What's Up Doc?

Fueling Performance Inside & Out

By Maury Docton, DVM

Eukanuba has a long history of research regarding the effect of nutrition on performance dogs. Our first “Performance Dog Nutrition Symposium,” based on research involving sled dogs in volved in the Iditarod race, was held at Colorado State University in April of 1995. The intent of this research was clearly stated in the symposium proceedings, “The new nutritional truths which have been tested and proven with the racing sled dog in some of the harshest physical conditions will benefit the performance of all racing and sporting dogs, as well as the nutritional well-being of all companion animals.” Just as automobile companies race their cars to improve reliability and technology, testing nutritional concepts in the extremes of the Iditarod has direct applications to all pets to help improve their lives. Some of the concepts that have come from this research are presented in this paper, including references and applications of the research to the household pet – “What’s in it for them”.

  1. The role of fat and aerobic capacity – feeding a high fat diet to Labrador Retrievers resulted in a 50% increase in their ability to use oxygen at the cellular level and a 40% increase in their ability to burn fat. These results imply that diet has a primary role in stamina and perfor mance, while training only improved those parameters by 15-20%.1
  2. Fat and the sense of smell – a recent study demonstrated that feeding the right types of fatty acids in the diet affected the cells lin ing the nasal passages of dogs and enhanced their ability to detect odors.2 Additionally, because of enhanced ability to use oxygen, the dogs were less likely to breath through their mouths during exercise; this increases the amount of air moving through their nose and improves their ability to smell odors.3 This research recently convinced the US Government to begin (Apr ‘08) feeding Premium Performance to the ATF and Customs dogs responsible for our safety throughout the world.
  3. Injuries – in a study conducted using varying levels of protein in racing sled dogs, injuries increased as the protein levels decreased.
  4. Reducing inflammation – Maintaining omega 6:3 fatty acid ratios between 5:1 to 10:1 may be beneficial in reducing the level of inflammation in performance dogs as a consequence of strenuous short or long term activity resulting in shoulder, hock, carpus, and other joint injuries.4
  5. Fertility – A recent study comparing three diets fed to breeding female dogs concluded that a dietary formula like Premium Performance resulted in fewer stillbirths and increased num bers of puppies per litter.5
  6. Brain function – The inclusion of increased levels of the Omega 3 fatty acid DHA in puppy diets has enhanced their trainability, leading to the conclusion that nutrition can significantly impact genetic potential in ways not previously appreciated.6
  7. Sustained energy – grains and vegetables contribute complex carbohydrates in the form of starch that is highly available when properly cooked. These carbohydrates provide canine athletes with a readily available source of energy. A tailored blend of these starch sources can help provide energy to the dog when they need it most.7
  8. A high fat diet – shown in exercise studies, appears to be more beneficial to a per formance dog during period of extreme exercise and hot weather, based on its ability to reduce core body temperature.8
  9. Joint health – as dogs stress their joints through athletic performance and aging, the destruction of cartilage is characterized by the destruction of the substances that compose cartilage, called Glycosaminoglycans and the loss of ability of the joint to absorb shock. Benefits have been shown in reducing the harmful effects of these processes, osteoarthritis, by adding glucosamine, chondroitin, and other ingredients to the food.9
  10. Strength for the immune system – during heavy exercise, stress and damage to tis sues are elevated. Performance dogs with higher pre-exercise levels of antioxidants in their blood were almost twice as likely to be able to complete the activity.10
  11. Nutrient absorption – feeding a diet containing a blend of moderately fermentable fibers to healthy dogs promotes appropriate food intake and passage, ideal nutrient digest ibility and absorption, the production of short-chain fatty acids, and ideal fecal consistency and volume.11
  12. Dental Defense – severe gum disease and poor dental health can impair a hunting dog’s ability to smell. The inflammation can affect the nerves that carry the message to the brain and excess odor from the mouth can overwhelm the faint scents of the game they are seeking. The same scenario could occur in dogs that are attempting to detect explosives and drugs as well. Without intervention in the process, dental disease, or periodontitis, can result in damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys.12 The inclusion of the Eukanuba Dental Defense® system in all our dry products has been shown to reduce the formation of tartar, or calcified plaque, on the teeth of dogs by 55%; slowing the progression of periodontal disease.

While the number of performance and working dogs in the world is dwarfed by the number of dogs kept as family pets; Eukanuba has developed nutritional technologies that directly impact the health and performance of these elite athletes. These technologies, and the research involved, provide insight and benefits that directly apply to the lives of the family pet. If we care enough to impact the lives of a few, imagine what we can do for the millions of others.


1 Nutrition and Care of the Sporting Dog, Reinhart and Altom, p33.
2 Ibid, p34.
3 Perf Dog Nutrition, Reynolds, p13.
4 Ibid, Reinhart, p 22.
5 Nut and Care of the Sporting Dog, Kelley, p71.
6 Iams Pediatric Care Symposium Proceed ings, WSAVA, 2005, Kelley,R.,p34.
7 Nutrition and Care of the Sporting Dog, p.44.
8 Ibid., p. 47.
9 Bauer,J., Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vo l218, No. 11, 2001.
10 Nutrition and Care of the Sporting Dog, p. 36.
11 Ibid., p.54.
12 Ibid., p.58.