Lew Olson's newly revised edition is filled with an abundance of new topics and information. Whether you are new to home feeding or a seasoned raw feeder, have a senior dog or a new puppy, a pregnant mom or a toy breed, this book presents all the information you need to make the best nutritional decisions for your dog.

Working Dog Diets

Working Dog Diets

By Lew Olson • May 2003 Newsletter
Every working dog owner is always looking for an ‘edge’ on the field or in the ring for the extra stamina, endurance and drive. A popular subject in any dog sport is comparing and trying new dog foods, and hoping for the magic formula that will give that extra push for competition.

It is time, however, to consider that the working dog is an athlete and deserves the same attention and consideration that any other hopeful Olympic competitor or all star player is given. Imagine a professional human athlete in training consuming a prepared diet of processed food twice a day. Imagine that the food is cooked for three days, using inferior grade food products, and then baked into small chunks, with supplements added in after this process to stand up to nutritional requirements. Would you expect this athlete to deliver his best performance on the field? Would this diet sustain and maintain the required strength, stamina and endurance needed for the player to compete under stress at their best ability?

The dog is somewhat different than us, however, as canines are carnivores. Carnivores depend on proteins and fats for energy and life-sustaining nutrients. The more energy a dog expends, the more fat and protein are required in their system. If these energy-feeding factors are not found in the system, the dog quickly loses the ability to sustain endurance and stamina.
The main diet available for dogs today is dry dog food. Let’s take a quick look at the ingredients in this diet. Most kibble lists at least three forms of grain, if not more. Carbohydrates are not energy producers for canines. Grains are used extensively in processed foods for bulk, cost and ease in preparation. Dogs require amino acids as the building blocks for increased energy and health. Amino acids are found in proteins, most importantly, animal proteins. The cooking involved in the making of processed dog foods often destroys the amino acids, digestive enzymes, and most of the vitamins and minerals.
Finally, starchy and high fiber foods take longer to digest in the dog’s short and simple digestive tract, compared to the ease of digesting fresh foods (animal proteins and fats). Digestion takes up most of the energy in any living being, and the less time spent with digestion, the more their energy can be spent elsewhere, like the field or the ring. If food is digested quickly, the working dog will not have to carry a full belly of food on to the field, giving the dog the needed energy for working, and also lessening the chance of bloat or torsion.
Current research points to several factors that achieve endurance and stamina in dogs. Increasing protein allows for glycogenesis, which is the ability to make glucose from amino acids. Raising protein values has been found to be a definite advantage in other areas as well:
“One example is research on the value of protein2. Dogs in intense training were fed foods with protein levels varying from 16% to 40%. Dogs fed the lower-protein foods (16% and 24%) had injuries during training and all of the dogs on the 16% protein food were removed from training due to injuries. Dogs fed 32% and 40% protein had no injuries during the training process. An important goal of canine nutritionists is to provide the performance dog with a food that supplies sufficient calories from other sources to allow minimal protein usage for caloric needs. This spares the protein for tissue repair, hormone production, and the other crucial functions of protein.”
“Protein is important to help reduce the risk of training anemia. One study showed that endurance dogs fed 19 percent of their calories as protein suffered significantly more injuries, had decreased oxygen uptake and fewer red blood cells than dogs fed diets containing 24, 32 or 40 percent protein. Dogs fed 40 percent protein had the highest circulating plasma than any group throughout training, showing that the increase in nutrient needs associated with exercise cannot be met with a low-protein diet.1 In a study of racing greyhounds, Hill found that a diet containing higher fat and protein and lower carbohydrate increased performance. “We compared a 32 percent fat, 25 percent protein and 43 percent carbohydrate diet to one with 25 percent fat, 21 percent protein and 54 percent carbohydrate.” He says, “These greyhounds ran an average of 0.2 seconds faster – the difference between winning and losing a race – when fed the diet containing higher fat and protein and lower carbohydrate.”
“Protein is both an energy source and a source of amino acids. High-quality animal source proteins provide superior digestibility, amino acid balances, and palatability. Exercise increases an athlete’s protein requirement. Exercise places excess demands upon the body which result in tissue disruption and occasionally tissue damage. These tissues must be remodeled and repaired which can result in an increased protein demand. This demand can be met by increased protein ingestion. Protein can also be used for an energy source with an energy yield of 3.5 kcal per gram.”
