Labrador retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Their fun-loving nature and go-get-em attitude make them great dogs for both families and as working and service dogs.
But the labs’ popularity hasn’t come without a price. Years of overbreeding means many labs will suffer from health problems in their lifetime.
This is why it’s so important to make sure your lab is getting the best nutrition for their needs. Read on to see our recommendations for the best dog foods for labs.
Why the Right Food is Important for Labrador Retrievers
Your labrador is your best friend, which means you’d do everything you could to keep them healthy, right?
Did you know, according to akc.org, labrador retrievers are susceptible to a number of different health problems, including hip and elbow dysplasia, eye problems and cancer. Luckily, there is something you can do to help your lab avoid some of these issues.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will reduce strain on joints which will help avoid some of the joint diseases labs are prone to. A lean frame can also help keep organs healthy and blood sugars at an appropriate level.
Unfortunately, keeping your lab trim isn’t always an easy task. Because of the job labs were originally bred for, they are prone to weight gain.
Labs were first bred in Newfoundland to help fishermen bring in nets and collect fish in icy waters. In order to work in such frigid conditions, labs needed a healthy layer of fat over their bodies.
Dogs with poor appetites who couldn’t maintain this thick, protective layer, were not used as working dogs and therefore, not bred.
This selective breeding has led to the voracious appetites we see in modern labs.
Modern labs also retain the tendency to pack on more fat than other sporting breeds like pointers and goldens. Because of this, it is especially important that labs be fed diets that will support a healthy weight without too much added fat.
Labradors and Dog Foods for Large Breeds
Many dog food companies now make special formulas just for large dogs. Your lab may not seem that big to you, but because labradors generally weigh over 50lbs at maturity, they are considered large breed dogs.
So what does a large breed dog need to stay healthy? According to Dr. Cheryl Yuill, DVM, large breeds need specific ratios of protein and calcium to moderate growth, especially in the joints and limbs.
This is most important during puppyhood, but large breeds can benefit from specially formulated dog foods throughout their lives. In addition to supporting optimal bone health, these high protein diets can help keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Look for large-breed formulas with added glucosamine to keep joints healthy and lower than average calorie content to avoid excess weight gain.
What to Look for in a Dog Food for Labs
A study featured in the Journal of Nutrition found that labs who were overweight and those who ate high-fat diets were much more likely to develop elbow arthritis.
When looking for a food for your lab, it is important to find one with a lower than average fat content. Labs, especially those with voracious appetites, will do best on a diet with between 5% and 10% fat.
Because labs and other dogs evolved on diets made up of animal protein with some fibrous plant matter, they tend not to do well on high carb diets. Carb-heavy diets can also lead to weight gain.
To assure a healthy carb and starch level, look for foods with higher than average protein amounts. Diets with around 25% protein or more are optimal.
In addition to keeping your dog at a healthy weight, you also want to assure your food has quality ingredients to keep them at their best. Look for foods with animal proteins as the first few ingredients.
Do avoid foods with unnamed animal proteins such as “animal digest” and “animal by-product meal.” These ingredients are unfit for human consumption and are often very low in nutrients and can even contain chemicals like pentobarbital.
Because labs are prone to skin and food allergies, you may want to look for foods that are grain free or at least do not contain corn or wheat. Rice and oatmeal are good alternative grains that most dogs can handle well.
Reviews of The Best Dog Foods for Labs
#1. Canidae Grain Free Pure Dry Dog Food
Canidae’s weight management formula is first on our list of the best dog foods for labrador retrievers because of the optimal levels of fat and protein. With 28% protein and only 9% fat, this food is by far one of the best dry dog foods for labs.
While this food is not marketed to labs or large breeds specifically, the weight management formula is perfect for larger breeds with a tendency to pack on weight. It also contains glucosamine for healthy joints.
The first three ingredients in this formula are chicken, chicken meal and turkey. With such a high volume of animal-derived ingredients, you can be confident that the majority of the protein in this food comes from animal sources, not from plants.
