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What to Look for in Active or Working Dog Food

Essentials of Nutrition for Active Dogs

By Jesse Feldman. November 05, 2012 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

What to Look for in Active or Working Dog Food

Active and working dogs have different nutritional needs from other dogs. Find out what to look for in food for your athletic dog.

If you have an active, healthy dog – congratulations! As with humans, obesity is one of the biggest health problems facing dogs today. Maintaining an active lifestyle is important for your dog. But it’s equally important to be sure you’re meeting your dog’s nutritional needs and helping them maintain a healthy weight.

How to Determine If You Have an Active Dog

A dog’s activity level can be determined by a variety of factors, including seasons (for instance, check out the top 5 nutrition tips for dogs during wintertime) and where you live—is he an apartment-dwelling city dog or a country dog with a huge yard?

Your active dog could be invaluable to your farm, herding animals daily, a police or fire dog training for search and rescue, or a companion who jogs with you every evening.

The increase in energy needed for these higher activity levels can be as little as 5%, and up to 25% more calories, depending on the amount of work your dog does on a daily basis. These increased caloric demands can be met by either increasing the amount of dog food you give your dog or by switching your dog to a higher fat diet. What is certain is that your canine athlete will need more calories when compared to their sedentary friends. Extremely athletic dogs—like endurance sled dogs—have nutritional needs that require drastic dietary differences that should be discussed with a veterinarian.

What to Avoid in Feeding Your Active Dog

Avoid overfeeding treats or table foods: You may be tempted to supplement your active dog’s meals with frequent treats and rewards. The calories from treats usually don’t  have the right ratio of nutrients your dog needs, which can imbalance the diet if you are providing more than 20% of their daily calories as treats. Often treats are tasty because they’re high in salt or fat, so keep in mind the calories in treats count toward your dog’s daily intake. Healthy or appropriately balanced treats can still be used in small amounts between meals.

Avoid feeding times immediately before or following a strenuous activity session: Feeding too close to big activities can give your dog a range of digestive problems, from diarrhea to stomach discomfort. Very active dogs should receive their main meal of the day an hour or more after their major activity session. Typically athletic dogs should be fed once or twice a day.

Avoid making drastic or sudden changes in your dog’s food: If you’re planning to increase or decrease your dog’s food intake, do it gradually by changing intake no more than 20% a day over a time period of 2-4 weeks to allow your active dog’s digestive system to adjust to the higher quantity. Similarly, introduce a new type of food to your dog incrementally to avoid any gastrointestinal problems.

What to Look for in Food for Your Active Dog 

Buying a dog food with high quality ingredients will help keep your dog from feeling weighed down while exercising. Easily digestible food is tantamount to good active dog health. Rice and corn are two of the most easily digestible carbohydrates for your dog, and contain less soluble fiber than many other carbohydrate sources.

The good news about feeding your active dog is that many dog food brands have already created lines for an active dog’s needs. As always, it’s important to read the labels carefully when selecting what foods best suit your active dog’s lifestyle.

By the Numbers: Look for these percentages in food for your active adult dog to help them meet higher energy requirements.

 

Protein Content

Fat Content

Dry Food

More than 28%

More than 20%

Wet Food

More than 7%

More than 5%

Other Ingredients: Some dogs and some specific breeds are more susceptible to joint issues than others, particularly if the dog engages in a high level of physical activity. Strenuous activity can tax a dog’s joints and bones. These dogs may benefit from food containing the supplement glucosamine. Ingredients like chicken cartilage naturally contain the compounds glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, both of which may be beneficial in slowing the cartilage deterioration that causes joint issues and arthritis. You can look for the levels of these nutrients in your dog’s food, or consider using a supplement.

More on Nutrition and Dog Food

Find the Right Food for Your Dog
Food Allergies in Dogs
Holisitic and Organic Dog Food

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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