Keeping working dogs healthy

Dogs who are very busy, like active working dogs and sporting dogs, need a specifically formulated diet to take care of the energy they burn and stay healthy. These dogs are much more active than average house dogs, and therefore their diet should be comprehensive. But they also need to stay injury free so that they can continue with their regular activities.

Special diet

“Highly active dogs have particular nutrition needs, such as protein and fat, which are the building blocks for hormones, tissues and enzymes,” says Carlos Neves, a nutritionist. “Protein provides energy and helps develop mass for strength, and therefore active dogs’ diets require high-quality protein that is enough to provide for muscle and structural repair. Fat, on the other hand, contains around twice as much energy as carbohydrates and protein, and therefore, a diet that is high in fat would be preferable to provide them with substance for better endurance.

“A third nutrient that is as important as the previous two nutrients is water, as active or working dogs lose more water during high activity and it is important to keep these active dogs hydrated.”

He adds that dogs who are only active at certain times of the year, should be fed performance or endurance types of diets from eight weeks before a performance, or agility events. But dogs who are active throughout the year should remain on a performance diet.

“Something that is very important to remember is that these types of diets should be mixed gradually with a ‘normal’ diet for between three and five days, before a diet change, to avoid any stomach upsets,” advises Carlos.

Food supplements

According to Carlos, there shouldn’t be a need to supplement an active dog’s diet if he is on a high-quality performance diet. He says that a performance diet is normally already supplemented with:

  • Antioxidants, which block the harmful effects of free radicals, as intense exercise increases the number of free radicals and oxidative damage in the body, and help to strengthen the blood vessel walls and circulation.
  • Vitamins and minerals, and in particular vitamin C and vitamin B-complex, to combat stress and support the immune system, as well as promote healthy skin, muscles and blood.
  • Probiotics and digestive enzymes that aid in digestion and prevent stress-related stomach issues and nervous vomiting.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids that function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
  • Protein and fat.


We want our dogs to remain injury-free, and even more so when they have to perform certain tasks or need to be actively busy with their jobs. Although it’s not possible to prevent all injuries, there are a few things that owners or handlers should keep in mind.

Ansi van der Walt, senior physiotherapist, says that there are three principles to consider when it comes to injury prevention:

  • Is his body fit for the activity?
  • Are his activities balanced?
  • Is his mind balanced?


Fit for activity

“Let’s assume you do agility with your dog. The following are some of the physical requirements of agility:

  1. Sprint fitness The average agility round is 30 to 40 seconds, running at full pace.
  2. Muscle power Jumping 18 to 20 obstacles at speed requires significant muscle strength. Both the front limbs and the hindlimbs are involved in creating the arc over a jump. Often, this needs to happen at extreme angles or odd take-off distances.
  3. Balance Running across the dog walk or see-saw or controlling the landing after a jump requires balance and body awareness.

“What does this mean for your agility dog? Taking him for long runs or letting him swim is great for general fitness and it is definitely fun for your dog, but it does not improve any of the specific fitness requirements for agility,” explains Ansi.

She adds that part of avoiding injury during sport is your dog’s ability to remain focused and keep his concentration. “This also means that he should not be anxious, stressed or overtired when he competes, as tired or anxious dogs make mistakes that could lead to injury. To help your dog, you need to do activities that allow him to practise concentration and focus. Like any other skill, this gets better if you do the right exercises.”


Ansi says that if your dog is having trouble with any area of his body, it may not show up as a limp until it has become quite serious. Taking your working dog for regular physio check-ups will help pick up early warning signs of strain. “Your physio will be able to help you make the necessary adjustments to your dog’s training programme and advise on ways you can help keep your dog feeling great.

“Any change in your dog’s behaviour should be taken seriously as a potential sign of a physical problem. From no longer jumping into the car to not wanting to finish the weave poles in agility – these can all be ways that your dog is telling you he does not feel great,” concludes Ansi.



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