Just like hungry teenage kids need more fuel for their growing needs, so do our adolescent dogs.
Feeding the Teenage Brain
We often hear about all the negative effects of too much sugar and carbohydrates, however they also have important roles to play. They are the main source of energy for our body and they help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and the central nervous system.
Research shows that growth rates and brain development peak in humans around the ages of 11 - 15 years. Similarly adolescence occurs in dogs around the age of 6 - 18 months of age, and is marked by a time of rapid growth, hormonal changes and re-organising and development of their brains. Beware of over-exercising your young dog. It’s often during adolescents when dog guardians think they need to exercise their young dogs for longer periods and / or with more high-impact cardio exercise in order to get rid of excess energy or ‘tire them out’. However, young dogs rarely know their own limits and will simply keep going - particularly when it comes to dopamine driven exercise such as chasing balls and rough play. This type of exercise not only over-stimulates the nervous system, but also requires large amounts of energy. The two main sources of energy are derived from carbohydrates (glucose/sugar) and fatty acids (fat). During the first 15 mins of exercise, most of the fuel comes from sugar taken from the bloodstream or sugar stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. Continued exercise then leads to these sources being depleted and the body begins to take its energy from fatty acids. As a result of high energy exercise, both sugar and fat reserves are quickly used up, resulting in a drop in blood sugar and glycogen levels which may take anywhere from 4-6 hours after moderate exercise or even 12-24 hours after intense exercise, to be replaced.
Symptoms of low blood sugar levels When blood sugar levels are low, it can lead an array of symptoms including:
● Feeling tired, sleepy / exhausted
● Feeling hungry
● Feeling dizzy and shaky
● Becoming irritable, anxious or moody
These are all signs from our body telling us that we need to replenish the body’s sugar and fat levels. If however these symptoms are ignored (no food intake to replace necessary nutrients), then further symptoms can develop including; weakness, lack of concentration, blurred vision, clumsiness and in worse cases collapse /passing out or even seizure activity. The brain is a hungry organ The brain is an energy hungry organ, and uses up around 20-25% of daily energy intake. And, during adolescence, when brain development is at its peak, the body prioritizes the uptake of sugar and fats from the bloodstream in order to meet its needs for healthy functioning. Ever wondered why teenagers are constantly raiding the fridge?!
Well our dogs don’t have that luxury - but I am sure given the chance, our teenage dogs would also be raiding the fridge if they could, lol! Seriously though...I think we need to be more mindful of this. Our dogs may lay around exhausted and seemingly satisfied after exercise, but I think we may be missing some of the very important stuff that may be happening inside their bodies that is not so obvious.
So what am I suggesting?
In my experience in working with many people and their young dogs, I have seen time and time again, that dogs are often over-exercised (or the wrong kind of exercise), and too little attention is paid to healthy food to meet their nutritional needs during this stage of development. These dogs often show symptoms of mood-swings, irritability, anxiety and hyperactivity. Could it be that they need more healthy sugar and fats? Yes, in my opinion I think this is pretty accurate and relevant, at least in many cases.
Of course it should be the right carbohydrates and fats - not treats loaded with refined sugars and processed carbs, but rather good whole food sources that contain Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K; Proteins, Vitamin B6, B9, B12 for healthy brain function and Complex Carbohydrates found in whole grains and vegetables.
Some good whole food options to add to your dogs diet are: organic meat sources, fatty fish and seafood, seeds & nuts, plant oils, yogurt and eggs, vegetables such as carrots, beets, sweet potato, squash, broccoli and fruits such as berries, apple and pears.
Daily food rations can also be divided into 3 meals a day instead of 2, and on days where your dog has been very active, you can add more to his bowl. I’m sure you would also load your plate if you had a hard day of exercise and activity, wouldn’t you?
And, last but not least, don’t forget to give your dog plenty of fresh, clean WATER to keep them hydrated after periods of exercise and throughout the day.
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