why is my pet’s breed important when it comes to their food?

Different dog breeds have varying nutritional needs

Genetically, it turns out that all dog breeds have very similar DNA1. The same is true of all cat breeds. That’s pretty interesting when you consider how many dog and cat breeds there are in the world today. But why is your pet’s breed important when it comes to their food?

Breeds are lines of animals that have been selectively bred for many years to have unique characteristics. Managing your pet’s diet and the amount of food they eat to fit these specific attributes and nutritional needs will help them maintain an optimal weight. 

At Freely, we've considered each breed’s nutritional needs and have tailored our What to Feed calculator to help you find the best fit. Sometimes this is a very simple answer. Other times, the best food might not be obvious. For example, a small breed dog who's overweight might do better on a lower-calorie food that has a slightly larger kibble rather than eating a higher-calorie small breed formula with smaller kibble pieces. We invite you to experiment and see what works best for your pet but please be sure to follow a safe transition schedule to make sure there are no upset stomachs along the way.

Large and giant breed dogs

Dog breeds that mature to a very large size have specific nutritional needs as both puppies and adults. Examples of large and giant breed dogs include: Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Newfoundlands.

Large dog breed nutrition and pet foodsLarge breeds tend to take longer to reach their full adult size. Some don’t finish growing until they reach 24 months of age! Even though they need plenty of energy to fuel their growth as puppies, it’s important to keep their growth at a slow and steady pace. While we love to see these breeds reach their full size, pushing for extremely fast growth with too many calories can increase their risk of developing orthopedic diseases, such as osteochondritis dissecans, later in life. Carefully controlling calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels for growing puppies is important for similar reasons2.

Once these dogs reach their full size, it’s important they stay slim and fit. Supporting a large body is already enough of a workout for their skeletons and joints so excess weight can put unnecessary strain on their systems.

Interestingly enough, larger breeds tend to need fewer calories per pound than smaller dogs. This is important to keep in mind because traditional calorie calculators can sometimes recommend a bit too much food for our favorite gentle giants. We suggest you monitor your larger dog’s weight and adjust the amount of food at each meal if they appear to be gaining excess weight.

Busy dogs

Dog foods and nutrition for active, busy, and working dogsMany dogs who were originally bred for active farm work like to keep themselves exceptionally busy throughout the day. These breeds include Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. Today, they’re all about using their instincts to patrol the house, herd the kids, check local property lines, organize their toys, and prowl for security. Because they are such workaholics, they tend to need more calories and sometimes more encouragement to stop for mealtime. Our serving size calculator accounts for many of the common busy breeds when giving a recommendation for how much to feed your pet. If your dog needs some encouragement to clock out from their duties to enjoy mealtime, you might consider adding one of our beneficial broths.

Toy dog breeds

Pet foods and nutrition for small breed dogsJust because toy breeds, like Shih Tzus or Papillons, are tiny doesn’t mean they deserve any less nutrition to support their big personalities. Smaller dog breeds usually need slightly more energy per pound than their giant counterparts. Be careful though. With their tiny statures, their increased caloric needs won’t look like a big increase in the amount of food you give them. Measuring a small dog’s food precisely is important since slight variations will be more impactful on their littler bodies. Additionally, kibble that’s designed for these dogs will have smaller-sized pieces to make chewing easier for their petite mouths.

Obesity risk dog breeds

Pet foods and nutrition to help my dog lose weightWe know them. We love them. Heck, we are a pet food company and we need to give a shout out to those breeds that would love to eat piles of our dog food all day, every day. Unfortunately, there are a few breeds that simply have no “off” switch even when they are full. Labradors, Pugs, Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, we are talking about you. Even though we applaud their hearty appetites, we know keeping them slim will help them live life to the fullest. Our serving size calculator makes slight adjustments for those obesity-prone pups to scale down their portions ever so slightly to help keep their weight under control.


Although we know that mixed-breed cats are generally more at risk for obesity than purebred cats2, there is very limited information available about breed-specific requirements for cat nutrition. Our food calculators focus more on lifestyle than breed when making serving size recommendations because there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support changing recommendations for all of catkind. Measuring the food that goes into your feline friend's bowl and keeping tabs on their weight over time is the most helpful way to learn about the nuances of their health.

Pet foods and nutrition for different cat breeds

If you have specific questions about your pet’s nutritional needs, the best resource is your veterinarian. Together, you can very specifically discuss how your pet’s genetic background and medical history may influence your feeding choices. The Freely nutrition team is also happy to dive into the specifics to find the best way to build your pet’s bowl.  Please send us an email, give us a call or connect with us through LiveChat. We’d love to talk through your pet’s unique nutritional needs.


1. Wayne RK. Molecular evolution of the dog family. Trends Genet. 1993;9:218-224.
2. Case L, Daristotle L, Hayek M, et al. Canine and Feline Nutrition. 3rd ed. Mosby, 2010.