• Michelle Chen
  • Dog Nutrition and Member Service Specialist

  • 3 mins read time
  • Are Breed Specific Diets Better For Your Dog?

    You’ve done a lot of research on picking the right dog breed to fit your lifestyle and maybe filled out some online quizzes like I did! I decided on the Shiba Inu, a breed native to Japan and originally bred for hunting in dense brush. After speaking with reputable breeders, many warned me about avoiding chicken due to allergies and recommending a fish-only diet for the breed. I was skeptical as fish-only diets aren’t nutritionally diverse and food allergies are very rare. But also curious: was there truth in what these people who are knowledgeable about the breed were saying?

    There are two manufacturers who capitalized on this “feed the breed” concept and formulated breed specific diets: Royal Canin and Eukanuba. But both are owned by the corporate giant, Mars Inc. and heavily sponsored by the purebred dog registry, the American Kennel Club. Essentially, one entity is pushing breed specific diets. And if breed-specific diets are better for our dogs, why aren’t other brands formulating them?

    Royal Canin says they research breed-specific traits and combine scientific and nutritional research from their experts to create foods with different nutritional content, shape, size, and texture.  

    Eukanuba touts their knowledge and respect for the nutritional needs of different dog breeds leading to partnerships with breeders and their organizations.



    Sounds reasonable. But let’s take a closer look comparing these breed specific formulas on a dry matter basis:

     

    Eukanuba Lab

    Royal Canin Lab US

    Royal Canin Lab UK

    Crude Protein (min)

    25%

    35%

    30%

    Crude Fat (min)

    14%

    10%

    13%

    Crude Fiber (max)

    6%

    13%

    4%

    Calcium (min)

    0.95%

    0.95%

    unlisted

    Phosphorous (min)

    unlisted

    1%

    unlisted

    Vitamin E (min)

    140 IU/kg

    420 IU/kg

    unlisted

    First Ingredients

    1. Chicken

    2. Corn Meal

    3. Ground Whole Grain Sorghum

    1. Chicken By-Product Meal

    2. Brown Rice

    3. Oat Groats

    1. Maize

    2. Rice

    3. Dehydrated Beef and Pork Protein

    These brands are all “scientifically formulated” for the Labrador Retriever but differ in so many ways! First, Royal Canin’s US and UK formula are different but Labradors living in the UK and the US are the same and don’t have different nutritional requirements. Second, Eukanuba’s formula is totally different than Royal Canin’s formula, but their both supported by Mars Inc.. Lastly, the first few ingredients are different across the board, yet the foods are supposedly “scientifically crafted”. With these inconsistencies, which food is correct? Since these brands can’t agree, the logic behind breed-specific foods seems senseless.

    Also, Hill’s Pet Nutrition (which also relies heavily on scientific research to formulate foods) further devalues the credibility in breed specific foods, describing them as “a marketing gimmick and do not have sound nutritional science backing them.”

    Breed-Specific Health Issues

    It’s true that different breeds are more susceptible to health conditions. For example, Shibas are at greater risk for hip, knee, and eye issues. We also know that many health issues such as obesity and urinary diseases can be prevented with the right diet. But Dr. Heinze puts it clearly: the health issues are more important than the breed, the treatment is the same regardless. An overweight Labrador and an overweight Golden Retriever would be fed the same low calorie diet.

    Royal Canin says Labrador-specific needs also include skin and coat health and overeating. But healthy joints, skin, coat and weight are concerns that we can all be proactive about. In fact, the levels of nutrients for these concerns must stay within the range set by AAFCO. They’re likely even less beneficial compared to fresh, whole food diets or higher quality commercial brands. Instead for health concerns, consult with your veterinarian so they can make recommendations for your individual dog’s needs.

    AAFCO: Large Breed versus Small Breed

    Both Eukanuba and Royal Canin Labrador Adult food state on the bags that they’re “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance”. A nutrient profile is a list of all nutrients in dog food with a required range. AAFCO doesn’t recognize nutrient profiles for specific breeds, so these breed-specific foods are not so unique from each other.

    However, in 2016 AAFCO set a special guideline for growth of large-sized dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult) because studies showed that diets with the usual Calcium and Phosphorous range inhibited growth in large-breed puppies. It’s important to look out for this large-breed puppy nutrient profile, but it doesn’t need to be breed specific.

    Other marketing terms like small breed diets are not crucial. Small breed foods may have higher calories and more fiber for their fast metabolism. But in many cases, the small and large breed foods are exactly the same formula, just a different bite size!

    Physical and physiological differences between breeds

    Royal Canin seems to pride its breed-specific formulas with unique kibble shapes.

    For example, the Labrador Retriever formula has an “exclusive donut-shape” to encourage chewing.

    The Bulldog formula has a unique shape for their short muzzles to help them pick up and chew their food.

    These differences may help but there are many other ways to help your pup such as using food dispensing toys and slow feeders for kibble. In fact, most dogs don’t chew their kibble at all. Have you seen your cat or dog regurgitate dry food? Most pieces are still whole!

    Look closely at how your dog chews dry food. It might look silly and cute because they’re actually having trouble chewing. Dogs are carnivores and have limited horizontal jaw muscles, unlike herbivores such as cows. Instead, their jaws are scissor-like which are great at tearing and ripping meat and crushing soft raw bones. Royal Canin is excited to share that the Labrador kibble fits the breed’s scissor-bite, but all breeds have a scissor-bite because they are all dogs!

    Loki, my Shiba enjoying a raw chicken neck.

    Years of selective breeding have changed the physical image of the domestic dog whether for function or appearance but physiologically, dog breeds are the same.

    Dogs are carnivores, regardless of breed. Breed-specific diets may provide some benefit, but the amount is almost negligible. They may contain higher or lower amounts of specific nutrients such as higher protein for active breeds but they are all within the same AAFCO nutrient profile. Because of this, breed-specific diets can’t treat or prevent major health concerns so it’s best to speak with your veterinarian to factor in your dog’s individual case. As we’ve seen in the Eukanuba and Royal Canin comparison, they rely on marketing techniques to persuade dog owners to buy their products but their formulas were inconsistent despite being owned by the same parent company. Instead, learning how to read ingredient panels and researching can help you decide what’s best for your dog as the quality of the ingredients is more important than the packaging. Choosing fresher food options when possible to supplement for the unique needs of your dog and their activity, environment, health, and age will ensure a healthy pup, no matter the breed or mix of breeds!