The best dog food for Great Danes (it’s probably not what you think!)

The phrase “you are what you eat” is commonly used amongst us Homo sapiens, but how does that apply to the best dog food for Great Danes? It makes perfect sense that higher-quality food is better, but with so many options available, making the right choice can quickly feel overwhelming.

From kibble to canned food and raw diets, the list of options is just getting started. I also shouldn’t leave out that some owners take full control of the process and choose to go with a home-cooked meal for their Great Danes!

Given enough money, time, effort, and planning an owner can make any of these options works. However, the best food choice for most Great Danes will be a high-quality kibble. Listed below are several kibble options that meet the strict standards that I’ll be covering later in this article.

Now unlike most websites that stop here and provide very little detail about how they arrived at these choices – I’m going to cover every last bit of it!

To be fair, there’s no one size fits all answer when it comes to the right dog food. In fact, trying to discuss dog food often ends in the same uproar usually associated with politics and religion.

Rather than trying to provide a cookie-cutter answer, I think the best place to start is by understanding the types of dog food available. By taking a look at the pros and cons of each, we can begin to best understand what the best type of food for you and your dog may be.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’m going to cover this in a great level of detail. Below is a table of contents in the event that you want to skip ahead.

Table of Contents:

Types of Dog Food

Type 1: Kibble

Background

Kibble is the most common type of dog food found in the United States. It can be manufactured in large quantities and has a long shelf life, therefore making it one of the cheapest options available.

Walking down the aisle of a grocery or pet style, you will likely see dozens of various kibble brands. This count can quickly balloon to hundreds of options when looking at online retailers such as Chewy’s.com.

Kibble is created by mixing together the ingredients and crushing them to create a dough-like compound. The “dough” is then fed into a pressurized machine where it’s cooked and extruded into small bits of kibble.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Good shelf life
  • Easy to store
  • Can be found in many locations
  • Wide variety of brands and options to choose from
  • Simple portion management
  • Formulas available for different stages of life
  • Easy to take on the go or travel with
  • Simple cleanup after or around mealtime

Cons

  • Dry composition requires extra water intake to make up for lost fluids
  • Product recalls are common due to contamination and other manufacturing mistakes
  • Selecting one can be tough due to a large number of options
  • Very little regulation and oversight around food quality
  • While not proven, the combination of low-quality nutrients and cereals is suspected to play a factor in bloat

Type 2: Canned

Background

Canned food can almost be considered the wet equivalent of kibble. It’s produced in mass quantities, and generally available in a variety of locations and brands.

Canned dog food is created by blending together raw and sometimes frozen meats. These are then ground into small bits, and then often supplemented with vitamins, minerals, or grains. This final mixture is then mixed and cooked before being canned. The cans are sterilized through a heating process before finally being shipped out for distribution.

Pros

  • Increases the dog’s water intake
  • Good shelf life
  • Can be found in many locations
  • Soft consistency good makes it easier to eat for dogs with oral issues
  • Stronger smells may make it more appealing to dogs not wanting to eat i.e. elderly, sick, etc…

Cons

  • More expensive than kibble
  • Lower calorie density than kibble
  • Can leave a mess to clean up
  • Requires additional dental due diligence to prevent periodontal disease
  • Needs to be used quickly or refrigerated after opening
  • Not typically used as a standalone diet. Often combined with kibble or supplementary food

Type 3: Semi-Moist

Background

Interestingly, this type of dog food was popularized in the 1960s and 1970s and came in a hamburger-like patty. You may also see it referred to as “soft-moist” food.

As the name entails, semi-moist acts as the happy middle ground to dry kibble and wet canned food. It contains more water than kibble but less than canned (usually in the 60% – 65% range). They do not require refrigeration and use preservatives to extend their shelf life.

Pros

  • Easy to chew for dogs with oral issues
  • More appetizing than dry kibble
  • Less messy than canned food
  • Cheaper than canned food

Cons

  • More expensive than kibble
  • High sugar and salt content can lead to loose stool for Great Danes
  • Requires additional dental due diligence to prevent periodontal disease
  • Many contain artificial flavorings and colorings

Type 4: Raw diet (BARF)

Background

The concept behind a raw diet is that your dog eats foods more closely aligned to their ancestral diet. In other words, they primarily eat meat, organs, and bones as the bulk of their diet. This often also includes a small portion of vegetables and fruits as well.

