Diet plays an important role in the endurance potential of canine athletes. The Alaskan sled dog might be considered the ultimate canine athlete, sometimes pulling a sled more than 1,000 miles in subzero temperatures. Providing a well-balanced diet is essential to meet the special needs of dogs in such nutritional-stress situations. Not only should the diet fed to these dogs be high in protein, but it also should be high in fat, which serves as the major energy source for exercising muscles.
High Nutrient Demands
Dietary Effects on Performance
A high-fat diet can help muscles burn fat more efficiently. During sustained exercise, fatty-acid oxidation is the primary source of energy for the muscles. Increasing the efficiency of fat metabolism spares the body’s use of carbohydrates, and because most dogs have in excess of 10 to 50 times more energy stored in fat than in muscle glycogen (carbohydrate), this might boost the animal's exercise performance.
IAMS™ studies1 have shown that in trained sled dogs as in ordinary dogs, exercise performance was enhanced by switching from a low-fat to a high-fat diet (from 25 to 65% of calories from fat), as indicated by increased:
- Mitochondrial volume—Increasing the volume of the muscle cell's "power houses" increased the capacity for fatty-acid oxidation.
- Aerobic capacity—Muscles were better equipped to utilize fatty acids for fuel because of increased ability to utilize oxygen.
- Fatty-acid oxidation—By increasing fatty-acid utilization during exercise, more energy was released for the muscles to use.
When dogs were switched back to a low-fat diet, all of these criteria decreased to their previous values.
These results indicated that by increasing the availability of fat stores and capacity to metabolize fat for energy, a high-fat diet promotes exercise endurance in canine athletes.
1 Reynolds AJ, et al. “The effect of diet on sled dog performance, oxidative capacity, skeletal muscle microstructure, and muscle glycogen metabolism.” Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutritional Research: Proceedings of the 1996 IAMS International Nutrition Symposium. Carey DP, Norton SA, Bolser SM, eds. Wilmington, OH. 1996. 181–198.
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Switching your dog to a new food takes some planning. Because dogs are creatures of habit, they tend to prefer their current food to a new food. Like us, they become accustomed to a food and might not be thrilled about a new routine. These useful dog-feeding tips will help you keep your dog satisfied.
4 Tips to Successfully Transition Your Dog to a New Food
1. Introduce the new food gradually.
When easing your dog into a change in diet, think “slow and steady.” Start by mixing 25% new food with 75% current food. Slowly change the proportions over the next three days or so by gradually increasing the new food and lessening the amount of the current food. Here’s a sample feeding schedule:
- Day 1: 25% new food, 75% current food
- Day 2: 50% new food, 50% current food
- Day 3: 75% new food, 25% current food
At the end of this weaning process, you should be feeding 100% of the new food. Your dog may want to eat only the old food, or not eat at all. Don’t worry — a healthy dog can miss meals for a day or two with no ill effects.
2. Watch your body language.
Bringing a new food into your home, pouring it into your dog’s bowl and declaring that he should eat it might cause your dog to go on a hunger strike. This is not the time to show who’s boss. It’s better to introduce the new food by using a pleasant tone of voice and gently encouraging him to try the new food.
3. Don't give in to demands.
Persistence is key! For the first two days of the food transition, don’t give your dog treats or table scraps. Dogs train us as much as we train them. Giving in to their demands only reinforces refusal behavior and makes it more difficult to make a nutritious dietary change.
4. Be patient when switching from wet food to dry food.
Switching diets may be more challenging when changing from a moist food to a dry food. If your dog continues to resist eating dry food, mix in a little warm water. You might even want to put the moistened food in the microwave for a few seconds. If you mix the food with water, be sure to throw away the uneaten portion after 20 minutes to prevent spoilage. The same rule applies for canned and pouch food. After the dog has become accustomed to the moistened food, you can wean him onto completely dry food. To do this, follow the same mixing instructions outlined above.
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