The Gonzo King Of Sled Dog Nutrition

Hunter S. (Dr. Duke) Thompson created the field and the label, Gonzo Journalism, with his over-the-top, in-your-face writing and performances initially covering sports events then carrying the same style to politics and everything else that grabbed his attention or that Rolling Stone would pay him to cover. A key feature of Gonzo Journalism was Thompson himself who became part of each story. In many later writings his own or a somewhat alter ego Dr. Duke personae were the entire story.

News to me: Gonzo comes from the Boston Irish term for the last man standing after a session of drinking and brawling. A good reason to apply the term to mushers, since Quesnel, B.C. musher historian Jeff Dinsdale claims the word musher derives from masher, not from the French marche, due to dog mushers’ similar behavior, dancing, drinking and brawling. (See the next post, Mushers And Mashers On The Frontier, 1858.)

Back on track, my first and only nomination for the title is David Kronfeld the Australian born veterinary nutritionist who  allegedly counseled his graduate students never to approach a lecture stage or podium for an important presentation without adequate alcoholic preparation.

When Dunlap and Bright approached him with or without alcoholic preparation in the mid 1970s for advice how to restore their dogs which had crashed on carbohydrate loading, Kronfeld saw the opportunity for research funding and subsequently solved the problem, at least in theory. Kronfeld also went on to become a proponent of zero carbohydrate diet for performance working dogs long before the trend caught on for humans with the Atkins, Paleo, and similar low carb diets.

The only defect in Kronfeld’s ideal diet plan applied to sled dogs was that in a commercial dog food without carbs, the usual cereal ingredients are omitted along with the collateral fiber that is needed for GI and immune function. Other than that, from the species-typical Evolutionary diet perspective it rates a no-brainer, DUH!

The sorry fact is that in the 1970s not many mushers were thinking in species-typical diet terms for improved sled dog performance other than the “backward” mushers in villages in Alaska and Canada who knew dog food, fed more or less what had been fed to sled dogs for hundreds of years, but did not use scientific terminology. The new breed of Iditarod mushers who knew what worked and what did not had also caught on. Kronfeld deserves credit for going against the conformist complacency of nutritionists who presumed that then-current commercial products had to be better than primitive prehistoric habits.

Kronfeld’s other contribution to sled dog nutrition was the practical “home cooking” approach. He advocated a system of balancing a homemade diet composed of available staples such as meat and cereals with a short list of what he called in an article in the November 1981  American Kennel Club Gazette “A Supple Supplement For All Staples.”

“Meat is the staple on which dogs evolved.

Grain became a staple for horses, cattle and dogs about 100 years ago.

In practice we have two staples, grain for economy and meat for performance. I have recommended repeatedly that we should  use mixtures that vary in proportions of grain and meat according to desired levels of economy and performance.

This was genius at work, or the closest I’ll ever come to it.

Eureka! To hell with grams, ounces and calories. Bring on the standard 8 fluid ounce breakfast cup.

So I formulated a single supple-pack consisting of the following:


bone meal

corn oil

iodized salt

Meanwhile, don’t ask me to recommend a good book on canine nutrition.”

-Quoted from David Kronfeld’s article.

Kronfeld was off on essential fatty acids especially omega-3 and on dietary fiber but his method is a good template or heuristic.

The National Academy of Sciences 1968 Nutrient Requirements of Mink and Foxes shows a similar practical home cooking approach. Tables 6 and 7 can be used to help design a diet based on staples and supplements as Kronfeld proposed. The general principles outlined page 3 in the 1968 edition refer to “unidentified required nutrients” that can be provided by including feed ingredients such as liver, alfalfa meal, yeast, wheat germ… Such a vague and modest concept was useful but beneath the dignity and self-importance of modern nutrition. With epigenetics and microbiome effects on animals and people known to confound simplifications they should be even more cautious and less sure of themselves

In the following link click preview then scroll down to the those two tables:

The original Iams Eukanuba was based on dry mink food. Dogs were fed dry processed foods long before any successful commercially viable diet was developed and formulated for mink. The nutritional requirements and performance standards in fur quality for mink diets were elusive for a long time.

Cats are another animal with more stringent nutritional requirements.





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