Contrary to what your own stomach may be telling you right now – this is not why it’s also often called “BARF! It’s an acronym that stands for “Biologically Appropriate Food” as well as “Bones and Raw Food”. Now that we’ve cleared that one up…

A typical raw diet consists of the following:

  • 70% muscle meat
  • 10% bone
  • 5% liver
  • 5% other secreting organs
  • 10% fruits and vegetables

Note: For more details on a raw diet, please refer to our dedicated article here.

Pros

  • Easier weight management
  • Many owners report better musculature and healthier coats after switching to a raw diet
  • Less poop 😉 (yes, I’m definitely keeping this one in the list!)
  • Full control over your dog’s diet

Cons

  • Increased risk of exposure to harmful bacteria that could make you and your dog sick
  • Requires more diligence to maintain a proper dietary balance
  • Switching over may result in periods of diarrhea before the dog’s body adjusts
  • Typically more expensive

Type 5: Home-cooked

Background

This option needs no introduction because it’s what most of us do every day 😉 Like a raw diet, you can choose to simply take matters into your own hands and cook food for your dogs.

A common example of this type of meal would be boiled chicken and rice or sweet potatoes. However, the options virtually unlimited.

Pros

  • Full control over your dog’s food
  • Cheaper than a raw diet
  • Less chance of bacterial exposure due to cooking
  • Cooking softens foods which can make them easier to consume for dogs with oral issues

Cons

  • Requires more diligence to ensure proper dietary balance
  • Additional time spent planning and prepping meals
  • More expensive than kibble food
  • May lead to more food stealing and begging (you can train them not do this, but that’s also more potential work)

Result: The best type of dog food?

Now that we’ve fully reviewed all of the pros and cons of each type of dog food we have a sound basis for decision making. To recap, the available options were:

  • Kibble
  • Canned
  • Semi-moist
  • Raw diet (BARF)
  • Home-cooked

Rather than try to pick the “best” option, let’s take an elimination approach.

First off – I’d start by immediately eliminating semi-moist foods. Great Danes have notoriously sensitive stomachs and the amount of sugar, salt, and other additives in semi-moist foods only increases the likelihood of gastric distress.

Next up, I’d remove canned foods from consideration. Their increased cost and lack of caloric density make them a hard one to argue for. While there are certainly times where they may be appropriate, they don’t seem like the best long-term option.

Now we’re left with kibble, raw, and home-cooked meal options. This is the point at which I think you have to start considering your own personal situation.

Good questions to ask yourself might include:

  • How much time and effort due you have to put towards food preparation?
  • Do you have the financial flexibility to spend more on food?
  • How old is your Great Dane?
  • Does your Great Dane have any other health considerations that should be accounted for?

For the majority of us, the truth is that we probably don’t have the time and money to dedicate towards creating a well-balanced raw or home-cooked diet. This does not mean we don’t love our Great Danes and want the best for them!

It’s just an honest assessment of what’s realistic for us to take on. Knowing that your dog’s diet will have one of the largest impacts on their overall health, it’s not something that you should take lightly.

In fact, according to the Merk Veterinary Manual, a European study of home-prepared diets found that 60% of dogs had major nutrient imbalances! This just goes to show how tough it can be to ensure that you’re providing a balanced diet.

Remember – you’re going to be responsible for putting together a healthy meal 2-3 times per day for the rest of your dog’s life! That’s a long time and a lot of preparation and dedication to ensuring that it happens. There’s no “I ran out of time to make it to the grocery store, so I’ll just swing by a fast food joint on the way home” option available for your dog…

However, if you truly have the time, money, and preparation skills to make a raw or home-cooked diet work, then, by all means, go for it! I would recommend that you consult with your veterinarian to ensure you’re creating a balanced diet for your pooch 🙂

For the rest of us…

A high-quality kibble will be the best choice for the majority of owners to ensure that their Great Dane is consistently eating a balanced diet.

Of course, the keyword to consider is “high-quality”. Let’s dive into exactly what makes for “high-quality” dog food!

What to look for in good dog food (kibble)

There are many things to consider when looking for high-quality kibble. While I could just give you a list of recommended foods, I think every owner should understand what’s important and use that knowledge for making their own informed decisions. If you just want to skip straight to the full list, you can click here.

With that, let’s walk through each item to see how it would impact the overall quality of the food.

Protein Sources

First and foremost, high-quality dog food should have multiple protein sources at the top of its ingredient list. While manufacturers are not required to specify the exact amount of each ingredient, they must order them by weight. That means that items found first have far more content than those found later on.

