High performance levels and strenuous exercise can challenge a dog’s digestive system. Their bodies endure mechanical stress from the vibrations caused by exercise as well as a physical stress associated with increased levels of cortisol. As a result, dogs can experience gastrointestinal upset.

Fortunately, feeding your dog a diet with certain key nutrients can have a positive impact on their gastrointestinal (GI) health. According to Russ Kelley, the Science Lead/Service and Working Dog Research Manager at Eukanuba’s Pet Health & Nutrition Center, “nutrition that supports the GI system includes insoluble fibers, psyllium, prebiotics, and beet pulp. These ingredients help ensure that nutrients are absorbed by the dog’s body and can be used to help replace cells lost during activity.”

Fermentable fiber in the form of fructoligosaccharides (FOS) and beet pulp play a prebiotic role by stimulating the production of short chain fatty acids which nourish the intestine cells. And FOS also provides a prebiotic effect by stimulating beneficial bacteria. The addition of psyllium aids in the passage of stool.

Some diets contain solid ingredients that are precision ground which makes digestion easier. Finely-ground carbohydrates from corn meal, barley, and grain sorghum (a cereal) can be more efficiently absorbed by the digestive system. Foods that are easily digested help dogs optimize nutrient absorption.

Kibble size plays a larger role in digestion than most owners and handlers realize. Small, perfectly-round kibble is easy for a dog to swallow without chewing. Without being chewed, the kibble is neither ground by the teeth, nor does it come in contact with saliva. Saliva moistens the food so it can be digested. Small kibble that is swallowed without being chewed allows many nutrients to pass through the small intestine without being absorbed. Nutrients that pass through the body aren’t being used to support athletic needs. Slightly larger kibble size formed in irregular shapes encourages chewing and aids in digestion. That chewing also helps reduce tartar and plaque build-up on the teeth.

Digestion is important for canine athletes to perform at high levels. Dogs with upset GI systems can be low on energy and their attention may be less sharp on the task at hand. Taking care of your dog’s digestive system through nutrition is a great first step.