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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Good nutrition is essential for optimum performance in athletic animals - but which nutrients are the most important ?

Animals that get a lot of exercise need to maintain their energy input to perform at the top of their capability. Most studies have been done in dogs and horses and the most important nutritional factors are water and the energy-producing nutrients (fats, carbohydrates and protein). Further details are included in this table :

Nutritional content Dogs Horses Comments
Water Unlimited access Unlimited access Dogs & Horses Dehydration can occur if water is not made available to athletic animals
Energy density of the food 3.5-6.0+ kcal ME per g DM ** Maximum daily intake of food is usually 2.5% of body weight eg a 1500lb horse will eat 37lb food Dogs Energy requirements increase from 2-5 times the resting energy need. Basically very high fat content is required for endurance exercise

Horses Require 1.25-2 times the resting energy requirement for exercise. Highly digestible, high energy grains eg maize should be fed in preference to others eg oats.

Fat content 10-50% fat content.  Up to a maximum of 12-15% fat can be included in a ration Dogs The higher levels of fat are used in rations formulated for sled dogs - which are exposed to extreme cold weather conditions as well as hard work. Very high fat content diets should not be fed to normal pet animals as they can cause obesity and , sometimes, gastrointestinal upsets.

Horses Fat can be given as vegetable oil mixed with grain

Soluble carbohydrate content (Nitrogen Free Extract - NFE **) 30-55% NFE  for most forms of exercise

Less than 15% NFE for endurance exercise

Carbohydrate requirement is met by roughage in the diet (see below) Dogs Basically as exercise moves from sprints and mild infrequent exercise to endurance the amount of carbohydrate in the ration should decrease
Protein 22-34% protein DM in the ration 8-10% of the ration should consist of protein Dog As exercise progresses towards endurance the protein content should increase within the recommended range

Horses Protein intake does not have to be increased significantly for optimum performance. Overfeeding protein is a common problem 

Digestibility of the ration Foods should have a digestibility of over 80%  A high intake of good quality roughage (see below) Dogs The food should be highly digestible and have been subjected to feeding trials in athletic animals

Horses The horses digestive system is different to a dogs and they require roughage for normal digestion to occur

Roughage Not essential Hay or grass should constitute 50% of the weight of the ration Horses Roughage contains most of the carbohydrate that is used for energy by horses
Timing of feeding Do not feed for 4 hours before exercise Feed at regular intervals and at the same time every day Generally speaking animals should not be fed during exercise, but they can be fed after the exercise has finished. An exception would be dogs prone to develop low blood sugar levels and collapse during strenuous exercise, when small snacks may be helpful.


ME = Metabolisable energy - the amount of energy released from the food and available for the animal to use.

DM = Dry matter. This is calculation made by extracting the water in a food, then working out the percentage of a nutrient in the remaining "dry" content.

NFE - Nitrogen free extract, a chemical measure of the amount of carbohydrate in a food

Last updated : March 2008