Specifically, these protein sources have animal names in them! In other words, chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, etc… These are all animals that you’d recognize and associate as good sources of protein.

If top protein ingredients generally refer to “meat”, then that’s a sign that high-quality protein sources were not used. This is one way that manufacturers are able to disguise the questionable quality of their products.

You may also see references to “meals” when looking at ingredient lists. The key item here is to verify that they tied are tied to a specific animal source e.g. salmon meal. Once again, stay away from references to generic “meat meals”.

Meals are a combination of meat, bone, and skin that has been rendered and dried. Meals are added to increase the overall protein concentration in the kibble without drastically increasing its weight. While these are less desirable than fresh meat, it’s ok if they’re used as a secondary form of protein when combined with fresh sources. If a meal is listed as the first form of protein, that’s a less desirable indicator.

Try to also avoid kibble whose protein sources include meat or poultry by-products. Technically, there are “regulated” sources of by-products that would be ok for your dog to consume e.g. organ meats. However, the risk of unregulated sources such as hooves or hair making it in just doesn’t seem worth the risk when we’ve got so many good options available to pick from.

If the food does contain a by-product, it should not be one of the first found in the ingredient list. Ideally – it will be near the bottom.

Fat Sources

Much like protein, the source of fat in your dog’s kibble is another important factor to consider. Why you might ask?

Well…. just looking at it from a caloric perspective – one gram of protein equates to 4 calories. By comparison, one gram of fat is 9 calories. That’s over twice as many calories from the same amount! Because these calories from fat can quickly add up, it’s important that they come from quality sources.

Also similar to the protein evaluation, named sources of fat will always be better than generic ones. Chicken fat, duck fat, salmon fat – these would all be great options to come across on the ingredient list. Be wary if it just says “animal fat”.

Which animals you might wonder? To quote one of my favorite commercials growing up:

The world may never know.

– Mr. Owl (Tootsie Pop)

Carbohydrate Sources

Not to be left out, the final macronutrient to consider are carbohydrates! While the term carbs may get a bad wrap at times, they are incredibly vital to a balanced diet. Not only do carbs provide energy, but they can also be fantastic sources of vitamins, minerals, and other important micronutrients.

You can expect them to come from a combination of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Like proteins and fats, whole sources of carbohydrates are preferred over their processed variations. While you can expect to see some fractional ingredients e.g. tomato pumace or a bran show up, the majority should be wholesome.

Common examples of carbohydrate sources include:

  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Spinach
  • Barley
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Oats

While grain-free diets have gained popularity for humans over the last few decades, they’re not necessarily something that you should necessarily avoid for your dog. Grains contain a wealth of nutrients and can help to support healthy hair, skin, bones, and immune system.

In the event that your Great Dane has been diagnosed as having a grain allergy by your veterinarian, then you would absolutely want to stay away from them. However, this occurs in such a small percentage (<1%) of dogs that it’s not something you should be worried about.

If you do opt to go for a grain-free food, you still make sure that it has a balanced nutritional profile.

Labeling

While this may sound obvious, the labeling on dog food can tell you a lot about its potential quality!

For example, have you ever noticed the statement on some foods that says “… is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”. Good news, this isn’t just marketing jargon!

This means that the kibble has been specifically formulated to meet the minimum requirements established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

You should also be able to refer to the section on guaranteed analysis. While this is required to be listed, it can help inform you of the nutrient content. These are typically formatted to indicate the minimum amount of a given nutrient found in the food. For example, “not less than 26% protein” or “not more than 5% fiber”.

For a more detailed explanation of guaranteed analysis, you can refer to this article from the AAFCO.

Macronutrient Ratios

As an extension of paying attention to the food’s labeling, you should also consider its macronutrient content. Most importantly, how much fat or protein does the food contain.

These numbers will have a large impact on growth rates. Now, Great Danes already grow extremely fast and do not need any help in this department! In fact, speeding up their growth as puppies will increase the chances for orthopedic issues such as knuckling over, bowed, legs, HOD, and OCD.

This is most important during the puppy phase as this is the time that they will experience the most growth. Most growth-related diseases occur in the 2-7 month timeframe, with the most between months 2-4.

Ideally, look for food whose protein is under 27% and fat is between 12%-20%.

Controlling fat is important because it’s so calorie-dense. Higher levels of fat mean greater overall calories and faster weight gain for your Great Dane. This extra weight only places more stress on their rapidly growing joints and is not conducive to healthy development.

