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Feeding to Unleash Your Dog’s Potential

by Mike Watkins, Ph.D. - Nutritionist

Performance dogs today have far greater potential and ability than dogs of only a few decades ago.
Mother Nature (natural genetic selection) has been determining which dogs produce the next generation since time began. Man (artificial selection) began determining which animals would produce the next generation a few centuries ago and he continues to do so today. Through refined selection techniques and quantitating the heritability of some traits, performance dogs today have far greater potential and ability than dogs of only a few decades ago. Proof of selection success is often expressed in the refrain “better bred than fed.” The challenge today is feeding these highly bred performance dogs to “unleash” the genetic potential trapped inside.

Entrepreneurial pet food product manufacturers endeavor to produce products that go beyond meeting basic dog nutrient requirements to products that unleash the potential bred into performance dogs. These workers realize that “functional foods” and optimum nutrition are key. “Functional Foods”, an emerging area of nutrition, are foods, food components and nutrients, which provide important benefits beyond the traditional nutrition function. For example, the dietary essential fatty acids, Omega-3s and Omega-6s, known for their role in membrane structure and precursors to some other metabolic compounds, are now recognized as having a role in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, it is recognized that higher levels of certain nutrients are more beneficial than previously known.

Some new dog food supplements are starting to capitalize on functional foods to help unleash the genetic potential trapped in today’s performance dogs. These products are starting to be recognized by more and more dog owners and trainers for their value in getting dogs to the winner’s circle. The purpose of this article is to explain how three functional foods lecithin, enzymes and direct-fed microbials work to help unleash the genetic potential of well-bred performance dogs.

Phospholipids (commonly referred to as lecithin) are natural compounds found in plant and animal tissue. Most commercially available lecithin is derived from soybean oil, and lecithin is commonly used as an emulsifier in foods and some animal feeds in small amounts. Phospholipids, in simplistic terms, are composed of fatty acids (linoleic (omega-6), oleic, palmitic, linolenic (omega-3 and others), phosphorus, choline (a B-vitamin) and other lesser compounds. Phospholipids are essential components of cell membranes, are synthesized in the body, and are the most abundant lipid component in animal cell membranes. Adding additional lecithin to human diets, as well as animal diets, is proving to be very beneficial as its value as a “functional food” is being discovered.

Enriching dog diets with lecithin can result in better looking dogs, mentally sharper dogs and dogs that perform at a higher level. Dogs receiving additional lecithin are known to have a healthier hair coat and better skin condition compared to that of dogs not receiving lecithin. Research has demonstrated that supplementing dog foods with 1% to 3% lecithin provides the phospholipids and essential fatty acids needed to maintain membrane fluidity, permeability and integrity as well as the synthesis of some other metabolically active compounds. Dogs with healthy skin are more resistant to irritations, infections, allergens, and scrapes and cuts heal more quickly. Likewise, their hair coat has the sheen and luster that just radiates “healthy dog”.

Cell membranes throughout the body are affected by greater lecithin consumption. The impact on skin and hair is a visual impact; however, virtually all cells return to “normal” when a more optimal level of lecithin is consumed. The synthesis of certain metabolically active compounds returns to normal permitting more normal overall metabolic function and put simply, “Things just work better!” Dogs maintain their appetite and keep better condition during heavy training and working. They not only look better, they respond and perform better physically.

Choline, a component of the phospholipid phosphatidylcholine, is a B-vitamin. Choline has long been known as a component of acetylcholine, the chemical compound essential for nerve impulse transmission. Also, choline, when supplied in sufficient amounts, “spares” methionine, a dietary essential amino acid needed for protein synthesis. By sparing methionine, choline indirectly aids in normal protein synthesis.
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