Keeping your Newfoundland Healthy – A Look at Diet & Condition
This article is the second in our promised series that looks at specific dog breeds from the perspective of diet and how this relates to condition. We’re fortunate at Gilbertson & Page to have a canine nutritionist, Samantha Ware, who is both highly-qualified and actively engaged in research projects. Read on for some of these notes based upon that research.
Even if you’re not a Newfoundland owner, you’ll probably have been impressed by these very strong dogs at shows and country events. They tend to be hard to miss, especially as a noisy pack, and seem to enjoy pulling carts around courses.
Newfoundlands are a giant breed and, therefore, what you feed your dog should be suitable for their larger mouth size and their increased physiological requirements. At a simple level, a large to extra-large dog biscuit is ideal to encourage them to bite properly into the biscuits rather than just hoovering up their food without effort. This will help with abrading and cleaning their teeth and it also encourages early satiety signals to the brain (i.e. I’ve had enough!).
Despite the restrictions of their size, Newfoundlands can have high levels of energy. This means that they may need joint protection depending on how this energy is expended. If they are sporting or working dogs (undertaking rescue or swimming work, for instance), then they may also need generally higher levels of nutrients and energy from their diet for endurance and stamina.
Newfoundland dogs can have beautiful coats, but they need a lot of maintenance. Their love of water and their coats slow drying time (due to the sheer amount of fur) means that you need somewhere suitable for them to work the worst out of their coats. A ventilated, tiled area would be perfect. Quite a lot of Newfoundland owners invest in a blaster (an extreme form of hairdryer especially for long haired dogs), which can help to quickly dry and clear out the debris from their coats and skin. They don’t like to be too warm and a cooler environment will encourage a better winter coat and condition. Conversely, in the summer it is particularly important to prevent them from overheating by keeping them out of the sun and restricting exercise to the coolest part of the evening. Tin baths and other water features in the garden (sprinklers, paddling pools etc.) are a great way to amuse a Newfie and cool them down during the summer months.
Newfoundlands are loving, laid back dogs but they also have a sense of fun and are highly intelligent. They respond to training well and have many natural abilities in scenting, obedience, agility and tracking. Swimming is a particular love of theirs, and it is important to start them swimming from an early age (6 months – 1 year old), preferably at a Newfoundland club where your dog will learn in a safe, controlled environment. For more details, try the UK Newfoundland Club.
The growth period is a long one with Newfoundlands. Even at 5 months of age, they will only be 50% of their final weight and they may not fill out into their final adult shape until between 18-24 months of age. Giant breeds such as these need lower nutrient and mineral levels in their diet for growth than smaller dogs. This helps to prevent excessively rapid weight gain which could lead to skeletal problems, so it’s important to find the correct growth diet that suits your dog over this period of time. Some Newfoundland puppies may have an increased requirement for tyrosine and phenylalanine at certain points during growth. The key indicator for this is that their coats turn a reddish colour. Adding a spirulina seaweed supplement (high in these amino acids) can prevent this becoming a long-term deficiency.
Sadly, Newfoundlands don’t have a particularly long life span and typically live to between 8 and 10 years. As a result, these dogs become seniors quicker than other breeds and often show early signs of arthritis and stiffness at 6 -7 years of age. A good nutritional joint protection and support aid should be fed from adult upwards, but monitoring their weight as adults and seniors to make sure there is no unnecessary strain on their joints and bones or cardiovascular system is a good preventative strategy. Feeding a light senior diet with good digestibility, such as Gilpa Kennel, would be ideal as they get older.
Specific Dietary Issues for Newfoundlands
Newfoundlands have a nutritional anomaly in that they have an increased requirement for taurine compared with other dogs. Taurine is needed by dogs for a healthy cardiovascular system and, without a sufficient level of this amino acid, heart diseases can develop. Other later-affected systems are vision, reproduction, growth and immunity. Taurine can be synthesised by the dog from other amino acids, in particular methionine and cysteine, so the ideal diet for a Newfoundland would be rich in either of these sources. However, some common animal proteins are a poor source of these amino acids, in particular lamb and soya, so a chicken or beef based diet would be more suited to the Newfoundland.
Newfoundlands are a deep chested breed so are at risk of gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV or bloat) and, unfortunately, are quite prone to the disease. Prevention is important, so avoid ingestion of large quantities of water or food and concentrate on feeding little and often. Avoiding high fat diets is very important as these increase the specific GDV risk. This condition is also more likely to occur on a hot day than a cold one, so be more aware of the symptoms on these days, because catching this early can lead to a more favourable outcome at the vets. The symptoms to watch for are: anxious behaviour, depression, abdominal pain and distention, collapse, excessive salivation, and vomiting to the point of unproductive dry heaving.
Unfortunately, as a breed, Newfoundlands are very prone to hot spots (pyotraumatic dermatitis), the cause of which is often unknown. One theory gaining popularity is that these dogs have a hypersensitivity to the initial cause (flea bites, ticks, allergies, ear problems, foreign bodies in the coat, muscular-skeletal problems) which irritates them and starts the scratching process. If this is then combined with hot, or humid environmental conditions (even damp), then it becomes the perfect environment for bacteria to colonise the skin surface quickly and exacerbate the developing wound, often causing inflammation which again becomes an irritant to the dog, thus beginning an itch-scratch cycle which unfortunately can take several months to stop. Preventing the irritation is key, and the environmental conditions are the first place to start. Look at keeping your Newfoundland ventilated, cool at night and dried quickly when wet, whilst grooming daily with an appropriate brush. Then find a diet that suits your individual dog (food allergies often have other symptoms than just skin irritation, so signs of poor digestion and ear problems should be acted on). Finally, inspect your dog regularly, as early diagnosis and treatment will help.
We hope that you find our article on Newfies interesting and maybe even useful. If you own an Newfoundland or are involved with the breed and would like to share any information with us, we’d be very pleased to hear from you, as we’re always keen to understand more about the needs of specific breeds.
Biourge, V., R Sergheraert. “Red Coat Syndrome: A Dietary Cause.” WAVA Congress. http://www.vin.com/proceedings/Proceedings.plx?CID=WSAVA2002&Author=2491
Backus, R.C., K. Sok Ko, A.J. Fascetti, M.D.Kittleson, K.A. MacDonald, D.J. Maggs, J.R. Berg and Q.R. Rogers (2006). “Low plasma taurine concentration in Newfoundland dogs is associated with low plasma methionine and cysteine concentrations and low taurine synthesis.” J. Nutr. (136): 2525–2533.
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Holm, B.R., J.R. Rest & W. Seewald (2004). “A prospective study of the clinical findings, treatment and histopathology of 44 cases of pyotraumatic dermatitis.” Veterinary Dermatology (15): 369–376.
Spitze, A.R., D. L. Wong, Q. R. Rogers and A. J. Fascetti (2003). “Taurine concentrations in animal feed ingredients; cooking influences taurine content.” J. Anim. Physiol. (87): 251–262.