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Caring for a Giant or Miniature Breed

by Lauren Samet

Giant and miniature breeds of dog can require extra special care if they are to remain healthy. Their exaggerated proportions can open them up to a manner of potential health problems, from gastric torsion to poor dentition. 

Fortunately, thanks to the work of veterinarians and animal nutritionists, we know more than ever before about keeping your pet healthy. If you’re the proud parent of a miniature or giant breed dog here’s what you need to know...

Feeding a Giant Breed Dog

Kibble Size 

Most large breed dog foods have larger sized kibbles. This can encourage your dog to chew its food, helping to reduce the chance of him getting a condition known as gastric torsion (a condition which is very painful and in extreme cases can even be fatal).

Dental Health

Dental health is important for all dogs, but for large breeds an appropriately sized dry kibble encourages your dog to chew them with their back molars, therefore helping to prevent a build-up of tartar and plaque in this area.

Fussy Eaters & Food Palatability

Large and giant breed dogs tend to be less fussy than smaller breeds. All the same, if your giant breed just isn’t fussed about his dinner, here are some ideas to try:

Energy Requirements

It is thought that high-fat diets slow down the emptying of the stomach compared to high-protein or high-carbohydrate diets, a process which can be associated with gastric torsion. As a result, you should try to avoid feeding foods that are high in fats and oils to your giant breed dog. 

Body Weight

Large and giant breed dogs can be particularly prone to joint problems in later life. Therefore, it is important to monitor the weight of your dog to ensure they’re not putting unnecessary strain on their joints by carrying excess weight. Your vet or animal nutritionist can advise on target weights and, if necessary, help you to gently trim down your dog’s fat. 

Puppies and Growth

Giant breed puppies often take longer to reach their full adult size than smaller breeds. This can take as long as 18 months in giant breeds, while smaller breeds typically reach adult size in around 12 months. During this time you should aim to keep your dog’s growth at a slow and steady rate, to support proper development.

The right nutrients are crucial for a slow and steady growth rate. For example, excessive protein should be avoided, though of course some is still required for healthy growth. Puppies under 6 months old are less able to regulate calcium absorption in their intestines and are therefore at risk of absorbing too much if their dietary calcium levels are incorrect (too high).

Feeding your giant or large breed dog appropriately from the start of its life can help minimise the joint disorders often seen in these breeds. When a dog reaches 90% of its expected adult size it can be transitioned on to an adult diet.

Feeding Adult and Senior Dogs

Joint supplementation is often found in foods designed for large and giant dogs. Common joint support ingredients include glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM, all of which are associated with promoting joint health and reducing inflammation. Vitapaws Joint Aid for Dogs also contains these nutrients if you feel your giant breed dog could benefit from additional support. 

A transition to a senior complete diet may be suitable at around 7 years old. Often senior diets contain a joint supplement and slightly less protein to avoid putting strain on the kidneys. Some food brands cater for large-breed senior dogs with their complete food ranges.

Feeding a Miniature Breed Dog

Kibble Size 

Complete small dog foods tend to have a smaller kibble size than their “medium breed” counterparts. This allows small dogs to be able to chew kibble with their back molars, which is good for preventing a build-up of plaque.

Dental Health

Having much smaller mouths and teeth, it is often easy to overlook dental health in small breeds. However, dental health is just as important in small breeds as any other size dog – especially because they have a longer life expectancy so their teeth literally have to last for longer. 

Dry, crunchy kibbles are noted for helping to reduce plaque build-up; however, they only work if your dog does actually crunch them. Some brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as pugs are prone to hoovering up their food without chewing, and can, therefore, risk choking if they eat too quickly. For these individuals, try soaking dry kibbles and mashing them to help reduce this risk. However, just be aware that this process may remove some of the benefits to your dog’s teeth from eating the dry food. 

Paying attention to bad breath and checking your dog’s teeth regularly, especially the molars at the back, will allow you to identify any dental problems that are starting to develop. Often older dogs or dogs particularly prone to scale buildup will require veterinary intervention to have their teeth deep cleaned. Of course, this is not ideal due to cost and the use of anaesthetics. Preventing problems before they arise is the best solution for you and your dog.

Fussy Eaters & Food Palatability

Smaller dogs often have smaller appetites compared to their giant counterparts, which can make them fussy eaters, especially if they are nervous or easily worried. Here are some tips for avoiding fussy eating in miniature breed dogs:

Feed Them Little and Often

Rather than having one or two large meals a day, try dividing their meals into 3 or 4 smaller meals if possible. 

If you provide access to a bowl of food throughout the day but your dog barely touches it, start introducing set ‘meal times’. Allow your dog access to the bowl for just 20 minutes at a time before removing it. 

After a while, your dog should learn that it has to eat during meal times, as food access cannot be taken for granted. This regime also allows your dog time to build up an appetite between meals, encouraging them to eat when food is provided.

Try a Plastic Bowl 

Some dogs are highly noise sensitive and do not like the sound of their collar clinking on a metal feed bowl. Similarly, some dogs are put off by the taste or smell of metal compared to a more neutral plastic dish. Think about your dish size too – if it has high edges then perhaps this makes food harder to reach than food in a shallower container.

Try Warming Food 

If your dog is really fussy, heating the food in a microwave or with some warm water can often help. This simple process can increase the aroma of the food, making the food less bland to your pet. Just be careful not to make the food too hot or you may risk your dog burning their mouth!

Energy Requirements

For highly active miniature breeds of dog, it is often recommended to feed a kibble designed for small dogs. Small dog breed kibbles are often smaller in size and have higher protein (around 25 – 30%) and fat (10 – 12%) levels compared to standard dog foods. This often translates to more calories per 100g of food, which is suitable for an active small breed dog that has higher energy requirements. 

Body Weight

It’s really important to keep your small dog in shape as even a small increase in body weight is a lot to a miniature breed. Ensure you record their weight regularly and make a note of changes. A handy tip is to pick up your dog, step on your bathroom scales, then deduct your own weight for a final figure. As a visual guide, generally speaking, you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs and hips when stroking them but you shouldn’t be able to see them protruding. 

Puppies and Growth

Miniature breed puppies should be fine on a regular complete puppy diet provided by a reputable dog food manufacturer. As small dogs do not eat as much as larger breeds you may wish to invest in a premium-type puppy kibble to help give them the best start to life. Softening kibble with warm water can be useful if your miniature breed puppy struggles with the kibble size or hardness. Adding a small amount of wet food can also help increase the interest of some fussy dogs.

Feeding Adult and Senior Miniature Dogs

A complete adult small dog diet should provide your pet with everything it needs for health and vitality. As dogs get older they can show signs of age, arthritis and even doggy dementia. Keeping your dog nutritionally supported throughout life can help slow down these signs of ageing. 

Just as with large dogs, joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can be beneficial, whilst fatty acids such as omega 3 can help support their cognitive function.