Last year, owners spent almost $73 billion on their pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. What accounted for the majority of those expenditures? Was it veterinary care or toys? Actually, the single largest expense, accounting for just over $30 billion was — you guessed it — pet food.
As if choosing between dozens of brands and flavors wasn’t overwhelming enough, now there’s another factor in the mix: breed nutrition, or pet foods tailored to specific dog and cat breeds. Designed around the health conditions that may be common to those breeds, these diets may also feature kibble shapes and sizes tailored for your breed’s particular mouth.
Do they help?
First off, a breed-specific diet probably won’t harm your pet. And special kibble design might be helpful. For example, kibble shape and size can be designed to make it easier for flat-nosed pets (think pugs and Persians) to pick up and chew food with their short jaws. And larger, donut-shaped kibble might help a Labrador eat a little slower, rather than inhaling each meal.
But can these diets really help prevent particular health issues?
Currently, we know a lot about disease prevalence among breeds, but there’s very little research available on whether nutrition will prevent those diseases. What’s more, over-the-counter maintenance diets aren’t legally allowed to make claims about preventing, treating or curing a disease. Only therapeutic diets, provided under the guidance of a veterinarian, can do that — and only after demonstrating that the food actually lives up to the claim.
Choose a diet based on your pet’s needs
The truth is, there are plenty of diets on the market that suit your pet’s (and your wallet’s) needs. Your veterinarian can recommend a few diets based on your pet’s size, life stage and health.
For example, large-breed puppies — whether they’re Newfoundlands or mastiffs — can benefit from special diets designed to help them grow slowly so they’re less likely to develop orthopedic conditions such as hip dysplasia.
In terms of life-stage, puppies generally require more protein and calories to meet their higher energy requirements than geriatric dogs who spend most of the day snoozing on the couch.
And nutrition can certainly help manage some health conditions. A high-fiber, low-calorie diet, for example, might help a chubby dog slim down a bit. But a dog that’s just the right weight doesn’t need this kind of diet.
The bottom line is that there may be some benefits to breed-specific diets, but there are also plenty of other diets that are suitable for your pet. And breed-specific diets aren’t a replacement for therapeutic diets specifically designed for a particular health condition. When in doubt, count on your veterinarian who knows your pet’s nutritional needs.
He or she can even recommend what’s best for mixed-breed dogs, or mutts, that make up an estimated 53 percent of dogs in the United States. Because they deserve solid nutrition, too.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.