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How Dog Athleticism Helps Us Understand Dog and Human Nutrition

This series is brought to you by our partner, Purina ONE®. These stories share the innovations that are changing how we care for and learn from our pets. Read more about how pets—and the people who love them—can brighten lives and strengthen our communities at the GOOD Pets hub.


On a typical workday in Fairbanks, Alaska, research scientist and former national rower Arleigh Reynolds spends time exercising dogs in extreme weather conditions. Combining his backgrounds in athletics and veterinary medicine, Reynolds’ goal is to find out what physiological changes occur in dogs when they exercise, and if those changes help dogs manage their stress levels.

With 24 hours of daylight in the summer and three hours of dusk in the winter (when temperatures often dip to negative 50 degrees), it’s hard to imagine how Reynolds and his dogs can adapt to such a harsh environment. However, with regular exercise routines, Reynolds has found that dogs develop a natural antioxidant capacity that helps protect them against physiological damage caused by exposure to natural pro-oxidants. So, how does this apply to humans?

It turns out antioxidants and vitamins can be more effective if dogs and humans exercise regularly. While Reynolds figures out how to optimize proteins, fats, carbohydrates, antioxidants, and probiotics in dogs’ diets, he’s turning to some studies in human athleticism to inform his research. “A guy named John Ivy at the University of Texas discovered that if you rest and consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes of exercising, you can refuel within 24 hours and are more likely to complete successive days of running in competitions, for example,” he says. With search and rescue dogs needing to similarly be active for several days in a row, this rest and refueling between bouts of exercise is key to their success, and helps their immune systems recover faster when fatigued and stressed.

As Reynolds learns more about how exercise affects dogs, he’s also experimenting with nutritional strategies as they relate to immune function during periods of stress. One such strategy is to feed probiotics—live, beneficial bacteria—that help support your pet’s intestinal tract function when stressed. He has also studied biologics, which are nutritional compounds in nature that are rich in antibodies, and other secondary compounds which can stimulate the immune system so that dogs are less likely to get sick. “We’ve found two compounds that help do that. One is dried colostrum, which was used by physicians 1,000 years ago in India to treat disease. It’s the first milk mammals produce up to 48 hours after giving birth. The other is preserved, spray dried eggs from chickens that have been vaccinated for common canine diseases like parvovirus, rotavirus, and salmonella. These eggs can protect dogs against pathogens,” Reynolds says.

As more research is being done on nutrition for both humans and dogs, probiotics have become more common in diets, and biologics may be incorporated as well. But what Reynolds finds most important from his research with athletic dogs is that he’s helping them stay healthy, less stressed, and more apt to recover as they achieve their physical potential, gathering valuable research to help people’s pets to do the same. And with healthy, happy pets, comes more activity, making human-pet relationships that much stronger.

Image via (cc) Flickr user donjd2

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