Fat is what enhances energy for a dog. It is highly digestible and helps keep energy levels stable, unlike carbohydrates. Calories are important for a performance dog, and fat is the best source.
“The best source of these calories is fat. Either carbohydrates or fat usually provides most of the energy in dog food. It has been known for many years that high-carbohydrate foods can cause a stiff gait in endurance dogs. Further research documented the value of fat as an energy source. The VO2 Max* of highly conditioned dogs was recorded. Subsequently, the VO2 Max of ordinary dogs on low-fat diets was compared to their VO2 Max on high-fat diets. The levels of VO2 Max for the ordinary dogs placed on a high-fat diet equaled that of the highly conditioned dogs. These findings suggest that diet may play a critical role in endurance, and specifically that feeding high levels of dietary fat may increase VO2 Max and the maximal rate of fat use for energy. For the field trial retriever and other field dogs, this could result in better endurance and greater performance in competitive events. “
“Dogs that perform endurance sports generally need a food in which fat makes up more than 50 percent of the energy in the diet to help increase stamina and maximize energy production,” says Richard Hill, M.A., Vet. M.B., Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Florida.” “Optimal dietary energy nutrient distribution is different for hardworking dogs, Reynolds says. Endurance dogs benefit from high-fat diets – those containing from 50 to 70 percent fat – because fat increases energy intake due to its density and palatability. In addition, high-fat diets fed during training help to alter a dog’s metabolism so that it is better able to utilize fat and spare limited carbohydrate sources.”
“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 with hydration of the working dogs. But equally important for these dogs is water itself.
“The most remarkable increase in water loss observed in working dogs is from increased evaporation from the mouth and respiratory tract. Depending on the dog’s exercise intensity, and environmental temperature and humidity, evaporative water losses may increase 10-20-fold during exercise. At cold temperatures, the air a dog breathes in has very little moisture in it. When the cold air reaches the lungs, the air is saturated with water so that about 6% of every exhaled breath is water. In warm climates the inhaled air is more nearly saturated with water and so the dog looses less water from the lungs with each breath. However, because dogs pant to cool themselves, water loss through evaporation of saliva often leads to evaporative losses in warm conditions equal to or in excess of those in cold environments.”
It is of paramount importance to always provide fresh water for dogs around the clock, and always bring buckets, spray bottles, water and ice to any performance event. This is important in both cold and warm weather conditions.
It would appear from the above references and research on diet and energy needs for a performance dog that high fat and high quality bioavailable protein are the key components to increased stamina and endurance. Carbohydrates tend to be an area of controversy. So far, the above data has suggested a diet of up to 40% protein and up to 50% fat. This would leave little room for carbohydrates. It is difficult to find unbiased research on the carbohydrate issue. Part of this is due to the fact that most research is funded by dog food companies and the dry foods are mostly grains and starches. While a high protein, high fat diet may be recommended, one would not find this in a dry dog food.
Here are two opinions on this subject:
“Feeding only fat and protein as energy sources is not enough. Without adequate carbohydrate, hardworking dogs could be at risk for depleting stores of muscle carbohydrate known as glycogen.” It is questionable whether dogs running in multiple heats on a single day or over several consecutive days adequately replenish their muscle-glycogen stores,” Reynolds says. “We determined that an immediate post exercise carbohydrate supplement helps to promote more rapid muscle glycogen repletion in the first four hours of recovery.” This notation was found on Purina’s website, and Dr Reynolds (a sled dog racing enthusiast) is one of the Purina Company’s nutrition advisors.
One I find more interesting, as it is from 1972, and probably an opinion I agree with, is the following: “Canine Nutrition”, DS Kronfeld, University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, 1972″, excerpt from article, “Some Nutritional Problems in Dogs”, page 32-33
