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Feeding adult working dogs
8 January 2017 - Fiona Irwin (BVSc)
DSC 5801 Working dog nutrition.
Feeding a complete and balanced diet can make a huge difference to your dog's health and energy levels.

The New Zealand farm working dog is a true endurance athlete.  A complete and balanced diet is necessary to aid performance and allow for recovery.

To ensure your dogs have the energy to work and perform for sustained periods they need a high protein, high fat and low carbohydrate diet. 

Feeding a complete and balanced diet can make a huge difference to your dogs’ health and energy levels. Cheaper cereal based, high carbohydrate, brands will mean your dog will need to consume relatively large quantities of food to meet their energy requirements.  These diets can be marginal or deficient in fat soluble vitamins and some minerals.  A sole meat diet is also deficient in trace vitamins and minerals.  High quality animal protein, found in premium brand diets such as Royal Canin and Black Hawk, builds lean muscle, protects against infection and provides an essential source of amino acids. 

Some helpful tips and considerations regarding feeding :

-          Body Condition.  Use the body condition score system to estimate the score of your dogs.  A score of 4-5 is ideal.  There is no need for a working dog to be skinny.  When in hard work and cold conditions a dog will require more calories than when not in work.

-          Feed once daily.  This is from a practical perspective as feeding too close to starting work can be detrimental.  Because we feed once daily it is important to get all the nutrients needed, without feeding a large volume.  Premium brand diets can provide this, also minimising stool volume.

-          Feed dogs 1-2 hours after work.  This minimises the chance of gastric dilation volvulus (bloated, twisted stomach), but also allows for utilisation of the food to maximize recovery of muscles.  Dogs should not be worked within 12 hrs after a medium meal.

-          Premium brand Diets.  These feeds provide a high energy diet that is concentrated and highly digestible. They are also very palatable. They are high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrate.  The protein is animal derived instead of cereal derived.  This essential difference allows for sustained energy and muscle building, tissue repair and resistance to disease, and growth.

-          Feeds such as Endurance 4800 and  Black Hawk provide 30% and 22% fat respectively. Working dogs are much better at utilising fatty acids as an energy source compared with humans.

-          Meat/Farm kill.  It is fine to feed frozen or cooked meat but it is recommended that this only comprises a third of the dogs’ diet overall.  Meat must be frozen for 10 days at -10 degrees Celsius, or boiled for at least 30 minutes, to avoid sheep measles.

Feeding a balanced and complete diet will help to ensure your working dogs lead a long and productive life making the investment in their breeding, training and care all the more worthwhile.

Fiona Irwin (BVSc)