Nutrition and the active Canicross dog

Posted by Ginetta George, 23rd January 2021

What and how to feed dogs that are actively taking part in Canicross is a topic that can throw up a lot of questions. From what to feed a dog newly starting out in the sport to how much food and water to give them after a race, there are lots of important areas to consider around the right nutrition. 

Every dog is different, but there are still ways to boost their energy levels and stamina and ensure they remain happy and healthy by paying close attention to what they eat. Active field and trial dog feed specialists, Skinner’s, have joined forces with DogFit this month to give some tips and pointers on the subject. In this latest podcast, Zoe Russell, qualified dog nutritionist and Nutrition Officer for Skinner’s sheds some light on some commonly asked questions.

Why is it so important to think carefully about what we feed our dogs?

A dog’s diet is very important, especially if they lead an active life or regularly take part in canine sports like Canicross. What a dog eats and the type of nutrients they take in affects how their body functions. Areas such as cognitive health, bones, muscles, heart, joints, immune system are all linked very closely to nutrition.

Additionally, diet has a direct effect on a dog’s wellbeing, emotional state and overall happiness. Being on the right diet means that a dog feels fit and well and is therefore less anxious or lethargic. While nutrition cannot cure everything that could be wrong with a dog’s physical and mental health on its own, it can certainly help put things right.

A brown poodle dog drinking from a grey bowl whilst water is being poured in from a plastic bottle

What elements of a healthy diet help post-exercise recovery?

Drinking enough water is key for post-exercise recovery, amongst many other things. A dog’s body is made up of around 70%, so the effects of dehydration can be very serious. Water helps to regulate body temperature, transport nutrients and support the digestion system. Always ensure that your dog has access to a fresh supply of drinking water. Water can also be obtained through snacks and meals.

Other essentials include protein to support muscle repair and act as an energy source. Carbohydrates provide energy too, and help support the heart and brain during post-exercise recovery. Dogs also need to take in fats if they are regularly running long distances as these provide vitamins and slow-releases energy over a longer period of time.

Is it expensive to feed dogs with the right kind of foods for a healthy diet?

Not necessarily. Price doesn’t always correlate with quality when it comes to dog food and nutritional supplements. Manufacturers, after all, have full control over how much they charge for their products and sometimes, you might need to do some deeper research to make sure you choose exactly the right product for your individual dog. Always ask your vet for advice, although bear in mind that some vet-recommended diets are more expensive because they have been developed with greater levels of research and specialist knowledge than the more generic, off-the-shelf dog foods.

Don’t be swayed by fashionable diets or exotic ingredients either, as these are not always automatically better for your dog. Aim instead to provide a full and balanced diet. Look for pet food that is labelled ‘complete’ to help you achieve this, as this denotes that the food has been designed to contain the right amounts of the various nutrients for your dog to enjoy an active, healthy life.

How should beginners to Canicross feed their dogs? Is there anything in particular that they should be doing to adjust their dog’s nutritional intake at the start?

Some dogs embarking upon Canicross for the very first time can stay on their normal diet and rations without needing anything extra or new. Others may need a daily increase in nutritional intake to keep their energy levels up. Always consult your vet if you are unsure about what to feed a dog that’s new to Canicross. Judge the situation based on your own, individual dog and what you can tell about their performance levels and health condition. You may find that some dogs need more food in the winter as more energy is spent during colder months on keeping warm.

Watch your dog’s weight if you do increase their nutritional intake and make sure they do not start to become too chubby or overweight. You can always reduce portion sizes again if you feel they are starting to eat too much. Find out what your dog should weigh and check that you are within healthy parameters. Your vet can give you a body condition chart to check and compare your dog against if you are concerned. It’s a delicate balance between making sure they are not overweight, but also not too lean.

The illustration below is taken from PFMA Dog Size-O-Meter with their permission. For more information please visit

You can download the full PFMA information sheet >> here

Infographic of different dog body shapes and weight gain

Should you feed your dog before or after a prolonged period of exercise, such as Canicross?

You should feed your dog at least one hour before an energetic activity, and ideally earlier than that to give them enough time to digest the food. Getting into the routine of giving a morning and evening meal can work well. You can also give an easily digestible snack in the middle of the day if you feel your dog needs a quick energy boost.

If you try to feed your dog too much, or too close to active exercise, this can lead to a risk of bloating. This sees the stomach swell and twist, putting pressure on the other organs and cutting off the blood supply. This can be a particular problem for deep-chested breeds, such as Great Danes and Weimaraner’s, so consult your vet or breeder if you need further advice.

How much water can a dog drink straight after a Canicross event?

Although your dog is bound to be thirsty after a rigorous Canicross race, don’t automatically let them drink as much as they want, as lots of water taken in too quickly can cause internal damage. Be mindful of how much they are drinking and check they are rehydrating steadily and correctly, rather than overdrinking too fast. This is especially vital on hotter days, so get to know how much your dog typically drinks in different temperatures in order to help you gauge if they are on track.

Make sure they do drink enough, however, as a loss of just 7% of their body water can lead to severe dehydration and 15% can be fatal. If you are keen to encourage a reluctant dog to drink more, try adding some water to their food.

If you have a particular question about nutrition and your active dog, please drop us a line and we can pass to the nutrition team at Skinners.

For information about Skinner’s range of foods and nutritional products for active dogs, please visit the website at

You can listen to our podcast on Talk Canicross to hear Zoe talk about dog nutrition here.

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