March 1, 2016

Farm working Dogs in New Zealand. 10. Practical Feeding

By Dr Clive Dalton

Old  dogs need special care after many years of loyal service
 Balanced feeding
Dogs need a balanced diet, which has everything in it to meet their needs for maintenance and production.

What does a dog need for maintenance?
Table below has a mass of information on the energy and protein that a dog needs.  First, look at the layout. 

  Note these features:
·      There is information for three weights of dogs.
·      The maintenance needs per weight of dog are shown in kcal of energy and in grams of protein.  So a small dog (15kg) needs 1005kcal of energy and 72g of protein each day to sustain its body functions.
·      There is a range of diets in the left column and their energy and protein contents are shown beside them.
·      Look back in the column for each weight of dog and you can see how much of that diet to feed and how near that quantity comes to meet the maintenance needs.

For example: 450 g of meat will provide 900 kcal of energy and 81g of protein.  This is 105 kcals of energy too little, and 9g of protein too much.  It's "near enough" you could say.

What about 'production' (working)  needs?
Here you have to provide feed over and above maintenance.  See Table below which shows the number of times you multiply the maintenance feeds by to meet the dog’s nutritional needs.

Dogs in work
Light exercise                 1.5 x M
Medium exercise            2.0 x M
Heavy exercise            2.5 x M

Late pregnancy            2.5 x M
Early lactation              3.0 x M

Up to 7 weeks                  2.0 x M
7-9 weeks                        3.0 x M
9 weeks onwards            decrease to adult levels

Calcium and phosphorus
The Calcium and Phosphorus daily needs for a dog are shown in table below.

The table shows when supplements are needed for that range of diets.  If you need to add Ca or P, how much do you provide - the answer is in table 4, using the most readily available sources of dicalcium phosphate or bonemeal, and calcium carbonate.

Minerals and vitamins
Look at table below to see which type of diet is likely to be short of minerals and vitamins.

Note that the all-meat diet is short of all those listed so has serious implications for health.   Note also that vitamins D and E are going to be short in all the diets.

The all-meat diet
So many farmers will tell you that an all-meat diet is ideal for a working dog and they'll back their opinion with a lifetime's experience of feeding meat.  They point out that dogs are carnivores so meat is their natural diet.

These opinions are flawed!  But there are hundreds of farmers who won't accept these basic facts and nutritionists are regularly criticised for their ignorance of real life on a farm.  Owners also argue that commercially available diets are too expensive and there are plenty of cull stock to eat up which have little market value.  Again, remember my first question of what is a dog worth to your business.

There are all sorts of problems with all-meat diets for working dogs, and they require substantial supplementation with minerals like calcium, phosphorus and iodine, as well as vitamins.  Dogs on these so-called all-meat diets are in fact supplementing them by scavenging.  They are eating dung, carrion and goodness knows what else.  They maybe look all right but are not being kept at peak fitness, which a balanced diet allows.  Skinny underweight dogs are unhealthy and are even more prone to parasite attack.

The second common error is thinking that adding milk will balance an all-meat diet.  This is not true either. 

Bones with a red tinge of meat on them provide very little nutrients.  Bones are good dental exercise - and that's about all.  They do contain some calcium and phosphorus but it's better to supply these important minerals in other more digestible forms if needed. 

How long was the meat frozen?
This is a concern on farms where there are many shepherds using meat out of the same freezer.   There are no problems if the meat is cut up, bagged and dated, but so often this doesn't happen and you don't know how long the meat has been frozen.  If you mark on plastic bags remember the ink may come off or be hard to read when iced over.  Tie-on labels are always readable.

The rule of holding meat at minus 10 degrees C for 7 days is a MINIMUM.   Please note well this point.   And it's important to make sure the meat is at minus 10 right at the centre.  As many old freezers are used for dog meat, they sometimes are not at peak efficiency.  If you have any concerns, get your Dog Control Officer to check the freezer.

Big bags of mince for example will take much longer than 7 days to get to minus 10 C in the middle so they are not treated properly.

The key is to have a system that rotates the meat, and that everyone involved in using the meat understands it.  If you buy low-grade carcasses from a meatworks, make sure they have been held at the correct temperature and for the correct time.  The same would apply to local abattoir meat.

All meat sold at licensed pet food shops must meet the requirements of the Hydatids Act, so you can buy there with confidence.

Thawing frozen meat
Imagine working hard all day and getting a frozen joint to chew at all night.   What a great reward from a grateful boss!   This happens to many dogs when things are busy and the planning breaks down.  Allow at least a day for meat to thaw out and in winter it may take 2-3 days.  So allow plenty of time for this.

And remember – the juices that flow from frozen meat contain important vitamins and minerals that the dog should have.  The chore of catching the juice and returning it to the meat just shows impractical all-meat feeding is.

Cooking sheep and goat meat for dogs  

Do NOT feed any fresh sheep or goat meats to dogs, to prevent the spread of sheep measles.  Cooked meat must be brought to the boil and then left for a minimum of 30 minutes, and probably more like an hour.  If there is still blood showing at the end of the cooking time, then boil it a little longer.

Cooking offal and sheep and goat meat
This is a messy time-consuming business, even when proper facilities with modern electric cookers and time switches are available.  Although the law allows the feeding of correctly cooked offal, you would be wise to forget the idea.  

With so many good dog feeds available these days, it’s unwise to feed cooked offal to dogs.   If you think that feeding cooked offal produces a cheap dog feed, then you should do your sums again.  The true costs and the risks make it a poor alternative feed for dogs.

The risks of inadequate cooking are high because cooking time can vary depending on many things.  As a general rule, 1.5 to 2 hours is needed.  If there is still blood showing at the end of cooking time, then the meat needs some more treatment.

Feeding other meats
Meat from cattle, horses, deer, rabbits, pigs and possums can be fed raw to dogs without risk of infection from sheep measles.  However, it would be unwise to feed raw possum in areas where there is a risk of Tb which dogs could pick up.

Other dietary problems
There are a few problems such as bad breath, anal gland infection and bad teeth which can all arise as a result of feeding.  Check them out with your veterinarian. 

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