This is a topic that comes up frequently in discussions with working dog professionals. For many of us, olfactory detection is an important part of what our dogs need to do. This could include anything from tracking humans or animals to finding drugs, explosives or other targeted odors. While there’s a genetic component specific to each dog’s ability, we’re always looking for an edge or any way we can to improve our dog’s capabilities. Can diet be a factor? The answer is yes, and there’s been a variety of research studies performed across a number of different canine disciplines to support this.
Some Scientific Background
About fifteen years ago we were diving into the topic of improving scent capability through dietary modifications. At that time, we consulted with a couple well known names in the academic community who had done extensive research in the working and sporting dog worlds. Their names were Dr. Robert Gillette and Dr. Joe Wakshlag.
These two gentlemen have done a number of research studies specific to the effects of diet and exercise on olfactory capability. Rather than re-create the wheel, we got together with them and settled in for an education. While not everyone can bring in consultants to discuss their studies, you can still find some summaries of their research online with a quick search.
Fat is Key
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll boil down what we learned to the most basic elements of their findings. Their research showed that, with all other things being equal, the introduction of certain oils (fats) rich in omega-6 fatty acids had a favorable impact on the dog’s scent capabilities.
The oils they recommended as effective, at that time, were corn oil, canola oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. This list has been somewhat modified and refined with subsequent studies but remains largely accurate. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you can make a dog with a poor nose have a good nose. You could, though, improve the dog’s odor detection threshold from whatever innate abilities were already present.
Refine and Replicate
Additional studies have been done in the many intervening years with results that roughly mirror the original studies. With different breeds and disciplines, such as hunting versus working dogs, there has been a fairly consistent message to come out of scent research. In short, with the proper combination of diet and exercise, you can improve your dog’s ability to detect odor. This is a pretty big deal when it’s your dog’s job to track or detect.
Practical Dietary Application
We saw such a value in improved scent capabilities that we included sunflower oil in all of our dry kibble formulas. It’s also important to balance the amount of omega-6 fatty acids with healthy omega-3 fatty acids that provide other benefits to your dogs. This is especially true in puppy diets where the extra omega-3s and DHA are essential to development.
If your food doesn’t include any of these oils, supplementation is always an option that is not very complex to implement. If you do your research to identify appropriate feeding quantities, it’s a fairly easy process to top dress the correct oil as part of your normal feeding program.