Feeding to Condition – A Guide For Working Dog Owners
Regular readers of the Gilbertson & Page blog will no doubt have noticed that we mention ‘feeding to condition’ a lot. We even published an article specifically on this subject last year – Feeding to Condition Explained. However, with a good proportion of our customers owning working dogs, we felt it was worth looking at their particular needs.
Feeding to condition is a method of controlling the amount of food in your dog’s diet by assessing the dog’s physical condition, rather than religiously following guidelines of how much your dog should be eating per day. It’s regarded by many canine nutritionists as a better way of keeping them in good shape and avoiding under or over feeding. For the owners of working dogs, feeding to condition is even more vital because of the huge amount of calories that a working dog expends during a day’s work. For highly active working dogs, sticking to guidelines could leave the dog hungry, without enough energy to work. In extreme cases, this can lead to illness.
A working dog that is physically active for a large proportion of the day, such as a sheepdog, is naturally going to use more energy than a similar sized dog that performs normal amounts of exercise. Guide dogs may not always use as much physical energy, but are using energy through mental stimulation on a day-to-day basis and will need a diet with a good source of Omega 3:6 fats and oils to promote healthy brain development. Some working dogs may have rest days when they still exercise but do less demanding ‘work’ and then follow this with lots of busy days. Gun dogs are a great example of this, having very busy working days during shooting season, but in the off season may not be doing quite as much ‘work’. Feeding to condition allows an owner to adjust feeds accordingly.
An important part of the process is the undertaking of a quick weekly condition check:
- Looking at the dog from above they should have a nice ‘line’, tapering in to a ‘waist’ and then out again at the hips.
- Looking at the dog from the side, they should have an abdominal ‘tuck’ after the abdomen. Their ribs should not be visible and protruding, but on placing your hands on their abdomen you should be able to feel them if the flesh is pressed lightly. If the abdominal tuck is severe and the ribs are clearly visible, then the dog is underweight. If there is no abdominal tuck or waist and the ribs cannot be felt, then the dog is overweight.
- Keep an eye out for other symptoms of an over or under weight dog. A hungry dog with scavenge and steal food, whereas a dog that is overeating will have an upset stomach.
- At this time it is also a good idea to check eyes, ears, nose, teeth, coat and skin to monitor general health of the dog.
How to Feed to Condition
- Start with the guideline portion, weighed out on some scales.
- After a week, check the dog’s condition by the method above. If the dog is showing signs of being overweight, assuming they are getting plenty of exercise, reduce the portion size slightly, by approximately 10%. If your dog is showing signs of being underweight, increase the portion size by approximately 10%.
- Check their condition after another week and adjust accordingly if necessary, or maintain the portion size if the dog’s condition is ideal.
- Continue to check their condition weekly.
- For a dog regularly exercising and using about the same amount of energy every day, there won’t be much variation. In which case, the portion size can now be measured by volume in a scoop or container for convenience, as long as their condition continues to be regularly monitored and the portion size is measured every so often to check it is constant.
- Bear in mind if the dog is out of action for a while, they won’t need as much food. Checking their condition will help assess in these instances.
- Always make sure there is plenty of fresh water available for your dog.
- If you have discovered that your dog is over or under weight, then you should be looking to make changes over a 2-3 month period. Drastic changes will be too sudden for the dog and will not be as effective as a gradual one.
Feeding a nutritionally balanced dog food that is specifically designed for working dogs, such as Gilbertson & Page’s Heritage Adult or Dr John Titanium, will provide everything a working dog needs to get them through a busy working day and maintain their health and wellbeing. One key advantage of dry dog foods like these is that they make it easier to control portion sizes, because they can be measured more accurately than tinned food.
It is still important to have regular check ups at the vet, who will be able to advise on your dog’s ideal weight and condition. If your dog is over or under weight and you’ve tried decreasing or increasing their food intake with no change, there may be some underlying health issue and you should seek the advice of your vet without delay.