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586 dogs’ nutrition needs analyzed by scientists

Certain breeds eat more energy, but lifestyle should guide pet food choices.

Particular dog breeds ate more calories to maintain their body weights than other breeds in a study of 586 dogs’ daily metabolizable energy intake. Metabolizable energy is the amount of energy left for the body to use after digestion is complete. Pet food manufacturers can use this research to guide their formulation of lifestyle- and breed-specific dog foods.

High and low energy intake breeds

Active breeds tended to have above average energy intake in comparison to their body mass:

  • Jack Russell Terrier, Dalmatian, small Munsterlander and Magyar Viszla, Bearded Collies, Sight Hounds, German Boxers, English Foxhounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Flat-Coated Retrievers

While tranquil breeds took in fewer calories while maintaining their body weight:

  • Dachshunds, Bichons, West Highland White Terrier, Collies except Bearded Collies, Airedale Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Golden Retrievers

Breed versus lifestyle in pet food needs

However, the biology of each breed might not completely explain these differences. Active owners might choose breeds associated with an energetic lifestyle, said study author Ellen Kienzle, PhD, chair of animal nutrition and dietetics at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, in an email. What’s more, certain dog breeds go in and out of fashion for particular lifestyles.

“Thus breed specific energy requirements may change with the type of people who typically own dogs from these breeds,” said Kienzle. “I think it is not breed specific products which are needed but lifestyle specific. Dogs with high energy intake may need different nutrient profiles than dogs with low intake.”

For example, Beagles were once used largely for hunting, but have since become more common as house pets. A couch potato Beagle needs to eat less calories to maintain its weight than a hunter of the same breed. However, both dogs have similar nutrient needs.

If those two dogs are eating the same formula of dog food, the one that eats less will also take in less nutrients. Kienzle said that an important consequence of her research is that dog food nutrient profiles need to be adapted to the lower food intake of less active dogs.

Labeling dog food to guide nutrition

Pet owners may be inclined to simply change the quantity of food they feed to dogs with different lifestyles. Instead, Kienzle suggested that dog food labels should contain a caveat about if a dog puts on or loses weight while eating the recommended amount of one formula. The labeling could inform consumers to switch to a different formula, such as weight-management or active-lifestyle dog foods.

Kienzle’s study was published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. To conduct the research, medical data collected from 2007 to 2011 in a veterinary nutrition consultation practice in Germany were analyzed.

Confirmation of current vet practices

Kienzle’s results also added credence to energy intake guidelines for dogs already used by veterinarians and nutritionists, according to Catherine Lenox, DVM, veterinary nutritionist and Royal Canin scientific affairs manager.

Veterinarians use an equation to determine a dog’s energy needs. This calculation gives veterinarians a rough idea of how many calories a dog burns per day to maintain its weight.

Veterinarians calculate that equation as a starting point when developing a therapeutic diet for a particular dog. Lenox noted that this equation was supported by the average metabolizable energy requirement for the 586 dogs observed in the study.

 Lenox said it was reassuring that a study of hundreds of dogs confirmed the energy requirement calculations used by many veterinarians.