A Guide to Keeping Your Active Dog Healthy: All About Nutrition
Some dogs are more active than others. This may be because they are naturally bred for physical jobs, or because they have more outdoor activities in their lives.
If you have a canine companion that’s always on the go, with a lot of daily physical movement, you’ve got yourself an active dog.
These dogs seem to have an endless amount of energy and are at their happiest when they are outside. But in reality, they need a lot of care and have specific nutritional requirements to stay healthy.
If you’re the lucky owner of an active dog, you’ve come to the right place to know about all the essentials of an active dog’s diet!
Does Your Dog Really Fall Under the ‘Active’ Category?
Are you confused about whether your dog really is in need of an above average active dog diet? Well, let me make it easier for you.
Any dog that does physically intensive work like herding, racing, service jobs, rescue missions or even just daily jogging, is considered more active than their canine peers.
Now if your dog runs 20 minutes with you daily, that’s pretty normal. But if it’s going on runs for large distances or it’s your hour-long hiking buddy, you should definitely amp up its diet.
While active dogs may be of many different shapes and sizes, generally speaking, they’re usually quite large.
As you can already tell, all working, hunting and sporty dogs fall under the active category. But even dogs like the Welsh Corgi and Tibetan Terrier may be considered under this category, based on their activity levels.
Why Do Active Dogs Need a Different Diet?
Active dogs spend a lot of energy every day. For these dogs to be healthy it’s necessary for them to replenish this energy on a daily basis.
Because of its intensive lifestyle, your active dog needs more energy to keep its muscles lean. Also, since it goes through rigorous physical activity, your dog’s muscles, and joints are more prone to wear and tear.
That’s why it needs the right nutrients to recover its muscles and support its joints, as well as develop strong bones.
Not all dogs are equally active. Some or more than others, some are moderate and some fall on the lower activity scale.
If your dog is more active in certain seasons, it’s important to readjust its energy intake back to normal in the off-activity periods.
Essential Nutritional Requirements of an Active Dog
When you raise your dog to be an athlete, hunter or a working dog, you’ve got to be aware of their nutritional needs. The only way to select their diet is by understanding how much energy they expend.
This information is something only an expert will be able to tell you. So, go take your pet to the vet to find the guidelines for how much carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins your dog will need.
You can work on meeting these energy needs in two ways. Either increase their intake of calories or change their diet to contain more of an energetic source of food.
These special canines may need 5% to 25% more calories than usual, depending on their daily activity. Many athletic dogs may even need to consume up to 10,000 calories per day!
Fat is an extremely important element for an active dog’s diet. In dog food, they’re easily digestible and are broken down before proteins or carbohydrates.
They provide twice the energy for your dog, compared to carbs and proteins. A diet high in fat lets muscles use fat for energy while glycogen is saved. This lets your dog carry out physical activity for longer periods of time.
Certain fatty acids like the omega 3 and omega 6 essential acids are vital for any normal dog’s health but can’t be produced naturally. These keep your dog’s coat healthy and even help the absorption of vitamins.
Now a healthy coat isn’t just so your dog can look good. It’s also needed to protect your dog from bacteria during a highly strenuous activity like swimming.
However, the more fat in your dog’s diet, the more likely it is to poop.
Protein is mainly needed for healthy tissue maintenance. Intake of protein helps to increase muscle tissue and form lean muscles.
It also helps to repair the damage done to these muscles and connective tissue, due to intense physical activity in dogs.
5-15% of energy during physical activities is derived from amino acids in proteins. The three most important amino acids for any active dogs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The best source of protein is organ meats. However, protein shouldn’t be the focused source of energy in an active dog. This is because too much protein in a dog’s diet can cause excessive amino acid catabolism.
Normal dogs don’t need carbohydrates in their diet. But they’re a very good source of additional and immediate energy in active dogs. Stored glycogen from carbohydrates takes less time to break down.
Once converted to glucose, it can provide bursts of energy that lasts from 30 seconds to several minutes. Glucose is also replenished much faster than other sources of energy.
Highly active dogs can benefit greatly from grains and complex carbs like sweet potatoes.
However, carbohydrates fed to active dogs need to be easily digestible. Or else it will lead to digestive problems that worsen performance. Excessive carbo-loading can also make your dog lethargic.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals may be smaller components of your dog’s diet, but they’re still essentials.
The vitamins that active dogs need the most are Vitamin A, D and B complex vitamins like B1, B3, and B12.
Although these aren’t direct sources of energy, they help your dog’s body to use the energy that is stored.
The most significant minerals for your active dog are sodium chloride, potassium, and magnesium. These substances regulate your dog’s hormones, nerve function, oxygen transportation and help a lot of other important bodily functions.
