A Diet With More Fat and Less Protein Might Improve Detection Dogs’ Performance

A diet with more fat and less protein might improve detection dogs' performance

U.S. Airforce Staff Sgt. Bobbie Ohm walks with Nero, a working military dog, to search for explosives during a joint explosive detection training

A diet with more fat and less protein might not be something we usually look for in canine nutrition. Below are the highlights of interesting research on nutrients and their positive effect on the olfactory system (scent) in military detection dogs. 

Researchers followed 17 well-trained military detection dogs over an 18-month period. The dogs were rotated through 3 diets. Each time, their abilities to detect smokeless powder, ammonia nitrate, and TNT were evaluated. Granted, the sample size is small, but the study still delivered curious results.

The observation is actually simple. "If you're a dog, digesting protein raises body temperature, so the longer your body temperature is up, the longer you keep panting, and the harder it is to smell well," said Wakshlag.

The 3 diets they used were: a high-end performance diet, regular adult dog food, and regular adult dog food diluted with corn oil.

Corn oil is a polyunsaturated fat along with sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils. It is also found in walnuts, pine nuts, flaxseed, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. It sounds pretty bad as far as nutritional value, but it was successfully used to show that fat coming from a source of a lower protein is better for detection dogs.

Being on a lower protein and higher fat diet allows the dog's body temperature to return to normal much faster. It does sound like a great benefit for trials, days with long training hours or during high temperatures.

The only question we could not find an answer to is how long the dog needs to remain on this diet before seeing improved detection results.

The research was funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Joseph Wakshlag, associate professor of clinical studies and chief of nutrition at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, collaborated with researchers at Auburn University in 2013 at Alabama Military Canine training facility.

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