Feeding the Labrador Retriever
Nutrition tips for Labs in all walks of life.
Virginia Parker Guidry
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I encourage pet owners or dog breeders to learn to do a body condition score, or a healthy hug, whichever term you prefer. Practice it routinely to monitor body weight and watch for excess body fat. The easiest way to observe is to basically feel over the dogs ribs. Because there should be just a little bit of fat over the ribs, but it shouldn't be very thick. You should, with gentle pressure, be able to count the ribs. Just rub your hand over the ribs and feel each one individually. If you can't feel very easily, that dogs too fat and you need to start cutting back on the food.
The Lab should also have a waist, says Dr. LaFlamme, which means there should be a tuck behind the last rib; the lumbar area should be tucked in a little bit. The belly should be tucked up when you look at them from the side. Simply, observe the Lab for changes. If the dog is getting heavy, cut back on food. If its too thin, increase the amount.
That's exactly how Weist feeds her Labs. Each day I look at them and decide how much food they're going to get, she says. The amount of food depends upon the individual dog and the activities in which it is involved.
Theres nothing like the sight of a well-bred, handsome Lab making its way around the show ring. It appears strong, its eyes sparkle, its coat is dense, and it moves effortlessly. But as any breeder or handler will attest, a champion Lab doesn't just happen. Its the product of careful breeding and continual care.
An essential part of that care is diet. Just like companion Labs, show Labs need a balanced diet. But there are really no nutritional secrets or magic concoctions to maintain show ring looks. Feed the show dog a high-quality, complete and balanced diet, and you've got a handsome and healthy dog. Show dogs are often fed nutritional supplements advertised as coat enhancers or conditioners, says Dr. Davidson. These are not necessary, and many of the top show dogs I know eat nothing but a high-quality kibble from a well-established, nationally known manufacturer.
The well-known dog food manufacturers do their homework, performing feeding trials in compliance with the group that determines feeding guidelines, the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), and employing veterinary nutritionists. The most important ingredients for a healthy coat are a high quality, nutritionally complete diet, good genetics and flea control. The only additive I recommend is a dietary fatty acid supplement.
Dr. LaFlamme agrees that supplements are unnecessary. If they've got a good dietand were not talking any brands herebut there are several, she says. If they've got a good-quality commercial diet, they shouldn't need any kind of supplement. It should all be in the diet. If they have to supplement it, then they probably don't have a quality diet.
Supplements aren't necessary, but it is true that showing can be stressful to the Lab. In terms of diet, stress can mean a tendency toward gastrointestinal irritation, says Dr. LaFlamme. While a special diet isn't in order, a diet that is easy to digest is. They're probably going to need a diet that's highly digestible, she says.
Another consideration for show Labs is somewhat controversial: weight. Says Dr. LaFlamme, Some show judges still tend to prefer overweight Labradors. They wouldn't call them overweight. They would call them ideal. But in terms of probably their best health, and best skeletal health and conformation, they're probably a bit pudgy. So, because of that, if you're showing your dog, you may need to have a little extra conditioning on them.
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