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Working Dog Nutrition Tips
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Working Dog Nutrition Tips

Dogs
Health & Safety
  1. Training, exercise and correct nutrition are essential to ensure your working dog’s optimal performance. The energy necessary for endurance is derived from predominantly aerobic metabolism. Feeding the working dog is rather like fuelling a Formula One car. There is no way that McLaren could run their team at optimal efficiency using inferior gas when top quality fuel is what’s needed. Dogs will run far better and avoid fatigue on a super-premium, highly digestible diet designed to keep the muscles working and the blood flowing.
  2. Working breed lines are typically strong, agile and enduring. However, your dog may run greater risks of injury and stress as a result of physically demanding activities. The correct nutrition ensures that the digestive system works as efficiently as possible, thus enabling the immune system to play its primary role in the provision of optimal protection for the body, rather than dealing with food ingredients that hinder the metabolism (such as lower digestibility protein sources) and those that upset the digestion.
  3. By promoting healthy growth through an appropriate diet from puppy-hood, the adult working dog will develop strong bones and joints, and a well muscled frame. Well-developed neck and shoulder muscles allow for a greater lung capacity, better endurance and the power necessary for carrying out his duties or sports to his best capability. Injury may not be preventable by sensible feeding, but incidences may be reduced or symptoms alleviated by the provision of optimal nutrition. A strong and healthy body which is protected by an equally strong and healthy immune system has greater healing capacity too.
  4. The working dog will benefit from nutrients that help to support the additional stresses imposed upon the bodily systems. The immune, cardiovascular and musculo-skeletal systems are under particular stress during any period of prolonged physical exertion. Mental health too should not be overlooked, and the nervous system may also benefit from nutritional support to help to promote alertness and improve concentration levels.
  5. There are a number of ways in which appropriate feeding can assist in promoting good health. The timing and frequency of feeding is important. This ensures that your dog has sufficient energy at times when he needs it. Avoiding heavy meals immediately before and after exercise is common sense.
  6. All dogs require a balanced diet that provides sufficient energy for the work undertaken. Naturally, a working dog will require more calories than those utilised by a family pet. For peak performance, the diet must not only provide the fuel for energy (fat, and to a lesser degree carbohydrate), but optimal levels of the essential nutrients that the body requires to function efficiently.
  7. The energy requirement of working dogs depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise, as well as the environmental conditions in which he is working. Energy dense feeds mean that increased nutritional demands can be met during the season without having to feed copious volumes of food that take longer to digest and metabolise.
  8. Fats contain approximately twice the energy of either proteins or carbohydrates, and studies on canine endurance athletes have shown that fats improve endurance. In dogs, 70-90% of the energy for sustained work is derived from fat metabolism, and only a small amount from carbohydrate metabolism. This is why it is important to provide your working dog with optimal levels of high quality fat for fuel.
  9. Protein is a crucial nutrient, and again must be highly digestible. Chicken has one of the highest biological values, meaning that it is very easily broken down into the constituent amino acids necessary to support the structural and functional demands of the body.
  10. Working dogs may benefit from the functional ingredients such as natural antioxidants. The adverse affects that stress can have on both human and canine health are often under-rated. The working dog is particularly subject to physical stress due to the unquestionable demands of his sport. When the body is under stress, free radicals are released. These are potentially harmful and may be involved in cancerous growth in predisposed animals. Stress can also manifest in gut problems such as colitis. Other supportive ingredients may include L-Carnitine (to aid the fat metabolism and promote lean body mass) and taurine (to promote healthy cardiac muscle) joints supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin.
  11. Due to the variety of breed sizes within the dog species; no scientist has yet been brave enough to attempt to create a glycaemic index specifically for dogs – it would be a difficult, if not impossible task given that smaller breeds have a faster heart and respiratory rate and subsequently greater metabolic rates than larger breeds. That for humans can however be loosely taken as a guide as to how quickly carbohydrate ingredients within the diet will be absorbed and metabolised. In human athletes, glycogen loading (dramatically increasing carbohydrate intake) is often undertaken to improve the availability of glycogen for anaerobic energy metabolism in the working muscles. There has only been limited research in dogs, but studies thus far have concluded that glycogen loading is ineffective in the canine. A moderate level of carbohydrate within the diet however is beneficial in promoting sustained energy release.
  12. Water is essential and is used as a solvent, transport medium and lubricant. If the body’s hydration status is not maintained, then athletic performance is quickly impaired.
  13. High performance dogs require higher levels of vitamin C (an antioxidant vitamin) due to increased demands resultant from oxidative stress, so make sure your working dog’s diet includes an optimal level.
  14. There are many different methods of feeding, with commercial complete diets being the most popular due to their convenience and economy. The traditional wet food and mixer option is still preferred by many, whilst others feed raw or home-cooked diets - There are no hard and fast rules as to what is the best method. It is an absolute must, however to ensure that only the highest quality ingredients are incorporated into the working dog’s diet, and that these are highly digestible in order for them to be easily utilised by the dog. This is because every dog is an individual, with his own unique digestion and rate of metabolism. What is the best diet for one may be completely inappropriate for another. What is important, is to observe your dog and establish what kind of food suits him through close monitoring of his weight, stool production, general bodily condition, skin and coat condition, overall demeanour, activity level and of course – his appetite.

Without doubt, a working dog is a happy one. It is only when a dog bred to work is insufficiently exercised and stimulated that he becomes bored. This can lead to frustration and destructiveness. Ensuring that your working dog leads a full and active life will go a long way in promoting good health and longevity.

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