Working dogs are an asset to any farmer and are becoming an increasingly large investment. The lifetime value of a useful working dog is estimated to be $40,000 with dogs fulfilling roles other staff cannot replace. With this in mind it is important to provide the best care to allow dogs to reach their full potential.
One of the most important factors for working dog performance is nutrition. With some dogs running up to 100km/day at speeds of 20-30km/hr, suitable feeding ensures dogs work better for longer. Dogs that are fed appropriate levels of protein with optimal diets containing 30-32% protein and 20-30% fat sustain less musculoskeletal injuries than dogs that are not. Diets recommended by VSHB are Royal Canin 4800 and Black Hawk Working dog, both of which meet these recommendations. While these diets may be more expensive per bag compared to commercial diets, less needs to be fed to meet the same nutritional requirements and dogs have the energy to work all day.
While feeding adult dogs is important, it is also crucial to provide pups with the right diet for their different nutrient requirements. Calcium and phosphorus ratios are essential for puppies, with Huntaway and Heading pups needing different diets. Ensuring these ratios are correct from 6 weeks of age can lower the risk of arthritis as adults and lengthen a working dog’s productive life. Meat diets in puppies are not recommended as the reduced calcium and excessive phosphorus can cause irreversible bone disease.
Care of pregnant bitches is imperative to ensure both healthy pups and for mother welfare. Ideally working bitches shouldn’t be bred until fully mature, usually around 2 years. Once at the appropriate age she should be checked over for abnormalities by a veterinarian, along with a discussion about inherited diseases such as hip dysplasia. Once in pup, diet is again very important. She should be fed a good quality adult dog food until 1 week before whelping, then switched onto medium breed puppy food which has the right amount of calcium until the pups are weaned.
During whelping if you are concerned contact your veterinarian; there is a small window where pups can be delivered safely if they are in distress so calling for help sooner rather than later can save both puppies and their mothers. If a mismate does occur there are options at any stage of pregnancy to avoid unwanted litters, please contact your veterinarian to discuss these.
It is important to remember that working dogs are athletes and deserve to be treated as such. A good dog is an invaluable resource, so providing them with a good diet, a warm dry kennel and early veterinary care will enable them to work a long and productive life.
If you have any concerns about your animals please contact your local veterinarian.