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Working Dog Nutrition

Keep Them Going for Longer

By Lauren Bleaken – Technical Services Veterinarian for Eukanuba NZfarm-dog-in-trough-nvg

There’s no question that farm dogs really are the hardest working creatures around. Your average farm dog will run somewhere between a half and a full marathon on any one day. As such, the food we feed them is really important, though often overlooked.

Imagine a human athlete who regularly runs marathons – nutrition becomes a very important part of the training programme. Without eating properly, these athletes tell us they get tired quicker, can’t run as fast and struggle to recover quickly after exercise. We know the same is true for our canine athletes, though they are a little less vocal about it.

So what is it that farm dogs need in their diets? There are several key components that really matter when thinking about diets. These are:

High fat: Dogs don’t convert food into energy the same as people. When we think of our human athlete example and diet, we might think of how human athletes like to ‘carb load’. This is because humans use carbohydrates as their main energy source during exercise… dogs don’t! Dogs actually use fat as their main energy source during exercise, meaning they need a high fat diet in order to perform best. Not only can a high fat diet improve performance, but feeding a good diet around 8 weeks before peak season improves their fat burning capability by 20-30% – which both improves performance and reduces fatigue at the end of the day. Carb loading in dogs causes lactic acid build up, which causes muscle pain, excess panting, and pain or reluctance to work the next day.

High protein: Nearly every organ, hormone and structure in the body uses protein as its building blocks. You actually can’t live without protein. Not only is it important for muscle building, but it is also important for healing, and many normal body functions. Working dogs put a lot of wear and tear on their bodies, and need to be fit and strong in order to run all day. As such, a high protein diet is critical. A recent study has shown that feeding dogs high protein diets results in 8x less muscular injuries.

Joint support: Working dogs are harder on their joints that other more sedentary dogs (jumping over fences & on and off quads/utes) – this can result in arthritis which will progress with time. Joint support can slow this process down, but is better when given before the injury even happens. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the building blocks of cartilage, and improve cartilage resistance to damage. A good diet for working dogs should have joint support in its formula.


So they need high protein levels to prevent injuries – can’t we just feed home kill? While home kill can be considered a wonderful fat and protein supplement, it has many vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which is not ideal for overall health and may actually cause some serious health issues.

So they need a high fat diet, can’t we just add fat to a cheaper biscuit? While high fat is needed for energy, overall health support is what keeps them in the field – working day-in and day-out. Cheaper biscuits ore often very high in carbohydrates, leading to unintentional carb-loading.

Can’t I just feed them up in peak season? Pre-season conditioning has become important as well ,as studies have shown that feeding a high fat diet 8 weeks before peak season enhances fat burning by 20-30%. This improves performance and reduces fatigue. Feeding a high quality, balanced diet allows more nutrients to be absorbed, meaning more benefit for the dog over a poorer quality diet.dog-on-farm-bike-nvg

Any other tricks or tips?

Feeding times:

Feeding straight after exercise can improve the muscle repair and energy storage for the next day, allowing for better recovery and less fatigue. There should also be at least 8 hours between the meal and work to avoid stomach discomfort, vomiting and possibly bloat.

Body Conditioning Scores:

Try using a Body Condition Score (BCS) to see if your dog is at the right weight and condition for peak performance. A BCS is score on a scale 1-9, where 1 is emaciated, and 9 is obese. Most working dogs are 5/9 or less. Studies have shown us that a dog with a BCS of 4/9 actually are the most efficient, and perform better than any other score. This just goes to show that although a lean 2/9 may seem to cost you less in feed, they’re actually costing you more in lost performance.

To score your dog, run your hands over them – ribs should be easily felt, but not jutting out. Hip bones should be covered, and not bony. The waist should be nicely tucked in, not flabby.

Housing and Bedding:

Another important and easy way to help your working dogs get into peak condition for the working season is through good housing and bedding. We easily under-estimate how much energy can be used trying to keep warm in a drafty kennel. A drafty and/or damp kennel actually costs you money in the form of increased food requirements – the colder the dogs are, the more energy and muscle mass is used to keep warm, and not for the job for which they are needed.

This can be fixed by ensuring the kennels are water-tight, have small doors, are in a sheltered area of the yard, and by providing bedding that keeps drafts from seeping up through the floor boards.

Bedding also has the added benefits of taking   pressure off of the muscles and joints, making dogs quicker to warm up and get working in the mornings.

So what does all this mean?eukanuba_logo

By now we know that high fat is needed as the fuel for our working doges, and that high protein is needed to prevent injuries. But how can we optimize our dogs’ performance though nutrition?

The quality of the diet, meal times and season preparation can all play a part. Eukanuba Premium Performance is tailored to meet the needs of working dogs – not only does it contain high fat for endurance and high protein for injuries but it also addresses 8 other key areas of health and well being. Its custom formula minimizes the chance of gastro-intestinal, skin and ear infections and optimizes bone, joint, immune, brain and dental health and body condition – to keep them in the field for longer. Talk to one of our staff about the benefits of Eukanuba Premium Performance food.

Thanks to Eukanuba/Master Pet for the use of this article.