Working Dogs

Caring for your working dog

Your working dog is a vital staff member to your business. Working dogs have slightly different needs to your pet dog, especially in terms of nutrition. We are here to advise you on how to get the best from your four legged staff member.

Feeding and nutrition

 Unsurprisingly, the energy requirements of working dogs are at least two to three times higher than pet dogs. It has been estimated that a Huntaway, after work on a cold day, will need to consume up to 5000 Calories.  This is twice the calories that the average human requires!

A recent survey has shown that one of the most common problems NZ farmers have with their dogs is excessive weight loss. Although commercially prepared biscuits and farm-kill meat can be sufficient for some working dogs, this diet may not be ideal:

  • Meat in NZ has been found to be marginal or deficient in several minerals including iodine, B, A and E vitamins
  • Unless whole bones are being fed, the diet is very low in calcium
  • Feeding bones provides many minerals, but comes with a risk of serious and illness including constipation or even life-threatening gut blockage.
  • Symptoms such as poor skin healing, susceptibility to fractures, joint problems and a lowered immune system have all been linked with poor nutrition. Dogs in poor condition are also much less able to cope with serious illness.

A dog’s coat can be a giveaway as to its nutritional status – the coat should be glossy and smooth, without dandruff. Working dogs should be lean and muscular, but not skinny. Speak to your vet for nutritional advice if you are having trouble keeping weight on certain dogs, or you have questions about the diet that you feed your working dogs.

Tips for Feeding Working Dogs

  • Do not feed directly before exercising. Eating directly before exercise can result in abdominal pain, vomiting, and even life-threatening bloat (GDV; a condition to which Huntaways are particularly prone). Giving a small feed prior to exercise has not been shown to improve endurance.
  • Feeding within 2 hours after finishing exercise results in maximum nutrient absorption.
  • Keep in mind that during seasons of high exercise some dogs may not be able to physically eat enough food in one sitting to fully replenish what has been used. Consider twice daily feeding at these times. 
  • Hard working dogs will need to eat a high quality food even on days they have not worked, to make up for the losses on really hard days.

What to look for in a good food:

  • A high-calorie, low-bulk diet – this ensures that the dog isn’t ‘filled up’ with low energy materials

  • 20% fat is ideal – this level of fat provides the right energy source for dog muscles in hard work

  • 30% high-quality protein promotes lean muscle mass and aids in growth and repair of muscles.

  • Dry diets contain three to four times the nutritional value of wet food

Paws & Teeth

Some dogs have softer paws, which can wear down with work on hard ground. There are options for these dogs, such as pad sprays and working boots, that will allow them to work more and longer days.

Most working dogs have broken teeth – many of these dogs have sore and infected tooth roots abscesses. Like us, sore teeth can affect their appetite and energy level. Next time your vet is out on farm, ask them to have a look inside your dog’s mouth.


Working dogs, especially Huntaways, often get arthritis earlier in life. If you dog is slowing down on the job, lagging farther behind the pack, or slower to move around after a hard day’s work, it probably has arthritis.

If you treat arthritis early (before it forces your dog into retirement) you WILL get more working days out of your dog. Talk to your vet about your options – there are special joint foods, supplements, canine anti-inflammatories, and arthritis injections that can go a long way to improving the joints of your best worker. 

Fleas / Ticks / Lice / Worms

Prevention against both internal and external parasites is important for all dogs.

Top 3 Reasons for controlling parasites in farm dogs:

  • Worming sheep dogs is paramount in controlling sheep measles (hydatid cyst), as the eggs are spread via dog faeces.
  • Parasites are a welfare concern; at best they are a source of great irritation and discomfort, and at worst they can cause severe illness.
  • Working dogs with worms may not have as much energy or be able to perform to their full capacity.


Which products are best?

There are a range of options when it comes to preventative treatments; tablets, spot-on products, and collars (fleas and ticks only) are usually the preferred treatments. Beware cheap supermarket products as they may have questionable efficacy. For sheepdogs, regular MONTHLY worming with a product containing the drug Praziquantel is really important in the prevention of sheep measles. Speak to your local vet if you want regular worm treatments mailed to your farm.       

  • Be well ventilated
  • Be cool and shady in summer, and warm in winter
  • Be draught free. On cold nights, a dog cover will help reduce energy losses, maintain condition, and reduce feed requirements (especially in older dogs).
  • Be raised off the ground to ensure good drainage
  • Have separate eating and sleeping areas to help keep bedding dry
  • Have comfortable, warm bedding
Reproductive management

Remember that dogs will be fertile from 5-7 months of age; pregnancies at this young age are not recommended, so you must ensure actions are taken early enough to prevent them.

If an unwanted pregnancy does occur after a mis-mating, it can be terminated with two injections 24 hours apart. However, this drug is very expensive; therefore it is preferable to prevent the situation in the first place.

In bitches and dogs that have no breeding prospects, surgical (permanent) sterilisation should be considered. There is no difference in stamina or work ability between entire and desexed working dogs. Aside from unwanted pregnancies, bitches that are on heat can create aggression amongst the other dogs, as well as  distract them from their work.

There are also health benefits to desexing dogs.


  • Spaying bitches will prevent pyometra, a life threatening infection in the uterus
  • Entire females have an increased risk of breast cancer in middle age. Speying a bitch early (before her first heat) drastically reduces the chance of this occurring.


  • Entire males commonly develop enlarged prostate glands with age. This can be cause of constipation, pain on defecation, and recurrent bouts of prostatitis – resulting in a dog that needs to be castrated late in life.
  • Testicular and anal cancers also occur more frequently in entire males.

Veterinary services


Core dog vaccines cover distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, parainfluenza virus, leptospirosis and coronavirus. Of these diseases, parvovirus and leptospirosis are the most prevalent and significant in our areas. Both of these diseases are deadly to dogs.

After an initial vaccination followed by a booster 4 weeks later, annual boosters are required to ensure protection from Leptospirosis. Parvovirus boosters are given every 3 years.

What is Parvo?

Parvovirus infection causes reluctance to eat, depression, vomiting and diarrhoea, usually in unvaccinated puppies. Without rapid veterinary treatment, Parvovirus will cause death.

What Is Lepto?

Leptospirosis is a growing cause of dog illness and death in our area. Leptospirosis is caused by a bacterium, and dogs are usually infected by ingesting food or water contaminated by the urine of rats, stock, or from another dog infected with Lepto. Signs can be vague and include lethargy, depression, and vomiting. Because of the vague initial symptoms, presentation to the vet is often delayed and by the time we see the dog, it is often in fatal liver/kidney failure.


If you are not intending to breed from your puppy in the future, we strongly recommend you get him or her desexed.
Spaying can reduce problems like mammary (breast) cancer and eliminate problems like pyometra (life-threatening infection of the uterus) in female dogs. Obviously it also avoids bitches coming into heat, and  unwanted puppies. In males neutering can reduce roaming and other unwanted behaviours. It also decreases the chances of prostate problems later in life.
Usually the desexing surgery is recommended at around 6 months of age. Your vet can advise you on the best time to desex your puppy.


Working dogs on farms can be exempt from microchipping. Talk to your vet about whether this is the case with your puppy. We strongly recommend microchipping for all dogs, especially valuable working dogs.
We also recommend that your dog is registered with the NZCAR to provide 24/7 access to the national online database.

Check out the latest advice from our vet team

Find out more about Anexa Vet Sheep and Beef Services
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