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Winter working dog health

Keeping working dogs warm overnight is an important aspect of husbandry that can sometimes be overlooked. When the ambient temperature inside the kennel drops below 20°C – not that cold! – dogs need to burn energy just to keep warm.

This is energy that would otherwise be used to maintain body condition, digest food, and repair muscles and tendons after a day’s work. Dogs that get cold overnight are harder to keep condition on, require more food to do so, and are often stiff and slow in the morning, taking time to warm up and making them more prone to injury.

Some dogs won’t tolerate bedding in their kennels, but quickly get used to wearing coats, and often line up for them at the end of the day. Kennels should be warm, dry and draught -free to retain as much of the dog’s body heat as possible. Very chilled foods shouldn’t be fed as it can take more energy to heat the food for digestion than the dog gets from the food itself, resulting in a net energy loss.

The initial outlay for jackets or new kenneling can be repaid over time by having to feed less to maintain condition over winter.

Some dogs can be hard to keep condition on year-round, especially during periods of hard work. If they are already on a high-energy working dog type diet, look for other possible causes: do they have skin inflammation that might be a drain on energy resources? Do they have more than 2-3 stools per day, that are soft or voluminous? This can be an indicator that they are not digesting their food adequately and may need a change in diet, or an investigation into gastrointestinal disease.

Working dogs are naturally leaner than less athletic dogs, but if they are too lean for whatever reason, they walk a fine line between health and disease.