Often, when people talk about working dogs they are simply referring to a dog who has a job to do on the farm. In actual fact, there is nothing ‘simple’ about these working dogs, especially in New Zealand with our rolling hills and tough farming country, not to mention the colder temperatures of the South Island. These dogs are an extremely valuable and vital member of the working team. They play a crucial role in the day to day running of farms across the country, and they should be treated as such.
We cannot expect high performance athletes such as these dogs, to perform to the best of their potential ability on a substandard diet. High quality nutrition is required for optimum performance as with human high performance athletes.
Unfortunately it is not uncommon for our veterinary staff to see these dogs in sub-optimal condition, often having a low body condition score (BCS) (i.e. too thin!) and a dull, lack-lustre coat.
These dogs are expected to work extremely hard on a daily basis, sometimes for several hours running up and down hills, mustering stock and often out in the heat of the day or the pouring rain. If these dogs have low body condition to begin with, they have little ability to store fat to burn for energy or to help protect themselves against the weather.
Risks of low body condition in dogs
- Young animals – poor growth and bone development, leading to early onset arthritis and organ dysfunction
- Compromised organ function and overall length from life
- Pain – skeletal protrusion can cause discomfort in a kennel with no padding, leading to pressure sores
- More susceptible to illness and injury, with a prolonged recovery time
- Muscle wasting
- Struggle to work/function optimally as low fat reserves mean minimal energy stores for the day’s work.
There are some theories advocating that working dogs should be maintained in ‘lean’ condition, with the idea around this being that if these dogs are any heavier, they struggle with fitness on the hills. There has been some work done around this theory taking into account the health and energy levels of the dogs. This work has found that it is much better to feed a sufficient amount of a high quality nutritious diet to optimize working abilities and overall performance, and the old adage “not too heavy, not too light” – works.
For more information about Body Condition Scoring for working dog performance, optimum working dog diets contact your local Anexa Vet Clinic.