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It’s almost unbelievable to think that dogs descended from wolves when you’re looking at the adorable pug. And yet, the science says it's so.

Despite many breeds evolving into unrecognizable versions of their tenacious ancestors, they all retain vital nutrition requirements that can help keep them in tip-top shape - whether they're chasing a frisbee at top speed or just shifting from one couch cushion to another.

The American Kennel Club, or AKC, recognizes 190 distinct breeds of varying sizes, shapes, and temperaments. Mixed breeds, endearingly referred to as “mutts,” are available in a near-infinite amount of permutations.

Breeds are categorized into 7 subcategories:

  • Sporting
  • Non-Sporting
  • Working
  • Hounds
  • Herding
  • Terrier
  • Toy

While all these breeds have similar nutritional requirements, as determined by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), accounting for their differences could provide them with specialized nutrition that will result in their happiest, healthiest lives.

Here are our recommendations by breed for the most appropriate nutrition needs.

Sporting

springer spaniel sitting on couch

Sporting dogs include some of the most beloved breeds like retrievers, spaniels, setters, and pointers. Many of them were bred to assist humans with hunting and other outdoor activities. Today, these breeds are high-energy and enjoy long walks, extensive exercise, and invigorating playtime featuring games like fetch.

Sporting breeds are enthusiastic and make some of the best companion dogs for families, as popular sporting breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Vizslas.

Because of their high energy, they require nutrition to support an active lifestyle. We recommend premium dry diets, wholesome fresh diets, or well-rounded raw diets. High protein content between 20-30% is generally adequate, and they’ll need a healthy portion of fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s to sustain their energy levels and support their inflammation system, which will be regularly taxed by constant, rigorous play and movement.

A standard Adult diet from a premium pet food manufacturer should be sufficient for sporting breeds.

Non-Sporting

dalmatian dog in grass

Whereas sporting breeds include some of the most high-energy canines of the bunch, the non-sporting breeds are almost the equivalent of clicking “other” on the demographic survey. Non-sporting breeds are diverse and eclectic including Bichons, Bulldogs, Keeshonds, Dalmations, and standard Poodles.

Their nutritional requirements may vary since the differences between a Chow Chow and a Shiba Inu are significant. Because they generally have moderate energy levels, a standard Maintenance formula including approximately 18-22% crude protein from whole protein sources is recommended.

Working

Great dane in dog park

Working breeds are named as such because they were historically bred to assist humans with tasks like pulling sleds, participating in rescues, or acting as guard dogs. Since they required strength to execute tasks, most breeds in this category are above average or giant, featuring notable breeds like Mastiffs, Great Danes, Huskies, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Owners of large or giant breed dogs must be mindful of nutrition. Of course, a giant animal needs heaping helpings of calories, proteins, and fats to sustain energy at their heavy weight, but too much can be detrimental, especially during their puppy and growth stages which can last from 1-3 years.

If they develop too much muscle mass from a high protein diet while their bones and joints are still growing, they may be subject to a host of medical conditions including skeletal malformations, hip dysplasia, and other orthopedic ailments.

For this reason, it is recommended to feed specifically formulated “Large Breed” or “Giant Breed” formulas to ensure your dog is getting the correct proportion of all essential nutrients.

Hounds

bloodhound in the street

Hounds were bred to have an unrivaled sense of smell in the canine world, and are still trained today for jobs that require some keen olfactory faculties. Working hounds can be trained to smell drugs, bombs, and even blood sugar levels in diabetic owners.

Some of the most well-known hound breeds include Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, Beagles, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Like non-sporting breeds, their nutritional requirements are fairly average. Any Adult or Maintenance formula will provide them sufficient nutrients through their adult years, as their energy levels are moderate compared to sporting breeds and working breeds.

Herding

border collie looking at camera

Like sporting breeds, herding breeds are exceptionally enthusiastic and intelligent. In fact, Border Collies may very well be the most intelligent dogs of them all

As the name suggests, herding dogs were historically used in managing livestock and required ample energy reserves for the dog to corral and chase all day long.

Notable herding dogs include Collies, Corgis, Sheepdogs, and the popular German Shepherd Dog, whose intelligence makes them excellent as police dogs.

