By Adam Lee-Smith
Published: 12/02/2021, edited: 12/02/2021
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If you have a pup that spends their days rounding up livestock, helping people with disabilities, or working with emergency services, they'll need a diet that supports their active lifestyle. Working dogs are more active than your average canine and require a high-quality diet to stay at the top of their game.
Before placing your pup on a new diet, consult your vet or chat with a vet now. Your vet may be able to advise you on the best dog food and will be able to tell you if your chosen dog food will provide enough fuel for your working dog's day-to-day life. Which dog foods are best for working breeds? Let's take a look.
What to look for in high-quality foods for working dogs
With lots of dog foods on the market, shopping for a new diet for your dog can leave you in a spin. Here are a few things to look for when picking a high-quality diet for a working dog.
Meeting your dog's dietary requirements
Above all else, you should ensure your dog's diet is "complete and balanced," as defined by the Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Your dog's diet should be "balanced" with the correct levels of protein, carbs, fatty acids. It should be "complete" by containing all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Protein is key to a working dog's diet. The AAFCO’s guaranteed analysis states that a dog's food should contain a minimum of 18% crude protein. That said, working dogs will require higher levels of high-quality protein. These levels will differ from dog to dog, with many dog foods for working dogs containing 30% crude protein.
Balancing protein levels in your dog's diet is essential. Too little protein can lead to heart disease, while too much protein can cause health conditions like hyperkalemia and acidosis. No two dogs are the same, so consult your vet about how much crude protein your dog needs in their diet.
Working dogs require more calories than your average companion animal. Exactly how many calories your working dog needs will depend on their breed and the type and frequency of activity. Most foods formulated for working dogs are higher in calories to accommodate the dog's energy needs.
We'll cover calories in more depth in the next section.
What to avoid in high-quality working dog foods
It's just as important to know what to avoid as it is to know what to look for in a working dog's diet. Here are a few examples of what to avoid in high-quality working dog foods.
While dog foods will generally meet your dog's minimum requirements for protein, they may not include the best "pawssible" meat products. Some dog foods contain meat "meal" as one of the top ingredients. Meal refers to meat that has had all water and fat removed.
Meat meal generally contains more protein per pound than fresh meat due to its low water and fat content. While meat meal is just as nutritious as unprocessed meat, it does have its issues. As meat meal is highly processed, it may be more difficult to digest, which may not be ideal for dogs on the go.
AAFCO says that if meat or meat byproducts aren't sourced from cows, sheep, pigs, or goats, the manufacturer must specify the species (bison, for example). However, dog food manufacturers don’t have to state precisely which animal meat meal comes from.
To ensure your dog gets the best possible diet, find a dog food with unprocessed meat as one of the main ingredients alongside a lean meat meal, like chicken or turkey meal.
Working dogs burn more energy than normal dogs and therefore require several times more calories to keep them going. This amount may increase even more if they work in frigid conditions.
Dogs have Resting Energy Requirements (RER), which is the number of calories a dog burns performing essential bodily functions. For example, a 10-kilogram dog's RER is 400 calories. Ohio State University’s Veterinary Medical Center recommends working dogs eat 2 to 5 times more than their RER. In comparison, a neutered adult dog requires 1.6 times their RER.
Dogs require at least 5.5% fat in their diets. As with crude protein levels, you'll want to pick a dog food with much higher levels of fat. The required fat levels will differ from dog to dog. Most dog foods for working dogs have about 20% crude fat content.
Additives and preservatives
Regardless of your dog's age, breed, or occupation, you should avoid additives and preservatives. Many low-quality dog foods contain high levels of sulfites, which can cause thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiencies in dogs.
Several additives and processed ingredients included in dog foods should be avoided. For example, animal studies show that butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a preservative approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is linked to intestinal tumors. Talk to your vet if you're ever unsure about whether an ingredient is completely safe for your dog.
5 high-quality foods for working dogs
Knowing what to look for in a dog food is all well and good, but which specific dog foods are right for working dogs? Here are 5 high-quality dog foods that are “pawfect” for an active lifestyle.
Purina Pro Plan All Ages Sport Performance 30/20 Chicken and Rice
Purina Pro Plan is one of the top dog foods for working breeds. This dog food contains 30% protein and 20% fat to ensure your dog has all the energy they need for their busy day-to-day life.