“No lower limit or minimal requirement for carbohydrate has been established in the dogs. Ketosis and associated sodium depletion occur in humans suddenly shifted to low carbohydrate diets. Dogs are much more resistant than humans to ketosis when fasted and fed 100% fat. Sled dogs fed a high fat (66% energy) and zero carbohydrate diet at twice maintenance has very low blood levels of acetoacetate and betahydroxybutyrate 3 and 9 weeks. There is no evidence that dogs have an essential nutrient requirement for glucose, using nutrient in the strict sense of something assimilated from the diet. Tissue utilization of glucose accounts for about 25% of the total resting metabolism in dogs and other animals. Clearly this can be synthesized from nutrient precursors of glucose, (e.g. amino acids and glycerol, in dogs fed zero carbohydrate). In this respect, dogs resemble ruminants, chicks, rats, and cats. Even in man, the metabolic changes that immediately follow dietary intake of carbohydrate deprivation abate with time. Thus, there is no minimal daily intake of carbohydrates recommended for man. It has been suggested that some unassimilated carbohydrate is beneficial mechanically in facilitating regular bowel movements. Regularity is synonymous with health in the eyes of anally-oriented people. The anthropomorphic projection of this ideal to dogs has no established medical basis. The small, foul smelling and infrequent productions of a dog fed a low fiber diet may be less desirable than the bulky, relatively pleasant herbivore-like scatterings of dogs fed high fiber diets. Or they may be more desirable. This is a matter of esthetics.”
An easy way to start feeding fresh foods is to mix it with your dry dog food. It is best to start slowly, and add more fresh ingredients throughout a six-week period if this method is chosen. A second method, and just as effective, is to simply switch them over to a raw diet directly. The method chosen depends on the confidence level and the comfort level of the owner. It is always wise to have a book to guide with this process and a mentor in raw feeding if possible.
The main components of a raw diet for performance dogs are raw meaty bones, muscle meat and organ meat. Raw meaty bones provide moisture, protein, fat and minerals. Muscle and organ meat contain mostly moisture and protein.
Carbohydrates are either omitted, or given in the form of low glycemic (low sugar) vegetables in small amounts.
Here are some examples of each group:
Raw meaty bones:
Chicken necks, backs, wings, leg quarters
Pork neck bones and ribs
Beef ribs and necks
Turkey necks (cut into four pieces)
Muscle meat:
Beef heart
Lamb (tends to be very high fat)
Venison (wild game is leaner)
Canned Mackerel or Salmon
Organ meat:
Beef kidney and liver
Lamb kidney and liver
Pork kidney and liver
Additional good sources of animal protein include:
Whole milk yogurt
Cottage cheese.
Salmon oil
Fish Oil
(Fats are also found right below the chicken skin, marbled in the beef, pork, lamb, in the dairy products and also in the canned fish)
Vegetables (pulped, pulverized or steamed):
Dark leafy greens
A sample diet could go as follows:
Morning or noon:
Salmon oil at 1,000 mg per 20 pounds of body weight (split into two doses)
An egg
A few spoons of yogurt or cottage cheese,
Muscle or organ meat
(optional) A few tablespoons of vegetables (or small amount of Bertes Green Blend)
Vitamin E (400 IU per fifty pounds of body weight)
Vitamin C (500 mg per 25 lbs body weight)
B complex (25 mg per 50 lbs of body weight)
Raw meaty bones
Salmon oil
Feed approximately 2% to 3% of the dog’s body weight per day, more if dog is lean and less if the dog is overweight. Simply check ribs, if you have to dig for them, the dog is too fat, and if you can see them, the dog is too thin.
Oftentimes questions come up about salmonella or E Coli. If a dog is in good condition, they can easily eat raw meat. Their bodies contain much higher amounts of hydrochloric acid designed to handle bacteria that omnivores cannot. Their digestive tracts are 1/3 the length of a human’s, and have the ability to digest food much faster than us. Dr. Pitcairn reports that in 15 years of recommending raw meat, he has never seen a case of E Coli or salmonella in his clients. I also recommend that anyone take the same care and safety in handling meat for a dog as you would for yourself. Buy fresh meat only, and freeze portions that are not going to be consumed right away. I often buy meat in forty pound units, and freeze amounts needed for each day. I simply defrost what is needed the night before it is to be fed. Do NOT feed frozen meat.
The difference in a fresh food diet is generally observed in only a couple of weeks. This continues to improve throughout the next few weeks. The first change is a healthier coat and skin, and next will be the increased energy level in the dog. This is not only true in younger dogs, but older dogs as well.
Vitamins and supplements are also important for creating an extra edge for the working dog, and also for protecting their health. These include:
Salmon oil or fish oil, for the omega 3 fatty acids. These help with inflammation, coat and skin and help for energy.
Vitamin C for the collagen building properties and antioxidant value.
Vitamin E to help with healing and antioxidant benefits.
A B Complex for nerve and brain functions.
Digestive enzymes and Probiotic Powder to aid in digestion and often beneficial bacteria are depleted by stress.
Flexile Plus (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, manganese, bromelian and boswellia) to help protect the joints and keep them healthy.
A good combination of the C, E and B complex is Bertes Immune Blend, and it also includes some amino acids for muscle integrity.
I recommend two good books to read on feeding fresh foods, and I recommend buying and reading both of these for full understanding of dog’s nutritional needs and how to feed this diet.
“Switching to Raw”, by Susan Johnson, at www.switchingtoraw.com and “Raw Meaty Bones”, by Dr. Tom Lonsdale at www.rawmeatybones.com
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