Readiness of Military Service Animals
SUSAN YANOFF and MICHELLE ROSS
U.S. Department of Defense
MILITARY WORKING DOGS
The Army, Navy, Airforce, and Marine Corp have 2,000 military dogs stationed worldwide. These dogs are used to perform patrols and to detect explosives and drugs, among other duties. The dogs most commonly used for these activities include Belgian Malinois (herding dogs similar to German shepherds), German shepherds, and Dutch shepherds. Retrievers are also used as working animals by the Department of Defense (DoD). These dogs, especially the Malinois and shepherds, possess characteristics that make them well-suited for military service: size, intelligence, and adaptability. They are also an aggressive breed that can be trained to protect by utilizing their special senses and controlling their catching, biting, and holding behavior. Dogs that meet height and weight requirements are often obtained from farms around the Czech Republic and Hungary countryside.
Potential military working dogs undergo extensive evaluation prior to procurement by the DoD. If they are deemed acceptable for potential service, they are admitted to the Training Squadron at the DoD’s Official Military Working Dog Training School in Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
While military working dogs might be considered “weapons,” they are not autonomous; they have a working interdependence with their handler. The dogs
are stationed with soldiers worldwide and may also be deployed for a period of 1 to 6 months.
Military working dogs must adapt to extreme temperature changes and often rugged, unyielding environments. While military working dogs may not exert as much energy per day as sled dogs or active hunting dogs, they are required to perform critical and tedious duties.
A high-quality diet helps military working dogs remain healthy as they deal with their environmental and physical challenges. A nutrient-dense, highly digestible, high-performance diet is provided by a commercial supplier for the daily rations of military working dogs.
The care and feeding of military working dogs present situations that are much different from those associated with the care and feeding of pet canines. Unlike our pets, but just as military soldiers do, dogs must carry their food with them when they deploy. Feeding a nutrient-dense food is convenient because it keeps the amount of food to be transported to a minimum. Highly digestible food also creates less waste, which is a consideration as military quarters can be limited.
The diet provided to military working dogs is a fixed formula. This helps to ensure consistency, which is important for preventing gastrointestinal problems encountered by alterations in quantity and quality of nutrients fed. The number one emergency and a common cause of death in military dogs is gastric dilation. During gastric dilation, the stomach fills up with air and twists on itself. If this condition is not treated immediately, the dog quickly dies.
Just as humans in the military fall ill, military working dogs can become sick. When this happens, special diets are provided that meet the dog’s special nutrient requirements until the dog recovers. If the health condition is a chronic one, such as a kidney problem that would require specialized long-term care, the dog is retired from service.
Monitoring the health of the military working dogs is important to ensure their military readiness. Dogs are monitored and maintained at ideal weight. Should the animal gain or lose more than 5 pounds, it is examined for medical problems. If none are found, the diet is immediately adjusted and caloric intake is established to return the dog to its optimal weight.
Many do not appreciate that nutrition is a major factor that must be considered in the health and welfare of military service dogs. The form and composition of the diet must be considered to allow for rapid deployment. The diet must also promote health, reduce risk for disease, maintain immune function ,and ensure that the dogs are physically fit to serve in the military.
MILITARY MARINE MAMMALS
The U.S. Navy has a large collection of marine mammals that are used as military working dogs of the ocean. The Navy also studies the diving physiology, hydrodynamics, and sonar capabilities of marine mammals. Whale and dolphin sonar is studied because nothing can be developed electronically that could mimic these living systems.
Bioenergetics, the study of energy transformations in living systems, connects physical sciences, such as thermodynamics, with biological energy flow. Nutritional bioenergetics explores the relationship between dietary components and energy expenditure. Energy balance is predicted based on body weight, gender, activity, environment, and food nutritive value.
The objective of nutritional bioenergetics for performance animals is to optimize maintenance, growth, reproduction, and athletics. However, there is very little published information about nutrient requirements of marine mammals, which makes this objective difficult to achieve. Although the National Research Council (NRC) has published a number of reports on multiple animal species, that are a great source of information, there is not an official NRC source on marine mammal nutrition.
Most captive marine mammals utilize feeding programs based on a defined fish weight from which kilocalories can be calculated. However, this method is not optimal because fish type and season of the year cause tremendous variation in the caloric content of any given fish species.
Marine mammals have high-energy requirements, which are 1.5 to 2 times greater than terrestrial animals of similar size, in part because of thermoregulatory requirements. Thermoregulation is the mechanism that warm-blooded animals evolved to maintain their narrow body temperature range when faced with different environmental conditions. Living in a water environment presents a unique challenge because of water’s high heat capacity, which draws heat away from the body 25 times faster in water than in air.
Dolphins, whales, and some other marine mammals have developed physiologic adaptations to compensate for this challenge. A cross section of skin and tissue in the dolphin reveals a small layer of subcutaneous fat and a much larger layer of hypodermis or blubber. Blubber is fibrous connective tissue imbedded with fat that acts like a wet suit and insulates against the cold. It is also a nutritional source, is highly labile, and can expand and contract rapidly depending on the environmental challenge -- the depth of the layer can change markedly within a couple of weeks.
Lactation also increases energy requirements. Dolphins don't drink water but derive all their water from their food -- fish are generally 75 or 80 percent water. Metabolic water is also produced during digestion and metabolism.
Determining Nutrient Requirements
Few controlled studies have been conducted to determine nutrient requirements of sea mammals; so, military researchers have looked at basic nutritional challenges. Specifically, the effects of high and low fat diets were compared with weight, body condition, and metabolism. Dolphin populations were divided into groups based on gender, age, and activity.
Older mammals require fewer calories for maintenance than do younger animals because the body becomes fatter with age. Animals fed high fat diets had higher body fat than did animals fed the same amount of calories from other sources. Metabolic rate decreases with age, but low fat diets increase metabolic rate.
Free ranging aquatic animals cannot be put in a metabolic chamber to measure energy expenditure; so, stable isotopes of water, deuterium, and 18O, must be administered orally. This method is effective but expensive—an average dose costs $6,000. This technique allows very accurate measurements of energy expenditure, and metabolic rate can be calculated in free ranging animals.
More research needs to be conducted on the nutrient requirements of marine mammals. Dolphins are specialized mammals and fill a unique military service and ecological niche. Early evidence suggests that bioenergetic principles in marine mammals mimic the bioenergetic principles in terrestrial mammals, supporting the concept of evolution and underscoring the relationship among all living animals.
The use of animals in the military has been a significant and critical component of our nation’s protection and defense throughout history. These animals serve in specialized capacities, working closely with their human counterparts. Defining and meeting their nutrient needs continues to be of the utmost importance to ensure that the non-human members of our military forces are well cared-for and given the necessary tools for optimum performance.