Monday, May 23, 2011

Take-away from "What the Iditarod can teach us about performance dogs"

This is "part-two" of my brain-dump of Kim Henneman's lecture on her experiences working as a staff veterinarian at the 2011 Iditarod. If you've landed here, I'd suggest you go back and read part one which contains a lot of background.  For me, probably the best part of the lecture was confirmation and clarifications - and a couple of new ideas to ponder and perhaps implement into our routine...

Hydration and Electrolytes
I've long used Go-Dog or Glycocharge - which is similar to CPN Powerboost. I was not using it at full concentration though - rationalizing that dogs don't sweat, thus don't loose a lot of electrolytes. Once I started "feeding" Glyco-Charge at full concentration though I started seeing a dramatic difference in how Teller came back for his second and third runs of the day, even in some amount of heat - certainly above Teller's comfort level anyway. Dr. Kim mentioned electrolyte supplementation in the canine athlete, I mentioned glycocharge. dr. Kim's answer was interesting - her concern with glycocharge, Go-Dog, Powerboost, etc was the source of the ingredients. That it was possible that many of the ingredients were sourced in China - and thus might not be as safe as we might think them to be...

Wow! I go to a lot of lengths to feed my dogs naturally. OK, not organically - but I don't feed kibble because I worry about the source of the ingredients - and while glycocharge (and Go-Dog and PowerBoost) are made in the USA I did not investigate the origins of the ingredients. HUGE oversight on my part and something I need to catch up on before I re-order any of those products.

Dr. Kim mentioned that she recommends Gatorade to her canine sports medicine clients - primarily the powdered (drink-mix) variety as it has fewer questionable ingredients (preservatives) than the bottled variety.

Dr. Kim also recommends providing dogs with two bowls/buckets in their crates post-exercise. One plain water, the other an electrolyte mixture, saying that dogs are really good at regulating and knowing what they need. Often they will drink what they need of each. In humans Dr. Kim mentioned that if Gatorade "tastes good" then your body needs it - if "it doesn't taste good to you, you probably don't need to drink it" - the body knows.

During this conversation Saturday night I expressed some doubts about whether my dogs would drink Gatorade (of any flavor) and as luck would have it Gatorade was on sale this week at Shaws. I purchased several different colors (I don't really think they have different flavors - red tastes pretty much like orange and purple) and so far I've only offered "Yellow" (lemon-lime) to the dogs after they finished several hours of swimming - neither dog was particularly interested in the offering. Teller dipped his tongue in before walking away and Murphy walked away after a sniff. I suppose it's possible that they simply didn't NEED electrolytes, but generally after swimming (a lot of water in and out) they do want some glycocharge.  I don't think they have ever turned down a bowl of glycocharge - yummy liver flavored deliciousness and always drink all of the glycocharge that is put in front of them.

I'm also going to try some Coconut Water (essentially coconut milk from an immature coconut) - which (from Vita-Coco) is marketed to be "Loaded with the five essential electrolytes that your body craves -- including potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous -- Vita Coco has what it takes to keep you hydrated and refreshed throughout your busy day.
In fact, each serving of Vita Coco has more electrolytes and 15 times more potassium than the leading sports drink, and more potassium than two bananas (about 700 mg of potassium is in each 11.2-ounce serving size). These electrolytes work to keep the body cool, help boost poor circulation, replenish your body's fluids after exercising, and aid in the detoxification process while boosting your immune system." Again, not sure if the boys will drink it - I've bought  it a few times for myself and it was very refreshing (if served cold)!

There are some natural foods and fruits that supply natural sources of electrolytes - Dr. Kim specifically mentioned blueberries. It's hard to travel with fresh blueberries though....I might experiment with small containers of frozen blueberries to see how well they travel.

Last year I read an article about mushers supplementing their dogs with potassium gel. I can't for the life of me find that article again - DAMMIT! Anyhow, the crux of the article cited VERY low blood potassium levels after hard workouts and races. Potassium supplementation makes me nervous. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if calcium and potassium are out of whack - including heart issues. Agility dogs aren't sled dogs - Teller never works as hard physically as a sled dog. However, I think some natural sources of potassium are in fact beneficial... For us it's bananas. Bananas travel well in all seasons - though they do ripen faster in the summer, they're very portable, palatable, won't upset the tummies and perhaps actually helping upset stressed out tummies. Dr. Kim agreed with the banana supplementation at trials and also mentioned spinach for the same reason - some other foods that are high in potassium: milk, meat proteins, lima beans, avacados, I said - Bananas are MUCH easier to travel with than spinach.

Fat and Fish
One of my summer struggles has been keeping weight on Teller. He already has a pretty efficient metabolism, then I add in all of his swimming, longer days with more play and it can be very hard to keep weight on Teller - even with huge volumes of raw food. Last year I was saved by grain - Teller's weight stabilized when I started adding some whole grains pasta to his daily rations. Dr. Kim recommended adding more fat and more fish. Pork jowl is a pretty fatty cut of pork and is easy to buy in either bulk from Oma's (a special order) or from a local butcher (apparently people use pork jowel to flavor soups, roasts, vegetables, etc). On the fish side, Dr. Kim mentioned oily fish - anchovies (not packed in oil) or sardines. The lower on the food chain the better (fewer contaminates than larger fish). I already feed whole mackerel from time to time and I can purchase bulk sardines easily from Oma's. I'll add some to my next order - as we'll be in PRIME swimming season by the end of June - between now and then we have PLENTY of mackerel to keep the boys busy.

**B-A-N-A-N-A-S - I always think of Gwen Stefani's Hollaback girl. Specifically the lyrics: This $hit is bananas - B-A-N-A-N-A-S ....
The B-A-N-A-N-A-S part comes in at 2:25:

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