Fresh chicken is the first ingredient in this dog food, ensuring lean meat high in amino acids. Purina Pro Plan contains fish meal and is therefore high in amino acids, which will help keep your dog's joints in good condition after high-impact activity. This food contains no artificial colors or preservatives.
Online reviews of this food are generally positive. Pet parents love the fact that it helps their active dogs maintain a healthy weight, but some complained it was a bit pricey.
Average cost: $15–$66
Taste of the Wild Pine Forest Canine Recipe with Venison and Legumes
The first ingredient in Taste of the Wild's Pine Forest Canine Recipe with Venison and Legumes is fresh venison, a lean meat high in protein. Pine Forest Canine Recipe contains 28% protein and 15% fat, which is more than enough for a working dog breed.
This dog food contains a signature blend of K9 Strain Probiotics, specifically designed to help with quick digestion in active dogs. Taste of the Wild Pine Forest Canine Recipe also contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that helps with brain development and will keep your working dog's brain in the best condition possible.
In online reviews, pet parents of working dogs said this recipe enhanced their dogs' performance and kept their coats shiny and healthy. Negative reviews cited food sensitivities and stomach upset.
Average cost: $17–$52
Victor Classic Hi-Pro Plus Dry Dog Food
Meat meal is a leading ingredient in this dog food, but don't let that put you off. With 30% protein, 88% of which comes from meat sources, Victor Classic Hi-Pro Plus will keep a spring in your dog's step. This dog food contains several types of meal, including fish meal, which is high in DHA.
Victor Classic Hi-Pro Plus is unique, as it contains the brand's signature VPRO Blend to aid digestion, boost the immune system, and improve coat quality. This food is also fortified with amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins to cover all bases.
Positive reviews of this dog food say it helps dogs gain and maintain muscle. Some pet parents said their dogs experienced upset stomach.
Average cost: $16–$54
Solid Gold Barking at the Moon High Protein Dog Food
Solid Gold Barking at the Moon High Protein Dog Food features beef as the first ingredient and is one of the most protein-rich foods on the market with 41% crude protein. As a result, this dog food is best-suited to the highest-energy working dogs, like sheepdogs.
One of top ingredients in Solid Gold High Protein Dog Food is eggs, which are a good source of amino acids. The second ingredient is ocean fish meal, which is high in fatty acids. The result is a dog food that will help your dog build lean muscles without significant weight gain.
Positive reviews of this Solid Gold formula said it's a great choice for picky eaters, while negative reviews shared concerns about stomach upset.
Average cost: $17–$55
Eukanuba Premium Performance 30/20 Sport Dog Food
Another popular dog food designed for working dogs is Eukanuba Premium Performance 30/20 Sport Dog Food. This dog food contains 30% protein and 20% fat, which are ideal levels for active dogs. Chicken fat and chicken meal are two of the top ingredients in this dog food, providing essential amino acids.
Added eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), glucosamine, and DHA ensure your dog has enough fatty acids to keep their brain healthy and joints in good condition.
This food has earned rave reviews from pet parents. Positive reviews said dogs not only loved the taste, but were also leaner and more muscular after switching.
Average cost: $70
Tips for choosing the right food for your working dog
Picking out a new dog food that fits an active lifestyle can be tricky. Here are a few extra tips to ensure you pick the "pawfect" dog food for Fido:
#1. Consult your vet.
Before changing your dog's diet, consult your vet. They will be able to tell you if the new dog food is suitable for your dog and whether it contains any harmful ingredients. Just because a dog food has good reviews doesn't mean it's a good fit for your pup.
#2. Don't suddenly change your dog's diet.
While it may be tempting to suddenly change your dog to a new diet, dogs need to gradually change to their new food over a week or two to avoid digestive issues.
#3. Read the label carefully.
Some dog food companies make their labeling difficult to decipher. Take some time to look over the label and make sure you understand the ingredients list.
#4. Avoid feeding your dog directly before or after high-impact activity.
#5. When researching the best dog food for working breeds, rely on reputable sources.
There's a wealth of conflicting information on canine nutrition out there. While researching, use veterinary-reviewed sources, or check out AAFCO's website for a more detailed breakdown of canine nutritional needs and dog food quality standards.
Got questions about your working dog's nutritional needs? Chat with a vet now to get your questions answered quickly!