One black and one golden labrador sat on grass looking right

Light food for working dogs

by Karen Cornish

Working and sporting dogs have different nutritional requirements to your average pet dog, which is why they are usually fed on performance food. These high-protein, high calorie formulas offer a slow-release form of energy designed to improve the stamina of active dogs.

However, there are times when high-energy dogs are not so active - such as gundogs out of hunting season and farm dogs undergoing rest periods – and at these times they can benefit from a change of diet.

What is light or maintenance food?

Light or maintenance dog foods contain fewer calories than standard adult foods but are still packed with all the nutrients a dog needs for optimal health. Light diets are often recommended for overweight pets that need to shed a few pounds but they are also very useful for people with working dogs.

If your usually highly-energetic working dog suddenly becomes less active – such as experiencing a reduction in their workload or recovering from an injury – it can be all too easy for them to start piling on weight if they continue eating the same food. For working dogs inactive for a while, a switch to a light or maintenance diet will ensure they are kept in a good working condition until they can be more active.

Performance diets contain a high percentage of protein – which is vital for hard working gundogs – but at the end of the shooting season there is not usually a need for such a high level of protein. With a sudden reduction in activity, the extra calories provided by performance food are converted into stored fat, leading to weight gain. A dog that puts on weight during this ‘down time’ will be much harder to get back into condition ready for the start of the next season.

Why switch to light?

By switching to a light food, your dog will still receive all the key nutrients a working or active dog needs to maintain strong muscles, teeth and bones, without putting on any extra weight. You could achieve the same effect by simply reducing the amount of performance food that your dog is fed, but they are likely to notice the smaller portions. The beauty of a light formula is that a dog will receive meals the same size so will not feel like they are being short-changed!

Not all working and sporting dogs will experience a need for reduced calories, so nutritional needs should be judged on an individual basis. Some dogs maintain a high level of activity outside of the shooting season with participation in canine sports or living alongside very active owners. For these dogs it may not be necessary to change their diets.

Look at your dog’s activity over a year and plan ahead for times when they might be much less active. If you wish to transition your dog on to a light food, you will need to do so gradually over a period of seven days to avoid stomach upsets. It is then important to closely monitor your dog’s condition.

How do I know if my working dog is in the best condition?

‘Feeding to condition’ is a method of controlling what a dog eats based on their physical condition rather than by following the product guidelines on daily amounts. If you monitor your dog’s condition on a regular basis, you can adjust the amount of food they are given if they begin to look like they are losing or gaining weight. This allows you to tailor your dog’s diet to their unique requirements.

Monitoring condition

Working dogs should be lean with clear muscle definition. When viewed from above your dog should taper at the waist and then go out again at the hips. If they have no visible waist, it is likely they are overweight. If the curve from their hips to their ribs is very prominent, it is likely they are underweight.

When viewed from the side your dog should have a ‘tuck’ after their abdomen. Their ribs should not be visible but you should be able to feel them with gentle pressure. If their ribs can’t be felt, it is likely they are overweight and if their ribs are prominent, it is likely they are underweight.

For more information on your pet’s diet speak with your local in-store Registered Animal Medicines Advisor