Bird Dogs & Training  |  04/01/2014

Keeping Canine Athletes at a Healthy Weight

To perform their best, hardworking dogs must maintain an ideal body condition. Training activities, your dog’s metabolism and nutrition contribute to his body condition. It can be a challenge to keep weight on some canine athletes because regular exercise not only increases the calories an active dog burns, it also increases overall metabolism. Just like people, some dogs naturally have a higher metabolism.
“A dog that is losing weight, particularly muscle mass, is in a catabolic state and may be more susceptible to injury, illness or slower recovery,” says Purina Nutrition Scientist Brian Zanghi, Ph.D.
Intense training coupled with suboptimal nutrition, especially insufficient intake of protein, can cause a catabolic state. Since protein nourishes muscles, underweight canine athletes that do not receive adequate dietary protein may suffer from fatigue and inadequate recovery, which ultimately may impact their performance.
“If a dog is underweight, feeding a nutrient-dense food may help him in achieving a stable body weight and an ideal body condition,” Zanghi says. If a dog seems fulfilled with his normal daily feeding portion, but still is underweight, feeding a food that is more nutrient-dense may help the dog ingest more calories with a smaller portion size. “This will help the dog get the calories needed before feeling full,” Zanghi says.
Dog food formulas that contain higher proportions of fat are more nutrient and calorie dense. Performance formulas with 28-30 percent protein and 18-20 percent fat will deliver more concentrated nutrition compared to maintenance formulas with 22-26 percent protein and 12-16 percent fat. For example, Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula contains 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat to help fuel a dog’s metabolic needs and maintain lean muscle. It also has healthy fat enriched in omega-3 fatty acids from marine fish, and glucosamine to help support joint health and mobility.
“More important than enriched calorie content, the higher proportion of dietary fat in a performance formula helps ‘prime’ your dog’s muscles to better adapt to exercise and endurance,” says Zanghi.
Sometimes dogs that are underweight are not motivated by food, so it can be harder to get them to eat. Adding hot water or Purina Veterinary Diets FortiFlora as a palate enhancer to the dog’s food can stimulate a greater desire to eat, particularly when traveling or boarded.
If a dog is routinely eating twice a day, it may be helpful to switch to once a day, such as after the dog is done exercising or training for the day. His post-workout appetite may improve his ingestion volume. You also should consider whether other dogs in the home or kennel may be having an influence on the feeding behavior. If so, they may need to be fed in separate locations.

Evaluating Your Dog

When it comes to assessing your dog’s body condition, you need to know more than just a number on a scale.
“A dog’s scale body weight tells us nothing about the amount of body fat relative to muscle mass,” Zanghi says.
By noting some simple features of your dog’s body, you can make a general assessment of his body condition and monitor his body fat.
Purina veterinary nutritionists developed the nine-point Purina Body Condition System. Typically, dogs with an ideal body condition of 4 or 5 score should have:
  • An obvious waist behind the ribs when viewed from above
  • A tuck in the belly when viewed from the side
  • Ribs that are easily felt but not seen
Dogs that are overweight are more susceptible to joint-related health concerns as added weight places extra stress on the joints of an active dog.
To determine your dog’s body condition score, examine his physique by putting your hands on the dog and feeling his ribs. Place both thumbs on the dog's backbone and spread your hands across the rib cage. You should be able to easily feel the ribs. You also should be able to view the dog's waist behind the ribs, and an abdominal tuck should be apparent from the side. This is a convenient way to monitor your dog throughout the seasons to know if you should be adjusting your dog’s daily food portion to meet his caloric needs.
Monitoring your dog’s body condition and feeding a high-quality, nutrient-dense food will help ensure your canine athlete is performing at his best.

Purina Body Condition System

It should be your goal to keep your dog in ideal body condition. Purina veterinary nutritionists developed a nine-point Body Condition System that will help you succeed. Go to to download your own body condition score chart.