Food for the Performance Dog
We love our dogs. Sometimes we love our dogs as much, or more, as some of the people in our lives. They’re our loyal companions in the house, in the field and on the trail. We even treat them like family members and that’s OK. Except when it comes to nutrition.
Performance Dogs Are Different
Our working and sporting dogs aren’t like people when it comes to their dietary needs. They’re not even really like other dogs. Their bodies perform differently and they need to be fueled differently because they’re not normal dogs. They’re performance dogs. They’re the athletes of the canine world and their nutrition program needs to reflect that.
Performance Food Must Be Different
There are a number of significant differences in the dietary needs of performance dogs but most of them really fall into to two major categories. First, they burn a lot of energy so they need a lot of calories. Second, they’re under a lot of stress, both mental and physical, so they need food that accommodates that.
Providing the Energy
To provide the appropriate energy, it’s important to create the proper balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates to deliver energy over an appropriate duration. This means using the right kinds of ingredients in addition to the right amounts.
- Higher levels of protein in bio-available forms are necessary to support muscle building and recovery but need to be delivered in a way that’s digestible without excess volume. Without a doubt, the best bio-available forms of protein for a dog are animal based proteins and that means meat, fish and egg sources.
- Dogs that are extremely active for hours at a time benefit from increased levels of fat in their diets because it metabolizes slower and provides energy for endurance. Fat works for performance dogs similar to the way carbs work for human endurance athletes.
- Carbohydrates must be provided in such a way to provide energy without burning too quickly and without adding too much or the wrong kind of fiber. Carbs are a nice way to put some body cover on a dog or provide a quick burst of energy. For extended activity, though, carbohydrates should not be a primary source of calories your performance dog.
Managing the Stress
This refers to both mental and physical stress because, in dogs, even the mental stress manifests itself as obvious physical effects. Stress in a canine athlete is compounded by the fact that the effects of stress on digestion make it difficult to replenish nutrients lost during extreme activity. This means a performance dog food must provide essential nutrients to replenish and recover while at the same time support optimal digestive health to enable nutrient absorption.
- Vitamins and trace minerals must be delivered in concentrated forms and at higher levels on certain nutrients than are generally recommended or required for less active animals.
- Prebiotics and probiotics can be introduced to support the growth of good bacteria and provide a healthy and productive gut environment.
- Fiber sources must be limited to only those of suitable solubility and with fermentation rates that won’t disrupt proper digestion and nutrient absorption or loosen stools.
Put Away the Nuts and Berries
Many current trends in dog food include the introduction of non-traditional ingredients resulting from the “humanization” of our views on our dogs. While these ingredients often provide very limited value to the typical companion dog, they also don’t cause any apparent harm due to low activity and stress levels. For the performance dog, though, the introduction of non-traditional protein, fat, carbohydrate and fiber sources can have an adverse and counter-productive effect on both the performance and the overall health of the dog. Remember that, while dogs aren’t true carnivores, they don’t gain nearly the same nutritional benefits from many fruits, vegetables and grains as their human counterparts. Feed them like the canine athletes they are and they’ll respond in ways that make it obvious you made the right decision.