We always want our dogs to look great and to perform at their very best. We want our working dogs to have steady endurance and drive. We want our tracking and search and rescue dogs to hold the scent and stay on the trail. We want our agility dogs to have the energy and balance to make the jumps, go through the weaves smoothly and effortlessly, and to handle each obstacle with precision. We need our obedience dogs to stay focused and our Schutzhund dogs to have stamina, courage, and stay on task. We want our conformation dogs to have ground covering side movement and to be happy and confident in the ring. And we all want our dogs to have lean, muscular and fit bodies.
A good diet provides the energy, strength, lean muscle mass and mental focus that is needed to achieve these performance goals. Let’s take a look at the different diet components and how they help with each of these performance goals.
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“It takes a lot of energy to digest food, so it is very important to feed foods that are easy to digest, provide the most nutrients, and use the least amounts of energy. For dogs, that food would be fats and protein. The foods to stay away from are carbohydrates.”
Carbohydrates are found in plant based foods, which include vegetables, grains and fruit. The two main components in plant based foods are sugar and fiber. Dogs have short and simple digestive tracts which are not designed to ferment high fiber foods and cannot break down the cell walls which are composed of cellulose. The dog’s digestive system struggles to digest these foods which takes greater energy, creates more gas and produces large stools of undigested food matter.”
Carbohydrates are also made up of sugar and sugars can cause the blood glucose levels in dogs to go up and down. This in turn causes a dog’s energy level to rise quickly and then drop suddenly. This can create inconsistent energy spurts which can cause your dog to tire out more rapidly. Additionally, fiber binds up the digestive tract which results in a loss of valuable energy. Fat and proteins are much easier for the dog to digest and produce smaller stools. Harder to digest foods mean a full colon, which Dr. Kronfeld, DVM equated to an extra 20 pound handicap on a race horse:
Fat is the most important energy source for dogs. Fats are dense in calories which are needed when dogs are working hard and burning large amounts of calories. Fat also helps protect their cells from damage. The fat a dogs needs is animal fat. These fats are found in meat, eggs and dairy. High fat diets have been the secret for successful sled dog racing teams for years:
Another important fat is omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids not only help provide energy, they also help the immune system, fight inflammation, help keep the skin and coat healthy and are heart, liver and renal protective. This essential fatty acid is hard to find in foods and breaks down easily when exposed to heat, light or air. I would recommend using fish oil capsules and give one 1000 mg capsule per 10-20 pounds of body weight daily.
For more information on animal fats and omega 3 fatty acids see the link below:
The second most important energy source for dogs is animal protein. Animal proteins contain amino acids, which when fed in high quality and quantity, produce glucose in dogs. This keeps their energy level on a stable plane. There no energy crash and it will keep the dog focused without mood swings. Feeding a good variety of animal proteins such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, eggs, dairy and fish provides a wide variety of amino acids and offers better balance to the diet. Each protein varies somewhat in amino acids so providing a good variety of proteins insures the dog will get all the amino acids needed. Amino acids help repair tissue, keep the organs healthy and help build muscle mass. When your dog is on a diet rich in protein sources, and fresh sources offer better quality, there is no need to ever add synthetic amino acids to its diet.
Unlike humans, most dogs do not loose electrolytes during exercise because sweat is not a primary avenue for thermoregulation in dogs. Because most healthy dogs do not lose electrolytes, they do not benefit from electrolyte replacement drinks:
Water and Fat Work Together
“Fat is used by the body for energy and can be used as a metabolic water source. Fats are highly digestible, very palatable, and are an energy dense nutritional ingredient. It has an energy yield of 8.5 kcal per gram. They are also essential for the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. Fat provides a source of metabolic water. Fat metabolism produces 107g of water for every 100g of fat. Protein produces 40g water/100g protein, and carbohydrate produces 55g water/100g carbohydrate. Fatty acid ratio can also help to reduce the production of inflammatory mediators in canine skin, plasma, and neutrophils. Dietary omega-6: omega-3 fatty acid ratios between 5:1 and 10:1 are optimum.”
Feeding a high fat diet will help keep your working dog hydrated, but water is equally important. It is essential to always provide fresh water for dogs around the clock. Always remember to bring buckets, spray bottles, water and ice to any and all performance events. This is important in both warm and cold weather conditions.
Additionally, “Diets which are moderate in protein but high in fat on the other hand tend to help conserve body fluids, in three ways. First they minimize urine output by reducing the amount of nitrogen which must be eliminated from the body. Second, they provide a more concentrated source of nutrients, thereby minimizing stool volume and fecal water losses. Third, dietary fat contributes ‘metabolic water’. Metabolic water is defined as water produced from the metabolism of nutrients. When 100 grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates are metabolized, approximately 107g, 40 g and 55g of metabolic water are produced respectively. Dietary fat yields more than its weight in metabolic body water.”
