Effects of nutrition on the performance of working dogs

Anecdotally, improved nutrition has advantages for working dogs but farmers struggle to identify what those advantages exactly are. Other studies have suggested indirectly that these improvements may be due to nutrient digestibility, slower release of glucose and a reduction in gastro-intestinal and musculoskeletal injuries. One controlled trial in farm dogs suggested that a falling haematocrit during heavy work may be preventable through nutrition. However, there is a lack of objective data to make firm dietary recommendations beyond simply avoiding deficiency. In addition, there is a lack of data to define what a healthy, let alone ideal body condition for working farm dogs is.

This study aims to address this by assessing the effect of improved nutrition on the body condition score and body weight of working dogs in New Zealand and to validate a body composition assessment technique across a range of condition scores. To assess the benefit of improved nutrition on the haematology profile and to determine the difference in the incidence of injuries.

Twenty-four farms will be enrolled from 4 regions of New Zealand. On each farm there will be 2 animals randomly selected to be fed a premium performance diet exclusively and 4 dogs will be fed a diet typical for that farm which will be recorded by the farmer in a food diary. Farms will be visited monthly for weight and morphometric measurements, and every second month blood samples will be taken. Body composition will be measured using the isotopic dilution method. The farmer will record all injuries his dogs have obtained as well as specified subjective assessments of all dogs.

The difference in the key outcome variables, body composition, weight, haematology and injury rates will be compared between groups on the premium and control diets. Known and collected confounders such as age, breed, usage/work load, farm will be accounted for when completing the analysis. A multivariable regression model will be developed that uses morphometric data and measured body composition as the outcome variable. This will enable a simple means to accurately define lean body mass in working farm dogs.

Researchers : Emma Cuttance & Nick Cave

Institution : VetEnt & Massey University Working Dog Centre

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