The Diet of the Iditarod Dog

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As one of the world's top endurance athletes, an Iditarod sled dog has extremely specialized dietary needs. Requiring a diet of nearly 10 times the calories of a non-working dog and huge amounts of protein and fat, the Iditarod sled dog must be carefully fueled.

Calories

  • While calorie needs vary from sled dog to sled dog, a rough estimate by the Iditarod Sled Dog Racing Association notes that a dog at peak race times can consume and burn up to 10,000 calories a day. Younger dogs, faster dogs, and heavier dogs burn more. During the offseason, a sled dog may only consume 800 calories. No dog can eat 10,000 calories at once. Therefore, the dog must be fed several times throughout the day.

Fat

  • 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 them a ready source of energy, an ability to stay warm and consistent energy levels.

Protein

  • Protein is crucial for muscle growth and maintenance. While the primary source of energy for a sled dog is fat, protein provides the quick "get up and go" source of energy. Protein works in dogs much like carbohydrates work for humans.

Vitamins and Minerals

  • Just like humans, dogs need a variety of minerals and vitamins. 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. Sled dogs' feet taking a brutal beating from running every day. Vitamin E helps their body repair the damage.

Hydration

  • Nothing that a sled dog eats matters if that dog isn't properly hydrated. A dog can run without food but he absolutely cannot function without water. Sled dogs cannot "eat snow" in order to stay hydrated because it takes a significant amount of energy and calories to melt the snow and get any substantial amount of water. Sled dogs must be offered clean, fresh water as often as possible.

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References

  • Photo Credit sled dog,huskie,dog,sledding,dogsledding,tiger roa image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com A Boy and his Dog in the Snow image by Marzanna Syncerz from Fotolia.com
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