Energetic Dogs

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Working Dog Nutrition: Nourishment for Optimal Performance and Health

Do you know that what we feed our working dogs can affect their job performance? As with humans, proper nutrition not only plays a key role in keeping dogs focused, alert, & agile. Working dogs have higher energy needs than the average pet and require additional nutrition to perform their tasks. So, what should a balanced diet for working dogs include?

A balanced diet is essential for working dogs to ensure they perform at their best while staying safe from diseases. Protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins are the main components of a healthy diet that helps improve performance.

  • Protein helps build muscle and repair body tissues
  • Fats provide energy and fatty acids for cell growth and development
  • Carbohydrates help with digestion.
  • Vitamins and minerals are important for strong bones, healthy skin, and a strong immune system.
  • Water is also essential to a working dog’s diet as it helps keep the body hydrated and promotes better digestion.

In this article, I’ll explore the components of a healthy diet and their importance, elements that determine your working dog’s optimum nutrition plan, as well as how to select the ideal food for them.

Nutritional Content of a Balanced Diet

What does the science say about your dogs food diet? Working dogs requires a high-energy, balanced diet to keep up with their rigorous and demanding lifestyle. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO) states that six essential nutrients are needed to sustain life and keep dogs healthy.

The daily requirement of these crucial nutrients and their role in dogs are given below.



Protein is one of the most important macronutrients in a dog’s diet. A working dog’s activity level increases its need for protein because it helps:

  • In the formation and sustenance of cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscles, skin tissue, hair follicles, nails, and blood cells.
  • Protein provides essential amino acids that bring life-sustaining energy to dogs. There are ten indispensable amino acids necessary for a dog’s well-being, and they can only be obtained through their diet as the body cannot produce them itself.

Daily Requirement: AFFCO suggests that the working dog’s diet should contain a minimum of 22% protein dry matter (DM) for growth or 18% DM to maintain health. Recent research shows no advantage to exceeding this amount, so adhering to a maximum limit of 30% DM in any life stage is important.



As essential fuel for any hardworking dog, dietary fats are the most energy-rich forms of nourishment in pet food and provide 2.25 times more calories than proteins or carbohydrates! Fats aren’t only involved in energy production but also serve many other functions like:

  • One of the essential functions is supplying vital fatty acids (EFAs) like Omega-3 and omega-6.
  • EFAs assist in decreasing cellular inflammation that stems from certain cancers, burns, dermatitis, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney diseases. Additionally, they aid dogs in maintaining healthy skin conditions and coat texture.
  • Poor fatty acid content can not only impede the wound healing process and dry out your pet’s fur. Furthermore, it may also lead to a variety of skin conditions.
  • Fat aids in the absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins.

Daily Requirement: Generally speaking, a working dog’s food should contain at least 18% fat and no more than 25%. The ideal amount of fat in a working dog’s food will vary depending on the individual needs of the animal.



Carbs are also an essential part of a working dog’s dietary plan as they supply the necessary energy in the form of glucose. Additionally, carbs offer valuable dietary fiber, which is equally important. What happens if these nutrients aren’t present? The body will then take amino acids away from other processes to make up for it – depriving your pup of crucial proteins and minerals! Carbohydrates also:

  • Establish a solid foundation for other nutrients.
  • Generate heat in the body.
  • Carbohydrates can be metabolized into fat for energy storage.

Daily Requirement: Ideally, a working dog’s food should contain between 30-60% carbohydrates by weight. It will provide enough energy for the dogs throughout the day and help them perform at their best.



A balanced diet, one that includes vitamins (both water-soluble and fat-soluble), is essential to ensure optimal health and performance. Vitamins are responsible for many important functions in a dog’s body, including:

  • Blood clotting
  • Normal eye function
  • Neurologic function.
  • The creation of DNA
  • Proper bone development
  • Normal growth and reproduction
  • Proper immune function

A single vitamin deficiency can cause a domino effect of problems since sometimes multiple vitamins are required to complete one reaction.


