and run if you see words like “by-products,” and do not even go there if the meat source is weirdly unspecified, for example, “meat meal” or “animal meal.” That could be anything, and you don’t want it anywhere near your dog’s mouth.
The quality of protein is just as important as the quantity - it is easier for her to digest, and she will be better nourished and healthier for it, trust me.
Great Danes should consume a diet moderate in fat since we want to avoid them putting on too much weight. Besides, they have very short coats, so they don’t need a lot of fat to keep it healthy and looking shiny. I recommend no more than 13 % fat for a typical Great Dane and no more than 15% for an active Great Dane.
As I have mentioned, omega-3s can benefit her heart health as well as act as an anti-inflammatory as part of an anti-cancer diet. So, look out for fish oils and flaxseed in your dog’s food - you want at least 0.5% omega-3s for your Great Dane.
A low-carb dog foods is a good idea for your Great Dane, as lots of carbs can cause inflammation and contribute to the development of cancer. A low-carb diet is also a good way of avoiding weight gain in your Great Dane. As a general rule, the first 2 ingredients should not be a carbohydrate, as it’s a sure sign the food is high in carbs (and probably low in protein).
Also, avoid grains such as soy, corn, and wheat as these are common allergens for dogs. Plus, they are often used as cheap fillers to bulk out dog foods with low-quality carbs when it should be made up of high-quality proteins.
Vitamins and minerals
To keep your Great Dane as healthy as she can be, look out for a variety of fruit and vegetables to give your dog a good dose of cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Best 4 dog food for Great Danes
#1 Blue Buffalo Life Protection Fish & Oatmeal Recipe for Large Breed Adult Dogs
Blue Buffalo is a high-quality brand that often makes an appearance in my dog food reviews. For me, this recipe from Blue Buffalo Life Protection suits a typical Great Dane very well.
Its protein content is just on the limit, at 26%, which is derived from two types of fish. The fat content is just fine, at 13%, and the use of fish makes it very high in omega-3s. These, as we have seen, have several benefits for a Great Dane’s health. There is added salt in this recipe, however, so it may not be suitable for dogs with heart problems.
This formula is veryhigh in antioxidants, with more than 7 antioxidant-rich ingredients that are cold-pressed to preserve their natural goodness. These support her immune system and help fight off diseases like cancer. This recipe is also quite low in carbs, high in omega-3s, and free from nasty artificial ingredients, which makes it a good anti-inflammatory dog food, helping to prevent cancer.
This recipe also includes some glucosamine and chondroitin to provide support for your dog’s joints. If your dog already suffers from joint problems, you may need to supplement this food with extra, however.
- In my opinion, it suits typical Great Danes
- Great “anti-inflammatory” dog food - helps prevent cancer
- High in omega-3s
- Very high in antioxidants
- Includes ingredients for joint support
- May not be enough glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs already suffering from joint problems
- Includes added salt - may not be suitable for dogs with heart problems
#2 Wellness Complete Health Large Breed Deboned Chicken & Brown Rice
Wellness Complete Health provide a high-quality recipe here which I think is another good choice for typical Great Danes.
It contains 25% protein from chicken and salmon, and just 11% fat, which will keep your Great Dane from gaining too much weight. The carb content is moderate and is sourced from healthy, digestible whole grains, brown rice and barley. The low-fat content and moderate carbohydrate content make it suitable for overweight Great Danes who need to shed a few pounds.
This formula has a good amount of omega-3s from flaxseed and salmon, and there is no added salt, which makes it a good choice for Great Danes suffering from heart problems.
Furthermore, there is lots of glucosamine in this recipe, and some chondroitin, too, which makes it a good choice for Great Danes prone to, or already suffering with, joint problems.
There is a nice range of fruit and vegetables here, too, which provide her with good sources of antioxidants to support her immune system and prevent diseases like cancer.
I think Blue Buffalo Life Protection provides a better “anti-inflammatory” food (with less carb content and more veg and omega-3s), but Wellness Complete Health is a close second.
- it’s a good choice for typical and overweight Great Danes
- it’s a good choice for Great Danes with heart and joint problems
- Good amount of omega-3s
- No added salt
- Contains a good range of fruit and veg
- Good “anti-inflammatory” dog food
- Moderate carb content
#3 Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain-Free Beef Recipe for Large Breed Adult Dogs
This recipe from Blue Buffalo Freedom is another good choice for typical Great Danes, in my opinion. I have chosen this Blue Buffalo recipe, as, in my opinion, it is a good grain-free option, plus it contains ingredients that aid digestion. So, it is a good choice if your dog suffers from grain allergies or a sensitive tummy.
It contains a good macronutrient balance for Great Danes, with 22% protein from beef and turkey and 13% fat, from chicken fat, flaxseed, fish oil, and canola oil.
All these oils make it a recipe fairly high in omega-3s, with 0.75%. Plus, this recipe is quite low in carbs and high in (potent!) antioxidants, so it’s another good “anti-inflammatory” food that helps ward off cancer.
There are also prettyhigh levels of glucosamine and chondroitin, so this food provides joint support for Great Danes prone to or already suffering with joint problems.
This recipe contains salt, so it’s not the top choice for Great Danes with heart conditions.
- I think it’s a good choice for typical Great Danes
- Grain-free - good choice for active Great Danes who suffer from grain allergies or sensitive tummies
- Good “anti-inflammatory” food
- Provides joint support
- Contains salt - may not be suitable for Great Danes with heart conditions
#4 Merrick Classic Real Lamb + Green Peas Recipe with Ancient Grains
Merrick Classic provides a high-quality dog food here for active Great Danes. Its protein content is just right, at 25%, coming from lamb and pork, and the fat content is 15%, coming from chicken fat and flaxseed oil.
There are high levels of glucosamine and chondroitin in this recipe, which provides a great deal of support for an active dog that is prone to suffering from joint problems, or who is already showing signs of joint pain or stiffness.
The carbohydrates come in the form of healthy whole grains, and the carb content is fairly low. There are afew wholefood sources of antioxidants, though it would be good to see some more. The omega-3 content is not particularly high, either.
Therefore, Merrick Classic does not provide the best “anti-inflammatory” food, nor the best choice for dogs with heart problems, as it contains salt. I do highly recommend it, however, for active Great Danes who need lots of joint support.
- Good for active Great Danes
- High levels of glucosamine and chondroitin - provides lots of joint support
- Low carb content
- Fat content may be too high for typical Great Danes
- Not the best choice of “anti-inflammatory” dog food
- May not be suitable for dogs with heart problems
So, Blue Buffalo Life Protection gets the first spot for its high-quality and overall suitability for a typical Great Dane. Wellness Complete Health is a very close second and is a food that supports your Great Dane’s heart, joints, as well as helping to prevent cancer.
Blue Buffalo Freedom is a great option if your Great Dane suffers from grain allergies or sensitive digestion, and also provides a lot of joint support. Lastly, Merrick Classic is a good choice for active Great Danes who are prone to or suffering from joint problems.
What do you feed your Great Dane? Leave a comment below!
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