Do Sporting and Working Dogs Need Different Nutrition?

All dogs need regular exercise to stay physically and mentally healthy. But some dogs need more activity — or even a job to do — to thrive. These energetic dogs are good candidates for performance-based sports and activities, such as agility, herding trials, dock jumping, hunting and field trials. Other dogs, because of their breed and temperament, are well suited to the demands of law enforcement, search and rescue, or military service.

Like human athletes, sporting and working dogs have unique nutritional requirements that exceed those of the average family dog. Read on to learn more about how to fuel these special canines for top-notch performance.

Nutritional needs vary widely

The nutritional requirements for working and sporting dogs can vary widely, which presents some unique challenges for owners and their veterinarians. Whether a canine “athlete” or working dog needs more energy (calories) and a different mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates will depend on your dog’s breed, specific needs, and the type and duration of activity he or she participates in. So although it may be challenging, it’s still important to match a dog food’s nutrient profile to your active dog.

How are the nutrient requirements of sporting and working dogs different from the family dog’s needs? We’re glad you asked!

Carbohydrates and fat provide fuel for work

Other than water, energy is the most critical part of a dog’s diet. Calories are the fuel for work, and additional activity requires the body to use more calories. In fact, the increased energy spent by a working dog is directly related to the distance traveled during that work. In addition to distance, energy needs of working and sporting dogs vary with duration, intensity and frequency of exercise. While some activities only require a 5 percent increase in energy, others may require your performance dog to use as much as 25 percent more calories.

Energy for exercise comes from three nutrients — protein, carbohydrates and fat. However, fat and carbohydrates are the main energy sources during exercise. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for sprinting dogs. These dogs tend to do better when fed a food that provides up to 50 percent of their calories as carbohydrates and is lower in fat. A high-carbohydrate nutrient profile allows for quick and easy conversion of food to energy.

In contrast, fat is the preferred energy source for dogs as the distance and duration of exercise increase, and some veterinary nutritionists believe fat likely has a profound effect on increasing stamina in dogs. In a study of conditioned beagles running on treadmills, dogs fed a high-fat diet were able to maintain pace for a longer time before exhaustion than dogs fed less fat. Dietary fat is more energy dense than carbohydrates (and protein); fat provides 8.5 to 9 calories per gram compared to 3.5 to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein.

“Work” increases the need for protein

Sporting and working dogs need more protein than typical pet dogs, even those who are walked daily. The increase in protein tends to be more pronounced when the intensity and duration of activity are greater than your dog’s current conditioning, such as at the start of a training program.

As with human athletes, exercise and conditioning produce several changes including increases in muscles and connective tissues, blood and metabolism. These changes require amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to make enzymes, blood proteins and new muscle tissue, and to repair exercise-related damage to muscle and connective tissues.

Exercise also increases the rate of amino acid breakdown. Veterinary nutritionists estimate that amino acids provide 5 to 15 percent of the energy used during exercise, depending on the intensity and duration. Most of the amino acids used for energy are essential amino acids, meaning that they can only be obtained from food. Consequently, the requirement for high-quality protein increases.

Don’t overlook this most important nutrient

Water. It’s absolutely essential, not only for normal body functions and processes, but for top performance. Unfortunately, water is often the most overlooked nutrient.

Exercise (or work) produces heat, and that’s as true for working and sporting dogs as it is for human athletes. Dogs cool themselves by panting, which causes water evaporation from the respiratory tract. Working dogs, especially those who work for long periods, and exercising dogs need plenty of clean, fresh water. Otherwise, these dogs can become dehydrated, which can reduce their performance and potentially lead to injury or illness.

What’s in your dog’s bowl?

The goals for the nutrition and feeding of performance dogs are to maintain optimal body condition and weight, support performance, and prevent fatigue and injury. Working and sporting dogs need a food that provides extra protein, carbohydrates and fat in a formula that can be easily digested and quickly absorbed by their bodies.

So does the food in your dog’s bowl provide the energy and nutrition to fuel a sporting or working dog? If not, check out Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete Adult Dog Chicken and Rice Formula, Diamond Performance, Diamond Hi-Energy or Diamond Premium Adult.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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