Nutrition And The Working Dog

Nutrition And Feeding The Performance And Working Dog
Like any high performing athlete a working or sport dog requires specific feed in order to stay healthy and do their designated tasks optimally. Ruidoso Malinois recommends the following feed options.

There have been significant health issues with dogs on grain free diets.

Recommended Organic Foods:
Solid Gold
Natura Foods (NOT to be confused with Nutra)

Recommended Non-Organic Foods:
Purina One Sport for adults
Purina Focus for puppies
Royal Canin

When changing food be sure to change gradually in the following manner:
1/3 new food mixed with 2/3rds old food for 2 days.
1/2 new and old food mixed for 2 days
1/3 old food mixed with 2/3 new food for 2 days
New food only

Suggested Supplements:
Naturich's K-9 Finest

Egg and yoghurt (I cup) once a week.

Electrolytes added to water to replenish those lost due to heat and work. These are specially formulated for the working dog and can be obtained through Ruidoso Malinois. Many Enforcement Agencies and working dog kennels use these routinely.

One ice cube of juiced fruits and vegetables as per book below 3-4 times a week.

Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats
The Ultimate Diet
By Kymythy R. Schultze C.C.N., A.H.I.

Feeding the K9 Service Dog
Jean I Heidker, PhD
J Heidker Consulting
PO Box 281297
Lamoille, NV 89828

Feeding the K9 Service Dog is the same as feeding a performing athlete. As the athletic demands increase for the dog's performance so do the physical demands on the dog's body. In order to meet these physical demands the dog must have additional energy. Without this additional energy in the right form the dog's body condition and the ability to achieve the demands required of him on a regular basis will decrease. Thus it is very important to understand not only the demands that will be placed on the dog but also what the dog requires in the way of nutrition to meet these demands. Care must be taken to remember that dogs and humans do not respond to the same nutrients in the same way and what might work well for humans may actually be inhibiting the dogs performance.

Performance Level
Most K9 Service Dogs will require much more energy in a more concentrated form than the average household dog. The activities of dogs may be divided into two different categories. 1) Strength or power events which are of short duration (between 2 to 4 minutes) but are performed with maximum intensities or 2) endurance events that require power for more than 2 minutes that require the dog to perform over a prolonged period of time. These two different types of activities require the body to draw on energy from two separate sources. The first type will draw on quick stores of energy that will be obtained mainly from glucose. The second type of activity will draw on energy supplied by the oxidative energy systems which are supplied by fat loading the system of dogs.

Nutritional Components of Foods
There are three sources of energy for the body in foods. These are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

These are generally the most prominent nutrient found in common nonperformance dog foods. The carbohydrates that are digestible by the dog are the starches and the sugars. Cellulose, pectin, and gums which are termed fiber are minimally digested by the dog. These ingredients should be on the short list of ingredients for a performance dog food.

These are used by the body for energy and can also be used as a metabolic water source. Since fats are highly digestible, are very palatable and contain twice the energy of protein and carbohydrate they are an excellent nutrient for the performance dog. Fats are also needed to assist with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K which are needed to maintain a healthy animal.

Protein provides both energy and a source of amino acids to keep the dog's body and muscles in optimum working condition. Exercise increases the K9 Services Dog's requirement for protein as this exercise will place an additional demand on the dog's body. Any injury or disruption of muscle tissue will need to be repaired and additional protein will be required for this. The source of protein is very important as to achieve the greatest benefit from the protein ingested it must have the proper amino acid balance. High quality animal protein in the form of eggs or meat provide the best amino acid balance and the highest digestibility. Other protein sources may be used if they are balanced with amino acids but the body does not retain amino acids and if they are not balanced for use as building blocks they will be excreted. The easiest way to look at this is trying to build a wall with Leggos and not having the right size and shape to do so. If you do not have the right pieces then you cannot complete the wall and the body does the same thing with amino acids. If it does not have the right ones to build the protein it needs it gives up and throws them out.

