Canine nutrition: Breed-specific versus all-breed diets
In developing specialized dog foods, consider marketing strategy in addition to differences in nutrient responses between breeds
Dog food marketing is dominated by trends. Differentiation, humanization and individualization are product trends initiated by the petfood industry. Dog owners’ attitudes have inspired the natural trend.
Lifestage nutrition, as opposed to a single complete diet for all ages and breeds, and functional foods with health claims are forms of individualization. Another form is breed-specific, lifestage diets. Lifestage foods are justified by the age dependency of both nutrient requirements and risk of disease. Functional foods are justified by the influence of nutrition on disease management. What is the justification for breed-specific versus all-breed dog diets?
The nutrient composition of a complete dog food should guarantee optimal health. There is a general relationship between nutrient intake and the animal’s reaction. Long-term, low nutrient intakes produce disease, growth retardation or impaired reproduction: the state of deficiency. Long-term, high nutrient intakes also cause disorders: the state of toxicity.
Between deficiency and toxicity there is a wide range of intakes that allow optimal health and performance. The animal can adapt absorption, excretion and metabolism of the nutrient (or its metabolites) so neither deficiency nor toxicity develops.
Between breeds there can be differences in the nutrient-response relationship. Great Danes have a greater calcium requirement for optimal bone development than do small and medium-sized breeds. Growing Great Danes also have a somewhat higher protein requirement. Alaskan Huskies and Malamutes have a relatively high zinc requirement and thus need more zinc to prevent deficiency. For breeds with a higher nutrient requirement, the deficiency range is wider.
Some breeds have a higher sensitivity to nutrient toxicity. The Bedlington Terrier quickly develops copper storage disease with increasing copper intakes. Young, growing Great Danes are susceptible to calcium-induced osteochondrosis (impaired maturation of joint cartilage). For excess-prone breeds, the toxicity range has shifted to lower intakes.
Great Danes are unique in that they require more calcium for optimal bone development and also must ingest less calcium to prevent osteochondrosis. The range of calcium intake allowing optimal bone development is smaller for Great Danes than for other breeds.
The breed differences in the nutrient-response relationships must be known to formulate both all-breed and breed-specific dog foods. Table 1 shows data on calcium intake and skeletal health in young growing dogs of different breeds. The data are based on various literature sources. The dietary calcium levels have been standardized to a dry food containing 3,585 kcal metabolizable energy per kg (15 MJ/kg).
The table highlights that the available data are too sparse to construct breed-dependent nutrient-response relationships. However, for the current, evidence-based production of puppy foods, the data are crucial. The table indicates that an all-breed puppy diet should contain about 0.7% calcium. A puppy diet for Great Danes, and possibly also for other large breeds, should contain a similar amount. However, a puppy diet for small breeds may contain up to 1.2% calcium, allowing greater freedom with regard to ingredient use.
The calcium example illustrates that all-breed foods should contain levels of nutrients falling within the optimum range for all breeds. For breed-specific products, the nutrient levels may only be optimal for the breed concerned. Unfortunately, the nutrient-response relationships are unknown for most breeds.
Breed-specific foods have surplus value when they control breed-specific disease. A diet for the Dalmatian should neutralize its sensitivity toward the development of ammonium urate urolithiasis. A gluten-free diet for English Setters accommodates their susceptibility to gluten enteropathy.
To various degrees, the risk of diseases such as obesity, atopy, osteoarthritis, urolithiasis, cancer, heart failure and kidney insufficiency are breed dependent. With current knowledge, it is possible to formulate breed-specific foods that could contribute to the reduction, prevention or management of the diseases concerned. All-breed diets might focus on the most common diseases in the whole dog population.
A pet owner does not look for a dog food but for a food suitable for his or her own dog. The marketing advantage of breed-specific foods is evident. The signal to the consumer is clear and simple: Your dog needs a food that is tailor-made for your dog’s breed. That message is reinforced by a breed-matching picture on the label and health claims that relate unequivocally to the breed concerned.
The production and handling of breed-specific diets is less efficient than that of all-breed diets but may be justified by marketing strategy.