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The main limiting factors of using a maintenance diet for a sportive and/or a working dog are listed below.

1/ The energetic concentration of a maintenance diet is too low.

An active dog must eat a lot of a moderate-energy diet to make up for its expenses.

Ex: a 20 kg hunting dog, that requires 1,5 time more energy than a sedentary dog, should eat 450 g of Medium Adult 1, whenever 365 g of Medium Energy would be enough. It means a 20 % decrease of the ration’s weight.
Consequences :

  • The digestive capacity gets saturated, the digestion is then impaired. There is a risk to observe the production of: gas, loose stools, diarrhea or coprophagia.
  • The risk of stomach bloat is increased, especially in large dogs, and in those that must work at any time without completing their digestion time: defence dogs, rescue dogs…
  • Finally, the dog has to draw out of its reserves and it can loose weight.

Moreover, it is well-known that a high-fat diet can delay the time of apparition of signs of fatigue when it has to sustain an important effort. And even for short duration efforts, a high fat level helps to improve performances.

2/ The ratio proteins/energy of a maintenance diet is not high enough.

A higher requirement for good-quality proteins represents the 1st consequence of the stress due to physical activity in the dog:

  • for the renewal and the synthesis of muscular cells,
  • for the production of energy…

Consequences: when the protein intake does not correspond to the requirements, an anemia can progressively appear, followed by a drop of blood proteins level and a lack of efficiency in immune capacities.

To prevent from the apparition of “ sportive anemia ”, the proteins should represent about 30 % of the metabolizable energy of the food.

3/ The carbohydrate level is too high in a maintenance diet.

Too much cereals encourages the dog to use mainly carbohydrates rather than fats as an energy source. But this metabolic way leads to the production of lactic acid that accumulates in the blood and in the muscles inducing: tiredness, cramps or even muscular lesions.
Consequence: the endurance of the dog is much lower.

In addition, the carbohydrates storage of the body is limited to the liver and the muscles. After 1 – 2 hours of intense effort, when the reserves are exhausted, the dog starts suffering from the effects of hypoglycemia.

4/ Vitaminic and mineral intakes are not adapted in a maintenance diet.

During physical exertion, oxidative reactions get accelerated and the body reserves in antioxidant vitamins go down. So a nutritional supplementation is interesting.

Vitamin E (associated with vitamin C), which is a natural antioxidant, is incorporated at a higher concentration in a diet for active dogs.
By limiting the oxidative reactions in tissues where blood circulation has been disturbed, it has a positive effect in muscles and in articulations. It could even improve the oxygen transport within the red cells.The consequences of such a supplementation on the resistance to physical exertion are currently studied in sportive dogs in various situations.

Racing, jumping are sources of traumatisms for the skeleton and the articulations. Sportive and working dogs are sometimes victims of spontaneous fractures. To prevent from these “ stress fractures ”, one must try to reinforce the bone resistance, thanks to a well-balanced intake of calcium and phosphorus, that are the main mineral constituants of the bone. A calcium reinforcement of the diet is very important, as the lactic acid production during intense physical activity stimulates calcium loss through urine.

A large intake of magnesium is necessary for the neuro-muscular system to be performing. A magnesium deficiency is likely to induce cramps in the dog, to increase tendon laxity and so to be in favour of the emergence of articular lesions.


If the diet does not correspond to the increased nutritional requirements due to physical exertion, some deficiencies can develop, that may have negative consequences towards the performances or even the dog’s health.

In addition, a few well-targeted supplementations can help the dog to show better physical performances (short or medium chain fatty acids contained in copra oil, carnitine, psyllium…). Those elements are not present in classical maintenance diets.

Donated by the Borg Cardona and Co. Ltd. visit Borg Cardona website

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