Overall, this food contains superior quality ingredients and it is a grain free food. This feature also makes our top pick one of the best dog foods for labs with skin allergies.
As you can imagine, all that quality does not come cheap. The only drawback to this food is that it sits at the higher end of the price scale.
Customers enjoy this food for a variety of reasons. Many rave about how much their dog enjoys it while others love what a difference it has made in their dog’s fitness and energy levels.
Not surprisingly, many customers also like how this food has helped their dog drop weight and keep those pounds off.
Not all diet dog foods would be appropriate for labs, which are typically high energy and active, but with the quality protein and low fat, this is one of the best dog food brands for labs.
#2. Nutro Ultra Weight Management Adult Dry Dog Food
Like our number one pick, Nutro’s weight management formula appears high on our list because of its optimal protein and fat content. At 23% protein and 10% fat, it isn’t as perfect as Canidae, but it is still a great choice for labs, especially those who are less active.
Because of its lower protein amounts and higher fiber, this food may be easier to digest for older dogs. This makes this food one of the best dog foods for senior labs.
In addition to the first two ingredients which are chicken and chicken meal, this food also contains lamb and salmon meal. These quality animal ingredients will help your lab stay at their best for a long time to come.
Salmon is also an important ingredient in adding healthy fats to keep your dog’s skin in great condition. Because many dark colored labs suffer from dandruff, this is one of the best dog foods for black labs and one of the best dog foods for chocolate labs.
This brand is also less expensive than our first choice and is moderately priced overall.
Customers love this food for its ability to keep their dogs thriving at a healthy weight. Large breed owners especially can’t say enough good things about this formula.
#3. Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Grain Free, Natural Adult Large Breed Dry Dog Food
True to its name, Blue Buffalo’s large breed formula contains a much higher than average protein amount at 32%. With many quality animal-sourced ingredients, this food is perfect for your wild lab.
The fat content in this formula is higher than others on the list at 13%. While this is not a good choice for sedentary labs, it is the best dog food for hunting labs on our list.
Hunting and working labs need a lot more calories than the average pet. The extra fat will give them the energy they need while the high protein content keeps them lean and healthy.
This food contains quality ingredients like chicken and turkey meal. And it’s grain free, making it a perfect choice for sensitive labs.
This formula is designed for large breed dogs and is one of the best dog foods for lab mix and lab cross dogs, especially those over 50lbs.
Many large breed foods are formulated with heart health in mind and this one is no different. This is just one more reason this food is an excellent choice for active labs.
Blue’s large breed diet is moderately priced and definitely worth the expense for the extra protein if you have a working lab or one that just likes to play fetch all day.
Customers love how this food affects their dogs, especially in helping their coats shine. Be aware that, because of the higher protein percentage, you may have to switch your dog onto this food more slowly than others on this list.
#4. Purina Pro Plan Weight Management Adult Dry Dog Food Large Breed
At 26% protein and 9% fat, Purina’s weight management food actually has a more optimal fat and protein ratio than Ultra. But we’ve rated it slightly lower because more of the protein comes from plant sources than our previous three choices.
Overall, the ingredients aren’t as quality as our first two choices. However, chicken is the first ingredient, providing a source for quality animal proteins.
This formula does contain grains, including corn and wheat, and may not be suitable for dogs with sensitive systems.
Because this food contains higher than average plant-based proteins and fiber, it is one of the best dog foods for older labs.
Another big plus for this food is it is made for large breed dogs and for those who need to lose weight or stay trim. Because of labrador retrievers’ large size and tendency to pack on weight, this food is a great choice.
Also, we can’t ignore the fact that there is a yellow lab featured on the bag. For that reason, we’ve named this food the best dog food for yellow labs.
In addition to the cute pup on the front, customers love this food because it helps their dogs lose weight and stay trim. They also rave about the affordability of this food which is on the lower end of the price scale.
#5. Eukanuba Breed Specific Adult Dry Dog Food Labrador Retriever
A new trend in the pet food industry is creating diets made specifically for certain breeds of dogs. While these diets don’t differ greatly from standard recipes, they do have some added benefits for the selected breeds.
