Feed to fuel your hunt

Written by Brandon White on .

Training, exercise and correct nutrition are essential to ensure your working dog’s optimal performance. Food is fuel, and working dogs will run far better and avoid fatigue on a premium, highly digestible diet designed to keep the muscles working and the blood flowing.

Working dog breeds are typically strong, agile and enduring. However, they may run greater risks of injury and stress. The correct nutrition ensures that the digestive system works as efficiently as possible, enabling the immune system to play its primary role in protecting the body, rather than dealing with food ingredients that hinder metabolism.

Promoting healthy growth through an appropriate diet from puppyhood allows adult working dogs to develop strong bones and joints and a well-muscled frame. Strong neck and shoulder muscles allow for a greater lung capacity, better endurance and necessary power for carrying out his duties or sporting activities. Sensible feeding may not prevent injury but may reduce incidences or alleviate symptoms. A strong, healthy body that is protected by an equally strong, healthy immune system has greater healing capacity, too.

For working dogs, the immune, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems are stressed 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.

Fitting feed

Timing and frequency of feeding is important to ensure that your dog has sufficient energy at times when he needs it. Avoid heavy meals immediately before and after exercise.

In the stomach, digestive enzymes start breaking down the food to enable nutrients to be absorbed later in the digestive sequence. As the food moves through the small intestine, proteins and fats will be absorbed. The large intestine further breaks down nutrients—in particular, dietary fibers and carbohydrates. Finally, water is removed in the colon and the last amounts of fat absorbed.

You will know if the diet is not suitable. For example, digestive odors and poor stool quality are early signs. Loose stools or diarrhea may suggest that the feed is causing digestive upset. Coat condition can suffer if the fat level and fatty acid balance are not suitable, and skin conditions and ear problems can indicate food allergies.

When moving to a new diet, it is important to switch slowly to be sure that changes are accepted well. Try the new diet for at least a month before making a final decision on how it is working. Some changes will take this long to appear in the coat and general condition.

Balancing act

All dogs require a balanced diet that provides sufficient energy for the work they are bred to do. Naturally, a working dog will require more calories than a family pet. For peak performance, the diet must not only provide the fuel for energy but also optimal levels of essential nutrients that the body requires to function efficiently.

The energy requirement of working dogs depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise as well as environmental conditions. Energy-dense foods allow increased nutritional demands to be met during the season without having to feed large volumes of food that take longer to digest and metabolize.

Fats contain approximately twice the energy of proteins and carbohydrates, and studies on canine athletes have shown that fats improve endurance. In dogs, 70-90 percent of the energy for sustained work comes from fat metabolism, and only a small amount from carbohydrates. This is why it is important to provide optimal levels of high-quality fat for fuel.

Protein is a crucial nutrient, and again must be highly digestible. Chicken has one of the highest biological values, meaning that it is easily broken down to support the body’s structural and functional demands.

Working dogs may also benefit from functional ingredients such as natural antioxidants. The adverse affects of stress on both human and canine health are often underrated. Working dogs are particularly subject to physical stress due to the demands of their sport. When the body is under stress, free radicals are released. Antioxidants work against these potentially harmful effects.

Moderate levels of carbohydrates are needed for working dogs to promote sustained energy. Human athletes often dramatically increase carbohydrate intake to improve the availability of glycogen for anaerobic energy metabolism in muscles.

Research in dogs is limited, but studies so far have concluded that such glycogen loading is ineffective in canines.

High-performance dogs require higher levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin, due to increased demands from oxidative stress. Make sure your working dog’s diet includes an optimal level.

Commercial complete diets are the most popular for working dogs due to their convenience and economy. It is an absolute must, however, to ensure that only high-quality, highly digestible ingredients are incorporated into the working dog’s diet.

More information about choosing the right food for your working dog is online at victorpetfood.com. Visit your local MFA or AGChoice retailer for a trusted selection of nutrition and pet health products such as the Victor Super Premium Pet Food line.

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