Diet plays an important role in the endurance potential of canine athletes. The Alaskan sled dog might be considered the ultimate canine athlete, sometimes pulling a sled more than 1,000 miles in subzero temperatures. Providing a well-balanced diet is essential to meet the special needs of dogs in such nutritional-stress situations. Not only should the diet fed to these dogs be high in protein, but it also should be high in fat, which serves as the major energy source for exercising muscles.
High Nutrient Demands
Dietary Effects on Performance
A high-fat diet can help muscles burn fat more efficiently. During sustained exercise, fatty-acid oxidation is the primary source of energy for the muscles. Increasing the efficiency of fat metabolism spares the body’s use of carbohydrates, and because most dogs have in excess of 10 to 50 times more energy stored in fat than in muscle glycogen (carbohydrate), this might boost the animal's exercise performance.
IAMS™ studies1 have shown that in trained sled dogs as in ordinary dogs, exercise performance was enhanced by switching from a low-fat to a high-fat diet (from 25 to 65% of calories from fat), as indicated by increased:
- Mitochondrial volume—Increasing the volume of the muscle cell's "power houses" increased the capacity for fatty-acid oxidation.
- Aerobic capacity—Muscles were better equipped to utilize fatty acids for fuel because of increased ability to utilize oxygen.
- Fatty-acid oxidation—By increasing fatty-acid utilization during exercise, more energy was released for the muscles to use.
When dogs were switched back to a low-fat diet, all of these criteria decreased to their previous values.
These results indicated that by increasing the availability of fat stores and capacity to metabolize fat for energy, a high-fat diet promotes exercise endurance in canine athletes.
1 Reynolds AJ, et al. “The effect of diet on sled dog performance, oxidative capacity, skeletal muscle microstructure, and muscle glycogen metabolism.” Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutritional Research: Proceedings of the 1996 IAMS International Nutrition Symposium. Carey DP, Norton SA, Bolser SM, eds. Wilmington, OH. 1996. 181–198.
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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