Milk proteins are also excellent protein sources but care must be taken to assure that only the milk proteins are used and they are low or free of lactose as most adult dogs have lactose intolerance and this can result in diarrhea.

Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals play and important role for the canine athlete. Below are some of the functions for each.

Vitamin A - plays a role in tendon and ligament health and integrity.
Vitamin D - assists in maintaining the proper calcium and phosphorus ratio important for bone health and other metabolic functions.
Vitamin E - Acts to maintain cell membrane integrity and is an important antioxidant. This vitamin is important for those dogs using their olfactory senses such as SAR dogs and narcotic and explosive detection dogs.
Vitamin K - Helps to maintain blood conditions and assists blood clotting.
Thiamin - Helps to minimize the effects of stress.
Niacin - Is required for red blood cell production.
Cyanocobolamine - Essential for protein synthesis in the body as well as the formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
Vitamin C - Helps to build collagen and has antioxidative properties.

Most vitamin and mineral requirements are met with a good, high quality of dog food. Those that contain natural sources found in fruits and vegetables may be more readily available. Amounts of vitamins and minerals found in commercial dog foods is closely regulated and should meet the canine athletes needs.

Composition of the Food
When people first started feeding canine athletes it was assumed they would respond the same as their human counterparts. Human athletes respond best to carb loading and so the first attempts to improve the performance with dogs was to do the same thing. Much to everyone's surprise the dog's that were carb loaded had very poor stamina and stiff gaits. It was theorized that both of these conditions were due to build up of lactic acid in the muscles. Continued research shows that dogs have a very low requirement for carbohydrates and the preferred fuel for performance dogs was fat. Thus the high fat, high protein diets are those that result in the best performance and the least injury in dogs.

Dogs that are fed a diet of 28 to 32% protein tend to have fewer training injuries, more oxygen uptake and more red blood cells and less risk of training anemia than those dogs fed a diet lower in protein. Dogs that are fed a high fat diet tend have increased stamina and maximized energy production. Fats also help to conserve body fluid by reducing the amount of nitrogen that must be excreted and minimized fecal volume and fecal water loss. Further they also provide metabolic water, water that is produced by the metabolism of the fat. They also do not create the same heat of digestion as that produced by carbohydrate breakdown and can help a dog to "work cooler" in the heat. Typically fat content of a performance dog diet should be between 25 to 32%.

Carbohydrates must not be over looked when feeding the performance dog as they are needed by canine athletes to replenish glycogen, the stores of muscle carbohydrates. Water is an essential and the most important nutrient. Remember that your canine athlete requires plenty of fresh, cool water. It is important for his/her health and digestion that water is never in short supply. If you are out working on hot days make sure that the water you offer your dog is cool, but not cold or hot, if at all possible. Dogs that have been working very hard should be offered water in small amounts at first. This is especially important with large, deep chested dogs as large amounts of water may result in gastric torsion, (bloat) a life threatening condition.

Implementing Diet Changes
As with any changes in your dog's diet you want to make adjustments gradually. Abrupt overnight changes from a standard dog food to one designed for performance dogs can lead to gastro intestinal upsets. Any changes to your dog's diet should be made over a 5 to 10 day period by gradually increasing the amount of new food that you are feeding each day. Some dogs are more sensitive to diet changes than others so you will need to adjust the change over time to accommodate your dog.

Once your K9 Service Dog is on the new food you will need to give him/her time to really start seeing the effects of the new diets. Estimates are four to six weeks before the body will adjust and condition itself to benefit from the new diet. If your K9 Service Dog will be off duty for a period of time and you feel you want to discontinue the working diet please remember that it will take a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks to bring him back into condition. Frequently it is best to decrease the amount of food given but leave them on the regular diet during periods of inactivity.

Author Note: The author has been raising and training dogs for the past 45 years. She has trained dogs for hunting, field trials, herding, bite work, narcotic detection, search and rescue and handicapped service dogs. She holds a PhD in animal nutrition and feed processing and works developing specialized products for canines. She is also available for nutritional consulting or special needs consulting on a individual basis and will consult free of charge for service dogs in need.