With great intelligence and energy comes a great need for calories and nutrients. Regular Adult or Maintenance diets will be adequate, but specially formulated diets for Active or Working dogs may be recommended if you are engaging your herding dog in regular exercise. Some of these special formulas may be labeled as “Performance,” so be sure to peruse the packaging for terms like these that indicate they are formulated for very active dogs.

Not all herders will be balls of energy. If your dog is more sedentary or entering their senior years when their activity and metabolism start to slow down, be mindful of extra calories and nutrients, as it will result in weight gain unless it is being sufficiently utilized. In these scenarios, a regular Adult diet, Senior diet, or Weight Management diet are viable options.

Terriers

Pit bull terrier in yard

Terriers are scrappy, feisty pups that were commonly used for rodent and pest control or acting as enthusiastic watchdogs. Most terrier breeds are high energy, love to play, and make excellent companion dogs.

The most popular terrier breeds include Jack Russel Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Schnauzers.

While medium to large-sized terriers like the Pit Bull will do just fine on a standard Adult diet, smaller terriers like the Jack Russel or the Westy can benefit from Small Breed diets that include extra calories and protein per pound. It may seem counterintuitive to pack more nutrients into a Small Breed diet, but little dogs are constantly on the go and their tiny digestive systems have a lightning-quick metabolism that converts nutrition into expendable energy rapidly.

Toy

small dog laying on ground

Toy breeds are very popular and make excellent lap dogs, that is if you can actually get them to sit still. Historically, they contributed virtually nothing in terms of manual labor due to their small size and commensurately small strength. However, their yappy barks make them exceptional watchdogs.

Popular toy breeds include Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Pugs, and Yorkies.

LIke smaller terriers, small breed nutrition is recommended to provide more calories per pound as compared to standard Adult diets. Some manufacturers also include specially formulated Toy Breed diets, including a smaller kibble size for their tiny mouths.

Mixed breeds

mixed breed dog laying on couch

Commonly called “mutts,” mixed breed dogs are hybrids of two or more purebred dogs to create a unique combination. Because their genetics have been less muddled by historical inbreeding and there are numerous breeds present in each mutt, mixed breed dogs are less likely to contract illnesses that are commonly associated with purebreds.

Since mixed breeds are not officially recognized, there are often no official names for the breed hybrids. There are some common ones like Puggles and Cockapoos. When 3 or more breeds are present, however, the etymology becomes complicated and people generally will just refer to the most predominant breed only, for example, “Labrador mix.”

If you’re not entirely sure what breed they are, it can be difficult to determine their nutritional needs. We recommend going based on size for mixed breeds, and feeding a Small Breed diet for under 20 lbs, a Large Breed diet for over 70 lbs, and a standard Adult diet for anything in between.

The importance of appropriate nutrition

Because the biology of dogs is generally similar regardless of breed, the regular Adult diet option is usually a decent choice. However, manufacturers create specially formulated diets that change depending on the life stage, breed size and expected adult size, activity level, and other factors.

Some manufacturers like Royal Canin go even further and create diets specifically formulated for one breed. Since Royal Canin is a premium nutrition option, it’s never a bad choice, but it may not be feasible for households where numerous breeds live together.

Proper nutrition is the most integral component of reducing your dog’s risk of obesity and obesity-related illnesses such as:

  • Cancer
  • Cranial cruciate ligament injury
  • Heart and respiratory disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 diabetes

If your dog suffers from any of the above ailments, diet becomes even more important. Conditions such as Type 2 diabetes can be managed by feeding the best dog food for diabetes which specially formulates the diet to manage symptoms of the illness.

Through careful consideration and veterinary consultations, conditions related to poor nutrition can be avoided, managed, or corrected in some cases.

Summary

Dog breeds are so different in size, shape, and temperament. It’s surprising to think they all came from one common ancestral species! By studying their biology, experts have formulated diets that provide proper nutrition for most dogs and specialty diets that account for the differences that make each breed unique.

Keep in mind these factors when selecting the best diet for your pup, and together you will enjoy many years in good health. And don't forget, pet insurance is a great way to ensure your pet is getting the treatment and care that they need, without breaking the bank.

Note: Please consult your veterinarian before altering your pet's diet - they know your dog best!


Brad cannot remember life without dogs around, he simply can’t live without them! He created Dog Nerdz to provide owners with crucial tips and essential info in order to be the best dog owner they can be. He has learned so much over the years about how to look after his precious pup Boogie!

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