Micronutrient Ratios

While they may be called micronutrients, these small particles play a big role in the health of your Great Dane! The good news is that you’ll largely have these covered if you selected a kibble containing a wide variety of wholesome carbohydrates. However, there are two micronutrients that you’ll want to pay close attention to!

To help avoid orthopedic-related issues in younger dogs, the most important ones to pay attention to are calcium and phosphorus. Because these micronutrients play a large role in the formation of bones, imbalances between them can result in growth issues.

The ideal food for Great Dane puppies will contain between 1% – 1.5% calcium, with the lower end of that range being preferred. The ideal range for phosphorus is a ratio of the amount of calcium. For each part of phosphorus, you should find that there is 1 – 1.5 times as much calcium.

Since that probably sounds trickly – let’s take a look at some quick examples.

CalciumPhosphorus Range
1%0.67% – 1.0%
1.25%0.83% – 1.25%
1.5%1% – 1.5%

While generic puppy formulas are frowned upon for Great Danes due to their high protein content, certain specially formulated blends do a great job of helping to keep these calcium and phosphorus ratios in check. Once your Great Dane finishes most of their growing around 18-24 months, you can safely switch them over to adult blends.

Large/Giant Breed Specific Kibble

While selecting a kibble that meets all of the criteria we have discussed so far will go a long way towards ensuring your Great Dane’s health, there’s a shortcut to saving yourself a considerable amount of research time.

Ready for the secret…?

Start your search by specifically looking at kibbles that are specifically formulated for large or giant breeds!

Thankfully, manufacturers have caught on that large and giant breeds have different nutritional requirements for optimal health and as such have created specific formulas. While you can certainly find “regular” kibble that meets the same criteria, this is a good way to save yourself time.

Results: Best Foods for Great Danes

Using the guidelines established above, I researched almost 100 large breed-specific foods founds on Chewy.com. Why Chewy you might ask? Aside from being extremely competitive on prices, their scheduled auto-shipping really makes things easy.

Note: Leveraging auto-ship also comes with an additional 5% discount, so yet another reason to use it! Better yet, they’ve got a promo running right now that will get you 30% off your first auto-ship. Click here to take advantage of these extra savings.

Without further ado, let’s jump in and take a look again that best available kibble options for Great Danes.

Best Food for Great Danes

All of the links below will take you directly to their listing on Chewy.com.

Gus with a bag of dog food.

While all of these passed the exact same criteria for selection, I’ll go ahead and share what we’ve been using for the last several years. While it’s not the cheapest option on the list, “Wellness Large Breed Complete Health Adult Deboned Chicken & Brown Rice” has been our go-to for many years.

In addition to their use of fantastic ingredients, Wellness also has a fantastic reputation in the pet food industry.

In typical Daney fashion, Gus was not amused when it came time to take a photo of her with the latest Chewy delivery. Maybe she was just upset that I wasn’t opening it fast enough 😉

Best Grain-Free Food for Great Danes

While I don’t think that grain-free food is necessary for the vast majority of dogs, I did come across two with adequate nutrient profiles. In the event that your veterinarian does recommend a grain-free food, these are two that I would recommend looking into.

While good kibble is never cheap, it will without a doubt save you money in the long run by improving your Great Dane’s health. Veterinarian visits add up much faster than food bills, and without the pain and heartache of watching your dog’s health suffer.

Comments

  1. I’m really surprised by this article. In it, you totally gloss over the fact that Danes are genetically prone to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (a heart condition) and that many foods which are grain free or may contain grains but still are heavy in peas or any legumes, potatoes and sweet potatoes have been linked to an ever-increasing number of cases of nutritionally mandated DCM. If the breed is already prone to this condition, feeding brands that are on the FDA’s suspect list (with cases directly attributed to feeding these brands)–typically brands who do minimal ongoing batch testing, virtually NO feeding trials, and have no full-time certified veterinary nutritionists on staff to oversee formulation–is tantamount to asking for trouble. I find it a bit irresponsible on your part.

    1. Author

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for bringing up this important topic. In the context of an already 3,000+ word article, trying to cram in a section about DCM would be doing it a disservice. It really deserves its own dedicated page and that’s why it was not covered in detail here.

      The two grain-free food brands recommended are not on the FDA list, and were listed as considerations in the event that your veterinarian recommends a grain-free diet. Without skipping the topic entirely, that seems as balanced a recommendation as one can make.

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