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Feeding working dogs

Working dog nutrition has come a long way in the last 10 years and there are a variety of feeds on the market.  Good nutrition affects a dog’s energy levels, tolerance to illness and injury, and longevity as a working dog.

Feeding a high-quality diet formulated for a high workload has been proven to increase endurance and decrease soft tissue injuries and stress fractures of bones.  Unlike pet dogs, working dogs need a calorie dense diet.  There are three key components of a diet – fat which is the most calorie dense component, protein which provides calories for sustained energy and essential amino acids for building and repairing muscles, and carbohydrate which provides short bursts of energy.

Some diets are low in protein and high in carbohydrate, they tend to be very bulky and filling.  These diets are similar to eating weetbix and many dogs can’t physically eat enough to meet their energy needs.  Dogs on these diets also tend to pass a lot of poo.

Working dogs need a diet which is

  • At least 25% protein
  • At least 20% fat
  • An energy content of over 4000kcal/kg

All this information is clearly listed on the back of dog food bags.  Also have a look at the list of ingredients – they are listed in order from highest to lowest, ideally choose a diet that has a protein listed first, i.e. chicken as opposed to chicken by-pass meal.

All food bags will also state if they meet AFFCO food standards or AFFCO feeding trials.  There is a big difference.  Meeting food standards is like making a cake according to a recipe, the feeding trial is ensuring it is edible.

The majority of working dogs will do best with a mixed diet which consists of sheep meat and a premium food.  Weight loss over a busy period is not uncommon especially in younger dogs – in these cases, dogs may benefit from a hand full of premium food when they are let off in the morning.  Food before exercise is a known risk to GDVs (bloat/twisted stomach), however, a small handful is fine and for many dogs, this snack has enabled them to maintain weight.

All our clinics stock a wide range of dog food, the most popular working dog formulations being Eukanuba premium performance and Royal Canin 4800.

We see a range of working dog problems over summer including:

  1. Heat Stress – on hot days some dogs will work themselves to a standstill, on farm these dogs can sometimes appear to have a “fit”.  If this happens to your dog cool them down as fast as possible – put them in a dam or trough ensuring their head stays above the water, and get them into the clinic. They need intensive fluid therapy to prevent internal organ damage.  Most dogs make a complete recovery.

  2. Constipation – common in older dogs who eat a diet of bones and Tux.  Many dogs often have a form of arthritis in their tail which can affect their ability to squat and defecate.  In these situations, taking the dog for a run is the worst thing you can do. This does not stimulate them to poo, instead, it dehydrates them more and can make the problem worse.  In bitches being constipated can also affect their ability to pee, please act promptly if you are concerned that your dog is constipated.


For advice on which food to feed your working dog (or pet), talk to the team in your clinic.