Age, breed, sex distribution and nutrition of a population of working farm dogs in New Zealand: results of a cross-sectional study of members of the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association

I Singh, L A Tucker, P Gendall, K J Rutherfurd-Markwick, J Cline, D G Thomas
New Zealand Veterinary Journal 2011, 59 (3): 133-8

AIM: To establish baseline information about age, breed, sex distribution and feeding practices for a population of working farm dogs owned by members of the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association (NZSDTA) throughout New Zealand.

METHODS: Questionnaires were sent to members of the NZSDTA in August 2007, requesting information on the size and terrain of the farms where they worked, as well as the breed, weight, age and sex of each working dog they owned, feeding regime employed, diet fed, work levels, and general health of their dogs.

RESULTS: The survey was completed by 542/676 (81%) of the eligible sample population, and provided information on 2,861 dogs, excluding those <1 year old. All of the dog owners surveyed worked on sheep and beef-cattle farms. The median farm size was 440 [Inter-quartile range (IQR) 132-1,200] ha and varied with region. The majority of farms were situated on either hill country (184/542; 34%) or a mixture of hilly and flat terrain (260/542; 48%), and had a median of six (IQR 5-8) working dogs per farm. The median age of dogs was 3.0 (IQR 2.0-6.0) years. Heading dogs were the most common type of working dog (1,510/2,861; 52.8%), followed by Huntaways (1,161/2,861; 40.6%). The gender distribution of all dogs was biased towards males (57%), but this decreased with age. There was a positive association between the number of dogs on a farm and perceived level of tiredness of dogs (p<0.001), but there were no differences in levels of tiredness between farms of different terrain. Most owners (526/542; 97%) fed their dogs once a day. The most common diet fed was a combination of dry food and homekill, which was fed by 328/542 (61%) owners during peak and 313/542 (58%) during off-peak periods of work.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: This study has established baseline information on the age, breed, gender and nutrition of a large population of working farm dogs in New Zealand. Current feeding practices employed by owners include offering a substantial amount of homekill to their animals. Homekill may be deficient or marginal in vitamins and minerals, therefore opportunities could exist to improve the diets and therefore the longevity and performance of these dogs.

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