Wildrose and Purina are partnering on a nutrition program for our dogs. During one of several meetings between the two entities, Dr. Brian Zanghi, a Ph.D. research scientist at the Nestle Research Center, visited Wildrose during a recent handlers workshop. Brian has built a career on developing and managing companion animal nutrition studies. Not only did he participate in the dog handler drills, but he also presented an informative summary of his research findings and a broad overview of nutrition for the canine athlete. This article is the first in a series that shares Brian’s significant knowledge about a sound feeding program for our elite canine athletes.
Good nutrition and feeding strategies will enable our sporting and hunting dogs to perform at their best, as well as ensure better health throughout their lives. While there are a number of variables to consider, such as the dog’s relative activity, this article will discuss ideal body condition and feeding strategies.
Let’s look first at how to determine a dog’s body condition. Three key things to observe for are
1) the “hourglass” shape of the body when viewed from above, with a narrowing at the abdomen;
2) a tuck in the belly when viewed from the side; and
3) the ability to slightly feel the individual ribs, possibly without being able to see them. Of course the relative thickness of a dog’s coat will affect this observation.
Second, let’s consider when we should feed our dogs. Among the intriguing findings that Brian presented is that feeding a hardworking dog is best after hunting or training for the day, and not before. It takes 20-24 hours for a dog’s meal to be completely digested and eliminated as a bowel movement. Nutrition studies have revealed that metabolism indicators of a dog’s endurance performance can be as much as doubled when on an empty stomach compared to having eaten 4 or fewer hours before exercising. There is also scientific evidence from dog nutrition studies that feeding 17 or more hours before exercise results in a much greater use of fat as energy; this is compared to feeding 6 hours before exercise, which results in a much greater use of carbohydrates for energy generation. (Later articles will present more detailed information on dogs’ metabolic use of fat and carbohydrates, as well as discussing types of food.)
For our dogs to perform at their best we must feed an amount to maintain a stable body weight and condition over the long term. Of course, this may involve increasing and decreasing the amount of food, depending on whether the dog is too heavy or too thin. Increasing and decreasing the amount of food is also necessary, depending on the dog’s relative activity. A hardworking dog’s energy needs can double or as much as quadruple over the course of the season, compared to its resting energy needs in the off-season.
Incremental Food Adjustment
When adjusting the amount of food to promote a stable body condition in your dog, always add or subtract in small, incremental changes, such as ¼ or ½ cup amounts every few days. Making large and abrupt increases in food volume is not good for digestion and could cause diarrhea. Always use standard, marked measuring cups in order to accurately regulate the amount of food.
So, to summarize, eating one meal at the end of the dog’s workday is better for its metabolism and endurance performance. Dog owners, who feed twice a day, can gradually move the dog to a once-a-day feeding by using this strategy of making incremental changes in the amount of food. Decrease the amount in the morning feeding by ¼ or ½ cups every few days and increase the evening feeding by the same amount until the morning meal is phased out.
A single-meal schedule may not be ideal or feasible for an active dog that must eat a very large amount of food daily, such as seven cups, in order to maintain body weight.