Feeding working dogs

Working dog nutrition

Farm working dogs are unlike any other working dog group - they require both endurance and speed in their day-to-day work, and designing an appropriate diet for this can be difficult.

Ideally the diet should be high in fat and low in carbohydrate, as this seems to be the optimum for endurance with intermittent bursts of speed.

Protein levels are important as it has been found in a study of sled dogs that the group fed a lower percentage of protein in the diet (19% versus 24%) had eight times more musculoskeletal injuries than those in the higher protein group. This is likely to be due to the amount of protein required to repair strain and microdamage done to muscles during hard work.

Calorie content needs to be factored in also. Working dogs need one and a half to three times the calorie requirement of pet dogs, and this may increase by another 50% when working in cold weather. Foods that are calorie dense are best to feed or it may be physically impossible to feed the amount of food necessary to meet the calorie requirements of dogs in hard work. Where large amounts of food are required to meet basic calorie demands, the risk of poor digestion and twisted stomach follow.

Poor immunity, susceptibility to disease and poor wound healing have all been associated with suboptimal diets in New Zealand working dogs.

Meat only diets are often deficient in iodine, calcium, phosphorus, copper, and vitamins A, E and B12. Feeding a good quality commercial diet will make up for these deficiencies as long as meat comprises no more than 30% of the diet. Including bones within the meat will supplement calcium and phosphorus but comes with all the attendant risks of gut obstruction or perforation and constipation.

The easiest way to ensure all nutritional requirements are met is to feed a diet specifically formulated for working dogs, with a protein source as the primary ingredient, rather than a carbohydrate.

For advice on which food to feed your working dog (or pet) talk to the team in your clinic.