Eukanuba’s labrador retriever formula has higher quality ingredients than many of the other lab specific formulas now on the market.
Compared to others on our list, it has a lower protein content at 23% and a higher fat content at 13%. We recommend this food for active labs that spend much of their day chasing balls or jogging with their owners.
As you might expect from a diet made for labs, this formula contains added glucosamine to help protect joints. It is also made to reduce tartar build-up and prevent dental disease, a problem that does affect many labradors.
Like many others on this list, chicken is the first ingredient in this food. This diet is not grain free, however, and does contain corn and grain. It is not recommended for labs with sensitive systems.
It is one of the lower priced foods on our list and would make a great choice for a lab whose family is on a budget.
Customers like this food because it is specially made with labs in mind. Many also rave about how shiny their dogs’ coats have become after switching to this diet.
What is the Best Dog Food For Labs?
While there are many great large breed and weight management formulas out there that are great for labs, we selected Canidae’s Pure weight management formula as the best dog food for labs. It outranked all others by having optimal protein and fat content for labs’ needs and quality ingredients.
We believe this food would do the average labrador retriever well by keeping their weight down and providing quality animal ingredients for health and longevity. It also contains glucosamine to help keep your lab’s joints healthy and reduce the risk of hip and elbow dysplasia and other joint diseases.
While this food may cost you more than others on the list, it is well worth it. And your lab will certainly thank you for it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Labs are considered large breed dogs due to their size at maturity. However, the optimal protein and calcium content found in large breed foods is most important during growth.
For that reason, it is very important that your lab puppy is on a large breed puppy food, like those recommended in the Best Puppy Food for Labs.
Once your dog has reached their adult size you can keep them on large breed food or switch them to a traditional adult dog diet. Just be sure any food you choose contains the right fat and protein content for your dog’s activity level.
Labs are not known to be picky eaters, which can make it easy to switch them to a new diet – they’ll eat just about anything! But it is still important to remember to switch your dog over to any new food slowly.
Start by mixing in about 25% new food with 75% of their original food and slowly increasing the ratio over the course of a week or so. Doing so will decrease the likelihood of stomach upset and diarrhea.
While a diet made specifically for labs is likely to have optimal protein and fat levels with added bonuses like glucosamine to help a lab thrive, it’s important to remember that many breeds have similar nutritional requirements.
Traditional dog foods are made with this larger selection of breeds in mind, but because of their overlapping needs, often contain many of the same properties as breed specific food.
Looking for a more generalized target food, like “large breed” or “sporting dog” will often get you a food with the right ingredients for your lab, but at a lower price or with higher quality ingredients overall.
If you own dogs of different sizes and breeds in addition to your lab, you may still be able to find a single dog food to fit them all. Look for a food that isn’t size or breed specific that contains average fat levels, quality ingredients, and added glucosamine. All dogs will benefit from glucosamine and quality ingredients.
If your lab is prone to weight gain, you may have to feed less of a higher fat food. Or, if you find a low-fat food you may have to feed slightly more to your leaner pets.
Summed Up: The Best Dog Foods for Labs
|Canidae Grain Free for Weight Management||Nutro Weight Management||Blue Buffalo Wilderness Large Breed||Purina Pro Plan Weight Management||Eukanuba Labrador Retriever|
|Features for Labs||High protein, low fat, added glucosamine, quality ingredients||Low fat, made for a healthy coat, quality ingredients||High protein, made for large breeds, quality ingredients||High protein, low fat, made for large breeds||Made for labs, added glucosamine|
- Cheryl Yuill. “Nutrition – General Feeding Guidelines for Dogs.” vcahospitals.com, 2011.
- Marie H. Sallander, Åke Hedhammar, Mari E. H. Trogen. “Diet, Exercise, and Weight as Risk Factors in Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Arthrosis in Labrador Retrievers.” The Journal of Nutrition, Pages 2050S–2052S, Volume 136, Issue 7. 1 July 2006.