As a veterinarian, I experience firsthand the immense joy and companionship that dogs
bring into our lives, and over the years I have borne witness to literally thousands of
uniquely beautiful human-canine bonds. Often dubbed “man’s best friend”, the domestic
pooch has been an integral part of human society for thousands of years; indeed, the
staggering variety of breeds we now share our world with all owe their distinguishing
characteristics to mankind. Just as my own inseparable four-legged friend has helped
make me who I am today, we – mankind – made dogs.
To zoologists and pet owners alike, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the canine
universe is the immense diversity that exists within: from the diminutive yet spicy
Chihuahua, to the calm and monolithic Great Dane; the gentle, goofy Labrador, to the
steel-willed, lion-tracking Ridgeback, dogs now come in a staggering array of breeds,
each featuring an entirely one-of-a-kind set of physical characteristics, personality traits,
health considerations and temperaments.
This rich tapestry of differing doggos – each shaped by countless generations of
selective breeding, geographical and cultural influences and molding to suit their
desired purpose – has a single, very important thing in common: the need to be
recognized and treated as unique.
Somewhat shockingly, only very recently in the history of dog-and-man have the notions
of breed-specific healthcare, breed-specific diets and breed-specific toys and grooming
products become recognised. In fact, as recently as eleven years ago when I took my
first few tentative steps into the realms of vet school, the notion of breed-specific diets
was considered outlandishly novel; dogs ate dog food – period!
As our knowledge and understanding of our canine companions has grown in depth and
complexity, the veterinary and commercial world has finally come to appreciate how
crucial – yes, crucial – it is to tailor your choice of dog food, healthcare products, dog
toys and grooming products to the specific breed of dog that you own. By doing so, you
can enhance your pup’s health, happiness, and wellbeing, resulting in fewer vet visits, a
stronger bond between you and your four-legged friend, and possibly even more years
together on this earth, overall.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas in turn.
The Importance of Tailoring Dogs’ Food to Breed
One of the cardinal concepts we now appreciate within the veterinary medical
community is that different dog breeds have very different nutritional needs. As such,
customizing your choice of dog food to suit your pet’s genetics (and not just their
preferences) is super important and starts from weaning.
Small breed puppies grow and develop more rapidly than large and giant breeds, and
will reach maturity and hit their full adult size earlier, usually around the 12-month mark.
In contrast, large and giant breed pups follow a more slow-and-steady development
pattern, often taking 18-24 months to reach skeletal maturity and full size. As such,
puppies of larger breeds should absolutely be fed a targeted diet that is specially
designed to support their more leisurely pace of development.
Even in adulthood, the breed and size of your dog are crucial factors in determining his
or her nutritional needs. You may have read that smaller dog breeds have faster
metabolisms, and this is certainly true. However, whilst small breeds do require a higher
calorie content relative to their body size compared to giant breeds, many small-breed
dogs are also far more susceptible to obesity.
As such, many commercial dog food brands (quite sensibly) offer lower-calorie and weight-control formulas with reduced calorie density to help these pint-sized pooches stay appropriately petite.
Producers of large and giant breed dog foods on the other hand, tend to focus most on
optimizing the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, as well as the protein and fat content of their
formulas rather than simply cutting calories.
By doing so, these super-size specific dog foods provide the essential nutrients needed for muscle growth whilst still preventing the all-too-common problem of excessively rapid growth, which may be detrimental to skeletal and joint health, causing or exacerbating orthopedic issues such as hip dysplasia and hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Many large breed dog food formulas also incorporate L-carnitine, an amino acid that helps convert fat into energy.
Most additionally offer glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health.
Equally as pressing as the orthopedic issues that typically afflict large and giant breed
dogs are the dental health problems that plague our smaller canine companions. Dental
problems are particularly prevalent in many small breed dogs, and a number of
small-breed specialized dog foods now incorporate ingredients that promote dental
health, such as dental enzymes.
Small dog kibbles are also often carefully designed in shape, to help mechanically clean
the teeth as your pet chows down. It’s also common sense to note that small dogs need
a smaller kibble size than large and giant breeds, to facilitate ease of handling (i.e., picking up the food and chewing it properly). Feeding small dog kibble to a large or giant breed dog is a choking hazard and should be avoided at all costs.
On an even more specific level, as a pet owner it’s imperative to be aware of the dietary
needs of your specific, individual breed. Whilst there are of course far too many dog
breeds to cover in detail here, a few examples follow, just to set the scene:
Dalmatians are prone to a hereditary condition called “hyperuricosuria”, which prevents
these beautifully spotty dogs from being able to break down dietary purines. Most dogs
break purines down into allantoin, which is water-soluble and can be harmlessly
excreted in the urine.