Daily Requirement: According to AAFCO, the suggested quantity of distinct vitamins for working dogs in all life stages is outlined as follows.



Quantity (DM)


Quantity (DM)


Quantity (DM)


5,000 IU/kg


500 IU/kg


50 IU/kg


1.64 mg/kg

Thiamin (B1)


Riboflavin (B2)

2.2 mg/kg

Pyridoxine (B6)


Niacin (B3)

11.4 mg/kg

Pantothenic Acid (B5)


Cobalamin (B12)

0.022 mg/kg

Folic acid (B9)



1,200 mg/kg


Minerals are an essential part of a working dog’s diet, and they play a crucial role in maintaining body structure, fluids and electrolytes, muscle contractions, hormones, and enzymes. Minerals are also involved in the following:

  • Red blood cell production
  • Strengthening bones and joints
  • Normal metabolic processes
  • Maintaining muscle tone and nerve transmission
  • Protect cells in the body
  • Helps with oxygen delivery and supports the skin’s immune system

When the mineral composition of a dog’s body is not completely in balance, numerous biological systems will cease to function optimally, which can result in life-threatening health issues.

Daily Requirement: The AAFCO has pinpointed that macrominerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chloride, and potassium) in dog’s feed should be greater than 100mg/Mcal while the microminerals (iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and iodine) should be less than 100mg/Mcal.



Working dogs require more hydration due to their increased water loss via the pads of the feet or tongue. During intense exercise, they can lose up to 20 times more fluids than usual! So hydrating them not only just via drinking but also by feeding them nutrient-rich food is essential.

Water is arguably the crucial nutrient,  performing a plethora of essential bodily functions. Some examples include:

  • Lubricate joints
  • Protects the nervous system
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Preserves the contours of the eye
  • Providing structure & shape to the body
  • Helps in breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

Daily Requirement: To stay healthy, the average dog needs to drink 2.5 times as much water as they consume in dry food each day. In contrast, a dog that is given moist food will require fewer drinks of water throughout the day owing to its higher moisture content.


Factors Determining Your Working Dog’s Diet

The amount of energy a dog requires depends on numerous elements like life stage, health issues, pregnancy, and breed size.


Life Stage of Your Dog

The nutritional needs of Working Dogs differs, depending on their age or life stage, which is why pet foods are typically formulated to cater to the distinct requirements of three separate groups:

  • Puppy (for growth & reproduction)
  • Adult dog (for maintenance)
  • Senior dog (for care)

Veterinarians often advise pet owners to select food specifically created for their animal’s life stage. Even though some products claim they are suitable “for all life stages,” still, they include high levels of calories that don’t benefit healthy adult animals and can lead to obesity if consumed in large quantities.


Diet for Puppy

Puppies have greater energy needs than adults, as they are actively growing and developing muscles and other tissues. To meet these requirements, their food should include twice the amount of fat and protein found in adult diets. These macronutrients provide them with fuel through the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Additionally, additions like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) aid in brain development while fostering healthy heart functions & eyesight!

Nutritional Needs for Puppies of Large Breeds: Their diet must include a lower calcium and phosphorus content to cultivate healthy bone growth, as these types of dogs take longer to reach maturity.


Diet for Adult Dog

Adult canines (ages 4-7) needs a maintenance diet that helps them stay fit and energized. This food differs from pup meals because it has fewer calories, low protein (up to 18%), carbohydrates at no more than 50%, necessary fiber ranging from 2-4.5%, balanced nutrients, and fillers that make your furry friend feel fuller faster.


Diet for Senior Dog

As your canine companion enters their senior years (7+ years of age), they should encompass a diet that is tailored to their individual care requirements, such as combating cognitive decline or joint issues. Due to the decrease in physical activity and metabolism rate, they will need around 20% fewer calories than before. Your vet can help you pick out the finest food for seniors that will provide your pup with just enough energy.


Breed Size

For working dogs, breed size is an important factor to consider when choosing the right diet.


