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A Diet for Active Canicross Dogs

Paul and Susan Roberts
Photo copyright Murdo Macleod

Dogs thrive on a wide variety of diets – anything from raw, vegetarian, home cooked, quality kibble to cheap and cheerful Chappie. It can be a bit of a minefield trying to discover what suits your dog best. It’s certainly a controversial subject! If you wish to research this for your own dog I highly recommend the book Small Animal Clinical Nutrition as a starting point. It covers all aspects of canine nutrition and has a huge chapter specifically about canine athletes.

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Home cooked, raw or kibble?

We love the idea of feeding our Beagles an entirely home-prepared diet. We tried a raw diet at one point but energy levels and performance dropped so much that it was clear that it wasn’t for us. We also had concerns about the lack of solid research into the safety and benefit of a raw diet. We researched the possibility of a home cooked diet but whilst it is certainly doable there is a risk of getting the nutritional balance wrong and doing more harm than good. We came to the conclusion that it was safest to stick to a quality kibble – which is also very convenient when you spend a lot of time camping and hiking!

Burns Active Kibble supplemented with fresh, home cooked meals

Although ours are very active dogs they never do extreme mileage so have no need for a high fat working dog diet – they need a diet that will keep them lean (fat has twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein). With trial and error we found that the best kibble for them is Burns Alert. This is a highly regarded, low fat, high carbohydrate complete feed that suits our little Beagles right down to the ground. They’re healthy, fast and have good endurance. The only concerns we have about feeding a kibble diet is that it lacks variety and freshness in it’s ingredients – both things that they say are good for humans. So, we replace two meals a week with home cooked food (prepared according to guidelines provided by Burns pet foods thus keeping their diet balanced). We also prepare our own training treats with fresh, healthy ingredients and add a variety of fresh steamed vegetables to their kibble meals. The best of both worlds!

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Note: In theory, if you run long distances your dog is likely to do better on a high fat diet. However, to put this in perspective, a formal experiment with Beagles showed that when running on a treadmill dogs fed a high carbohydrate diet tired after 15 miles. Dogs fed a high fat diet tired after 20 miles. The furthest we’ve ever run our little guys is 13 miles and that was an exception to the rule. They’re little sprinters at heart and we’ve found through trial and error that they do best on a high carbohydrate diet (approx 50% carbohydrates). It keeps them nice and lean and ensures the best mental alertness, speed and short burst energy whilst giving them more than adequate endurance for their lifestyle. This isn’t quite in line with the theory (which suggests they should have more fat) and may not be suitable for all dogs.