In many Dalmatians, however, purines are abnormally processed resulting in the
production of uric acid. This uric acid crystallizes out in the urine, forming urate stones
in the bladder which may cause pain, difficulty urinating, or even a life-threatening
urinary blockage. Of course, if you own a Dalmatian it’s vital that you’re aware of the
fact that Dalmatians should be fed a diet low in purines, to reduce this risk.
Boxers are susceptible to heart conditions, including dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)
and Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC). As such, Boxer owners
should feed a diet that contains nutrients such as taurine that directly support heart
Bulldogs are especially prone to food allergies, resulting in itchy skin, feet, and ears that
can be distressing for dogs and owners alike. So, many Bulldogs will do better when
exclusively fed a strictly hypoallergenic diet.
The Importance of Tailoring Dog Toys to Breed
Starting simple, it’s worth pointing out that the size of your dog influences the size of toy that he or she is going to be able to handle: for example, a Toy Poodle isn’t going to get much fun out of a supersized Kong, built for Bulldogs! So, as a general rule, if you’re the proud pet parent of a small breed pooch, you’ll want to stick to smaller dog toys.
Intelligence is also a worthwhile consideration when it comes to selecting breed-specific dog toys. Let’s not beat around the bush here: some dog breeds simply are more intelligent than others. The notoriously intelligent Collies, Poodles, German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers will be more likely to engage willingly and find fulfillment in toys that strive to stimulate intellect, such as puzzle toys and communication buttons. On the flip side, the interminably loveable but somewhat more simple Bulldogs, Chihuahuas and Chow Chows of the world may find more joy in the uncomplicated pleasures a Kong or a rope chew have to offer.
Instincts will also influence your dog’s play preferences. For example, Labrador Retrievers have a strong urge to retrieve, and will benefit from soft toys that mimic the size and texture of hunted game (e.g., a pheasant plushy). Border Collies and Australian Kelpies have deeply ingrained herding instincts, and will enjoy the entertainment of a specially designed herding ball toy. And Rat Terriers have immensely powerful hunting instincts, and will be most excited by toys that move and squeak.
The Importance of Tailoring Grooming and Healthcare Products to Breed
One of the most obvious (yet often overlooked and underacknowledged) reasons to
tailor grooming products to your dog’s breed is the extreme differences in coat type that
different dog breeds present. As any groomer worth their shampoo will surely know well,
different breeds possess varying coat lengths, textures, thickness and shedding
patterns. These individual differences must be accounted for when selecting the correct
grooming products for your dog breed, or else (some combination of) unmanageable
hair, matts, sore skin and overshedding are likely to result.
Just as coat type varies between breeds, so does skin sensitivity. It’s well known to vets
that certain breeds are more prone to skin allergies and sensitivities than others; for
example, French Bulldogs and Shar Peis often have sensitive skin that will become
easily irritated if “standard” grooming products are used. Hypoallergenic shampoos, and
conditioning products containing hydrolyzed oatmeal and ceramides are more
appropriate for such breeds.
It’s also well known that certain breeds are prone to skin fold infections, perhaps most
notably Shar Peis, Bulldogs and Pugs. Owners of such breeds need to be aware of this
potential issue, and of the appropriate product arsenal they should keep at hand to keep
such problems at bay. Antimicrobial wipes are obviously a must, and “wrinkle creams”
(which tend to contain zinc, a natural antimicrobial ingredient) may also be of use.
Certain brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds will also be prone to watery eyes throughout
their lives, including but not limited to the Pekingnese, Shih Tzus, Pugs. These sweet
little pets will need their owners to select appropriate daily grooming products (typically
non-irritating eye wipes) with which to keep their faces clean and their eyes and
periocular skin free from bacterial infection.
The End of the Tail
To wrap up, as a veterinarian and as a pet owner, I cannot stress enough the
significance of tailoring products to your breed’s specific needs. From their nutrition and
toys to grooming and healthcare, recognizing the individual traits and requirements of
your canine companion is fundamental to their well-being. And, just as no two dogs are
alike, no single approach to care fits all.
By embracing this tail-ored perspective, you em-bark (sorry – couldn’t resist!) on a
journey to provide your four-legged friend with the customized care they deserve,
ensuring a lifetime of health, happiness, and a stronger bond between you and your pet.
So, remember: your pooch is as unique as they are precious, and it’s our responsibility
as their caregivers to meet their needs with love, attention, and – as I’m sure you’ll now
appreciate – the right products, designed just for them.