Dogs don’t sweat like humans or horses. They only have slight perspiration through their foot pads. However, dogs can lose a great deal of moisture through panting, so it is imperative to keep a performance dog hydrated at all times. The best method for doing this is to feed the dog a moist diet and have water available for them at all times. It is also very important to offer your dog water before, during and after an event, so keep a bucket of water handy throughout the event. At times, you may mean to flavor the water with chicken or beef broth (not with electrolytes, see above) to get the dog to drink or you can offer yogurt. Without proper hydration, a dog quickly loses endurance and energy and it can lead to future health problems.
Now, let’s put this altogether! Let’s take a look at the best diet and supplements you can give your dog to
provide high energy levels, endurance and stamina, and lean muscle mass.
We know what we need to avoid in their diets; carbohydrates and sugars. That includes grains, fruits and vegetables. It also includes any foods or supplements made with maltodextrin, glucose, dextrin, molasses or honey. While these are found in human body builder supplements (and it is questionable they help humans), they create energy peaks and valleys in dogs. What dogs need for energy are fats and animal based proteins.
Fresh raw animal fats and proteins are the easiest for a dog to digest and provide the most nourishment. This diet would include muscle meat, organ meat, fat and bone for calcium with 40% – 45% being muscle meat (beef, pork, lamb, fish), 5% to 10% being beef kidney or liver and the other 50% being meat with bones, which include chicken necks, backs, wings or leg quarters, pork tails, necks or ribs, as well as lamb ribs and turkey necks. If you offer a cooked diet to your dog, then don’t feed bone. Bones harden when cooked and can splinter. Cooked diets would include 75% animal based protein, including eggs, yogurt and organ meat and 25% low glycemic (low sugar) vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, dark leafy greens, cauliflower and summer squash. To provide the necessary calcium needed, you would add 900 mg of calcium citrate per pound of food served.
The idea of offering an assortment of animal based proteins is to insure your dog is getting all of the amino acids. Animal proteins vary in the type and amount of amino acids they contain. There is no need to add amino acids as supplements when you are feeding a fresh, meat based diet. A variety of meat, eggs and dairy contain the correct balance for what your performance dog will need.
Dogs need approximately 2% to 3% of their body weight daily in food, while puppies may need as much as 5% to 10%. This amount can vary due to metabolism, activity level of the dog and growth stages in puppies. And remember; don’t keep your working dog too thin. Too little fat can cause a dog to dehydrate faster, and a dog needs to have adequate rib covering for energy. I also feed my working dogs in the morning before an event, but a small, high protein, high fat meal. And you can give a dog an extra boost by giving treats of hard boiled eggs, baked liver pieces, cheese cubes or beef jerky during performance events. And *always* provide a working dog with fresh water at all times possible.
The most important supplement to add to a working dog’s diet is omega 3 fatty acids. Fish oil is fragile and can be easily damaged by heat, light or air, so giving fish oil in the form of fish oil capsules offers the best protection. Omega 3 fatty acids help enhance energy, support the dog’s immune system, protect the heart, liver and kidneys, and helps promote healthy skin and a glowing coat. The dose is one 1000 mg capsule (180 EPA/120 DHA) per 10 to 20 pounds of body weight daily. The Berte’s EPA Fish Oil capsules are an excellent choice for omega 3 fatty acid supplementation. Salmon Oil is another good choice, especially for dogs that may have allergies to other types of fish oil.
Next, it is important to supplement with the water soluble Vitamin C and B complex vitamins. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps with capillary health, prevents bruising, helps fight inflammation and promotes ligament and tendon integrity. The dose for vitamin C with bioflavanoids is given at approximately 100 to 200 mg per 10 pounds of body weight daily given with meals. For convenience, the Berte’s Daily Blend is a powdered mix that contains 2,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of dry vitamin E and 75 mg of B complex per tablespoon. It also contains kelp, alfalfa and vitamin D and A.
Lastly, probiotics, also known as beneficial bacteria, are necessary for any dog in training and for dogs that travel and are involved in performance work. The beneficial bacteria found in most probiotic blends include acidophilus and bifidus. These help keep the correct balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract, help during times of stress and aid with the absorption of nutrients. These friendly bacteria are also thought to keep ‘bad’ bacterial and fungal infections away. The Berte’s Ultra Probiotic Powder contains a blend of probiotics in an economical powder form, and dogs love the taste! Simply sprinkle on top of each meal.
In addition to proper supplementation, to keep a dog at their best fitness level, offer high protein, high fat diets and avoid or keep carbohydrates at levels low. Proper conditioning is also very important. You can’t accomplish this without proper conditioning. You need to plan for 8 weeks of good conditioning, proper diet and supplementation if you want to bring your dog to top form. Please remember, a top athlete needs to continue these good practices throughout their life to maintain their best fitness level!