Working Dogs: Feeding for Performance

Unlocking nutrition can be the key to a successful working dog.

If you were to speak to the All Blacks or Lisa Carrington about eating well for performance, you would discover they employ chefs and nutritionists to ensure they are eating the best for their performance on the field or on the water. Well, your working dog team can put some serious kilometres in and why not focus on their nutrition to get the most out of their performance?

Dogs preferentially burn fat for sustained energy over prolonged periods, with the aerobic metabolism of free fatty acids providing the energy for low-intensity endurance running.

Preseason conditioning with the gradual introduction of a high-fat diet is thought to optimise their sense of smell to detect the odours of fatty acids in the food which helps to maintain a good appetite and to make the metabolic pathways more efficient in the use of these energy sources.

Protein is needed for tissue repair and as a last resort (after fat and carbohydrates reserves are exhausted) for energy production. Feeding soon after exercise can improve both muscle repair and energy storage for the next day.

  • So feed your dogs early in the evening after the day's work, rather than late at night.

Glycogen (carbohydrate energy storage within muscles) is used for bursts of intense sprint activity, but if this is prolonged and pushes them into anaerobic metabolism, or if they have to depend on carbohydrates, they are subject to lactic acid build-up and muscle tie-up.

Some carbohydrate is still required in the diet, both because it is needed to enable the metabolism of fats but also to be available as the reserve level of energy as fat stores become depleted.

As demand continues the last resort is the breakdown of muscle tissue to provide protein which can be metabolised to energy. An important outcome of this process can be the loss of muscle mass and the increased risk of musculoskeletal injury. The lower cost dog foods often contain both high carbohydrate levels and lower quality proteins.

  • There is a reduced incidence of muscular and joint injuries in dogs fed high-quality protein diets.

Being endurance athletes, working dogs function well at a lean body condition. A body condition score assesses fat levels but the ratio of lean body mass to skeletal size is possibly a better measure for working dogs.

Stomach capacity is limited so they need a moderate serving diet that is energy-dense and contains high-quality sources of fat, carbohydrate and protein. This reduces stool volume and increases comfort when running.

  • A highly digestible diet also means there is more time to rest with better quality sleep and recovery for the next day’s work.

Internationally there has been some investigation of the incidence of heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs due to taurine (an amino acid) deficiency associated with the feeding of low-protein and high rice bran diets. While the evidence is not conclusive it does highlight the importance of the science-based determination of nutritional requirements and the formulation of complete canine nutrition.

VetSouth has a range of products tailor-made for your working dogs. If you have any questions about your team and their dietary needs, come and see one of our teams to help you discover what is best for your animals.

- Hugh Hasselman


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