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Feeding for Performan

Agility dogs' nutritional needs

 – as discussed by Dr Marge Chandler,

Agility dogs are special athletes with special nutritional needs. They are required to jump, climb, stop, start and change direction at the drop of a hat. Whether you do agility for fun, or compete seriously, the nutrition of your agility dog plays an important role in his performance. Purina ProPlan commissioned expert Dr Marge Chandler to look into the matter.

When in training or competing agility dogs require two to three times the calories of most pet house dogs. Most of the calories used for exercise should come from carbohydrates and fat. Agility dogs need a moderate amount of high quality carbohydrates in their diet for the energy needed for the start of an exercise session, and the right kind and amount of fats for endurance. Many diets designed for non working pet dogs are not high enough in calories or protein for active agility dogs.

Protein is needed for muscle development and maintenance. Hard work or exercise increases the protein requirement of dogs by 5 to 15% due to the increased needs of the muscles. Protein should provide at least 24% or more of the daily calories. This will likely to be listed as 30 to 32% protein on the typical analysis on the bag label of an energy rich dry dog food. This amount of protein has been shown to improve performance and decrease injuries in working sled dogs.

A good quality protein also supports making red blood cells, which are required to carry oxygen to the muscles and other organs. Protein has not been shown to cause behavioural changes in dogs, and too little will effect performance.

However, feeding raw meat is not recommended. It is not as energy dense as a good performance diet as it contains a lot of water, and may decrease the dog’s energy intake.  It can also spoil causing food poisoning. Uncooked meat may contain bacteria that can cause illness to the dog or to the humans handling it. Adding meat to the diet may also result in the diet becoming incomplete and unbalanced with nutrient deficiencies. When extra meat is fed, calcium can be deficient, which can cause weak bones. Further, feeding bones does not usually provide adequate dietary calcium when excess meat is fed.

Similarly, homemade diets are also rarely complete and balanced, and even those published in books have been found to be insufficient when checked by qualified veterinary nutritionists. As with diets over supplemented with meat, calcium is often deficient. Vitamins are also often deficient in homemade diets, which can cause poor health and decreased immune function.

The best diets for sports and agility dogs are those formulated to meet the dog's needs as determined by European and American panels of expert nutritionists. Premium canine diets are also tested by feeding them to dogs in well regulated feeding trials.

A premium diet for performance dogs may contain Omega 3 fatty acids like those found in fish oils. These lessen the inflammation that may occur in hard working joints, and may protect the heart and kidneys as well. Exercise is known to increase oxidation, and anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E may be added to decrease tissue damage.

About the author...
Dr. Marge Chandler DVM MS MACVSc DipACVN DipACVIM DipECVIM.is a Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She has special interests in clinical nutrition and small animal internal medicine.

Marge qualified from Colorado State University with a DVM, and also completed a Master of Science in Animal Nutrition. After 6 years in private practice, she returned to university for a dual residency programme in small animal internal medicine and veterinary clinical nutrition at Colorado State University in the USA and Massey University in New Zealand. She is a Member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists, and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and the European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine – Companion Animal.

The agility dog is an intermediate athlete and as such is called upon to carry out, to a greater or lesser extent both of these types of exercise. hudleys have specialised in producing working dog feeds for many years and understand the core performancAgility dogs are considered 'intermediate' While nutrition is not a substitute for training understanding what we feed our dogs can only benefit our perfomance.