Diet for Small Breeds

When selecting dry food for your small dog, opt for one that is designed specifically with smaller kibble in mind. While it may appear obvious, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkies are able to digest the essential nutrients from these smaller morsels better since they chew them more thoroughly.


Diet for Large Breeds

Bigger breeds of dogs are more likely to experience joint and hip issues, so feeding them a diet that focuses on joint health or that includes glucosamine and chondroitin is essential.


Diet for Dogs With Certain Medical Conditions

Does your pup struggle with any physical problems like inflammatory bowel disease,  allergies, or kidney issues? If so, these pets may need a distinct diet containing or excluding some ingredients. Also, if necessary, your vet might suggest prescription food to manage their condition.


Diet for Pregnant or Nursing Dogs

Is your furry friend expecting or nursing puppies? Expecting and nurturing canines necessitate nourishment elevated in protein, with optimal hydration, for which your vet may recommend a pregnancy or puppy-specific diet.


How Much Nourishment Does a Working Dog Need?

Generally, working dogs require 1.5 to 2.5 times more food than sedentary varieties depending on their activity level – however, in extreme temperatures – hot or cold – they may need even more sustenance to maintain energy levels.


How To Choose the Best Food Brand for Working Dogs

Seeking out a brand that truly cares for your pooch’s health? Crack down the food brand’s label to ensure you’re selecting one of superior quality. But what should be kept in mind when reading pet food labels? Here are some key points:


Analyze the Name of the Diet

Seek out pet diets that follow the 95% rule. Ingredients such as “chicken and brown rice” or “salmon and rice” indicate that up to 95% of the diet is made up of those items (excluding water added during processing). Be wary, though, when there are words such as ‘dinner’ – this usually indicates that whatever is listed in front of it only accounts for 25%.


Search for an AAFCO Statement

Guarantee that the product has a verified AAFCO statement declaring it is “complete and balanced,” indicating it can serve as the sole diet source for your pup in order to fulfill all necessary nutrient needs during its specific life stage.


Ingredient List

When purchasing food for your working dog, make sure to read the ingredient list carefully. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so:

  • Look out for real animal proteins such as turkey, pork, or beef – rather than “meat meal” – as the first one.
  • Moreover, ensure that food is rich in fat and carbohydrate content to fulfill the energy needs and has added chondroitin and glucosamine to support healthy joints.
  • Verify that Nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals are in accordance with the recommended amounts.
  • Steer clear of foods with excessive artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, or other additives, as these do not improve your pet’s health and may even be harmful. Excessive processing of the feed may cause difficulty for working dogs in maintaining their energy levels.

Price Comparison

Price is important but usually not the best consideration. When choosing the food, low-price food may reflect ingredients that change with market prices or inexpensive ingredients. Furthermore, many low-cost food products contain higher daily portions to supply a similar quantity of nutrition found in a high-quality diet.

To get a better idea of value, it’s not the total cost but the cost per feeding that counts. To get the cost per feeding, divide the cost of the product by the total number of days the product lasts.


Contact Manufacturer

If you are unsure of anything on a food label or the calorie content cannot be found, don’t hesitate to reach out to the manufacturer or search their website for more information.


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, a balanced diet is absolutely essential to keep your working dog healthy and full of energy. Proper nutrition will ensure that they have the fuel they need to succeed in their job. A variety of proteins, fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are necessary for a well-balanced meal plan for your working dog. So, what are you waiting for? Get your furry friend on a nutritious meal plan as soon as possible!


Dr. Mohsin Iqbal (DVM, RVMP)

Dr. Mohsin Iqbal is a licensed veterinarian with more than 5 years of experience in veterinary medicine. After receiving his DVM degree from The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan, he worked as a
veterinarian in both government and private sectors. He has a deep passion for animal welfare and has been working for various animal welfare organizations since he was a student. Being President of Animal Rescue Organization Pakistan (AROP), he has been actively involved in animal rescue and welfare activities. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his rescue dogs and cats. 

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