A lot of research has gone into how calcium affects bone growth in large and giant breed dogs.
Excess calcium intake is associated with (or seen in association with) a number of painful and damaging bone growth disorders, including:
- Carpal Laxity (“knuckling over”)
- Panosteitis (growing pains)
- HOD (Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy)
- Permanent Limb Deformities
- Hip or Elbow Dysplasia
Some researchers speculate that excess calcium intake in puppyhood may also play a role in increasing risk factors for brittle bones and osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
Puppies are less able to regulate calcium and may use nearly all of what they receive from their diet. When they receive too much calcium, the structure and formation of the bones is affected.
Adults are better able to discard excess amounts of calcium and other nutrients. However, researchers have speculated that in general, adult giant breed dogs may not regulate excessive mineral intake as well as as other breeds.
Appropriate Calcium Levels in Giant Breed Puppy Food
The current research supports that calcium levels be strictly controlled. Many believe (as we do) that the AAFCO upper limit of calcium for large breed growth is still too loose for giant breed growth.
Currently, AAFCO allows up to 1.8% calcium in dog foods that contain the AAFCO “Large Breed Growth” statement. This is likely fine for large breed puppies who will land in the 50-90lb adult range.
A more appropriate choice for giant breed puppies (100lbs + as adults) under the age of two would be to look at the dog food companies who put millions of dollars into nutritional research. All of their large and giant breed puppy formulas are around 1.1 – 1.2% calcium.
Calcium in g per 1000kCal
Another important number to look at is the amount of calcium in g per 1000kCal.
The safe upper limit of calcium per 1000kCal for large breed growth is 4.5g.
The science dog food companies that do research (Purina, Hill’s, Eukanuba, Royal Canin) keep the calcium levels in their large and giant breed puppy foods around 2.5 – 3.5g per 1000kCal.
To account for fluctuations from batch to batch, and to aid in restricting calcium intake to absolutely safe amounts, we recommend choosing foods that are 3.5g or less calcium per 1000kCal.
You can find these values for over 600 different formulas/brands on our famous giant breed puppy food search page HERE.
Controlling Calcium Intake in Giant Breed Puppies
In addition to choosing foods with well-balanced calcium levels, it is important that giant breed puppies are NEVER encouraged to over eat or to consume more than necessary.
Overfeeding is a major contributor to obesity and chronic loose stools; two things that cause major headaches for everybody involved.
Carpal Laxity (often called ‘knuckling’) is a classic symptom associated with overfeeding and over nutrition; the bones grow quickly but the tendons and muscles cannot keep up. The front assembly will collapse under the weight of the puppy, resulting in flat/downed pasterns or “knuckling over” of the front limbs.
An appropriate giant breed puppy food will not be a highly palatable “super premium” type that encourages scarfing and gulping. It should be instead a well-balanced, nutritious option with strictly controlled calcium levels, made with well-researched ingredients, and formulated by a highly qualified nutritionist (PhD in Animal Nutrition or Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist).
Puppies should be more than happy to eat only what they need and leave the rest when they’ve had enough. Their food bowl should not be full of treats and delicious goodies.
Anecdotally, many cases of painful HOD or Panosteitis are minimized or even resolved by switching to plain old “safe and boring” large breed Purina Puppy Dog Chow. Eliminating the ‘fuss’ and ‘fluff’ of highly dense boutique foods is key.
Feeding Large Breed Puppies by Dr. Jennifer Larson, DVM, PhD, DACVN
Developmental Orthopedic Conditions in Large Breed Puppies by Purina Research Institute