What is the best type of diet to feed hard-working sled dogs?
An Iditarod sled dog is considered to be one of the world’s top endurance athletes. As such, this dog must be carefully and properly fueled and has extremely specialized dietary needs, requiring a diet of nearly 10 times the calories of a non-working dog with huge amounts of protein and fat.
While calorie needs vary from sled dog to sled dog, a rough estimate by the Iditarod Sled Dog Racing Association notes that this dog, during peak racing times, can consume and burn up to 10,000 calories a day—and that number can be even higher if they’re younger, faster or heavier. When it’s off-season, that number lowers to 800.
No dog can eat 10,000 calories at once, so she needs to be fed several times a day.
Fat makes up the primary portion of a sled dog’s diet. It has more than twice the amount of calories as any other nutrition source, making it easier for the dog to get the calories he needs in a smaller, denser form. Sled dogs in peak condition easily require a diet consisting of 50 to 60 percent fat. This gives her a ready source of energy, an ability to stay warm and consistent energy levels.
Other nutrients she needs are:
• Protein: While the primary source of energy for a sled dog is fat, protein provides the quick “get up and go” source of energy and is important for muscle growth and maintenance.
• Vitamins and minerals: Of special interest to sled dogs are the B vitamins and vitamin E. B vitamins provide energy and help the brain and muscles communicate. A deficiency in any B vitamin can cause lethargy, seizures and clumsiness, none of which is welcome in an Iditarod sled dog. Vitamin E helps the sled dogs maintain their body heat and gives them healthy fur, skin and pads. Since the feet take a beating from running every day, vitamin E helps repair the damage.
• Water: A dog can run without food but can’t function without water. Sled dogs must be offered clean, fresh water as often as possible.