Basically, vitamins and minerals ensure that your dog’s body is functioning properly and staying healthy.
A vet will be able to tell how the proper dosage of vitamins for your dog, based on their size, shape, and activity.
Water and Electrolytes
Since active dogs have so much physical exertion, they need more water than other dogs.
Dehydration is actually a pretty serious problem among canines and one that is often ignored.
It can make your dog tired and stressed out and even lose its appetite.
Electrolytes are also an important, but highly underrated part of your dog’s nutritional requirements. They are responsible for maintaining the blood’s pH, muscle activities and several other bodily processes.
After intense physical exertion like races, dogs can lose a lot of their electrolytes when they sweat. That’s why active dogs should be drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day.
However, don’t serve your dog gallons of water immediately after a race.
Make sure to keep offering water in small amounts, at intervals during whatever physical activity your dog is doing.
How Should You Feed Your Active Dog?
You can give your dog a commercial or homemade diet, adjusted to its nutritional needs.
When feeding your dog, it’s also important to get the right type of food bowl. Some slow feed dog bowls actually encourage your dog to eat at a healthier pace, to avoid gastrointestinal problems.
A Brief Overview of Active Dog Feeding
Sprint athletes like racing Greyhounds will need a low carb but high protein and fat diet.
Intermediate athletes like service dogs or working dogs are better suited to at least a 70-90% fat diet.
Other studies have found that endurance athletes like sled dogs perform better when they have at least 53-67% fat in their diet.
In general, dry food should have more protein and fat content than wet food.
For dry food, the requirements are - protein content more than 28% and fat content greater than 20%.
On the other hand, requirements for wet food are - protein content greater than 7% and fat content above 5%.
Luckily for us, commercial food is already proportioned with the right amount of nutrients. All we have to do is look out for high-quality ingredients.
You want your dog’s food ingredients to be primarily made from animal meat. You’ll be able to tell this by looking at the first three ingredients.
Avoid packages with fillers like chicken guts. Meat by-products are never a good option.
However, chicken cartilage is a good ingredient as it contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These substances help to slow damage to your active dog’s cartilage, which may otherwise make it vulnerable to arthritis or joint issues.
As for carbohydrates, rice and corn are the best sources as they’re easily digestible.
If your dog is moderately active for certain periods, it’s best to increase calorie intake for those active periods.
Try this out initially. If that isn’t working, you can try amping up the energy sources.
Just add a bit more fat to its meals like pork, lamb, beef or steak. Try picking the fattiest cuts of meat. You could also add a bit of olive oil to the home cooked meals to increase the fat content.
If your dog is super active though, they’ll require a more serious diet change. You will need to start adding fresh poultry fat or beef tallow to your dog’s meals. You could even save the drippings from your everyday chicken, turkey or beef meals and add it to your dog’s food.
The Three ‘Nevers’ of Feeding Your Active Dog
We’ve gone well into depth about nutritional requirements and meal planning for your dog. However, there are also some key things to avoid when feeding your active dog.
The way you introduce the diet and how you feed your dog will greatly affect its health and performance.
Never Overfeed Your Dog
Overfeeding is unhealthy for all dogs. It causes obesity, digestive problems, bloating and many other health problems.
It can be quite tempting to go overboard with treats and table scraps as rewards for your dog’s performance. However, you should keep in mind that these treats add no nutritional value to your dog’s diet.
Treats usually contain high amounts of fat and salt to make them taste good for your dog. So, their calories definitely count.
In fact, if more than 20% of calories come from the treats you’re giving, it can actually mess up your dog’s perfect diet balance!
Never Feed Right Before or After Strenuous Activity
This is a rule to live by for active dogs. Typically, you should be giving your dog its food at least an hour before they do some sort of intense physical activity.
If you feed them immediately before or after, they might suffer from diarrhea or discomfort in the stomach.
Generally, active dogs need one or two meals per day.
Never Make Abrupt or Radical Dietary Changes
You can’t just suddenly introduce a new diet with drastic changes to your dog. It has to be done gradually, over time.
Stick to changing no more than 20% of your dog’s diet over a time span of 2-4 weeks. This rule will actually let your dog adjust to the new diet a lot more easily.
You can keep introducing new elements bit by bit to prevent gastrointestinal issues.
Active dogs are an especially talented bunch of canines that need all the energy they can get. Their diet is extremely important because what they eat greatly impacts their performance and health.
Although their nutritional requirements are a tad bit different than for normal dogs, it’s pretty easy to navigate once you get the guidelines from your vet.
Just make sure that everything is in balance and you are in tune with however your dog is feeling. Performance is great, but health always comes first!
So, go on and put your newfound nutritional knowledge to good use. Help your active dog become the healthiest, happiest and best-achieving pooch in the canine world!