This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of The Iowa Sportsman magazine.
In most cases, our dogs are most active during the months of our respective hunting seasons. Even dogs that train regularly during the offseason can be more active during the hunting months because they are guide dogs, or simply hunt hard a few days per week resulting in more calories burnt and more wear and tear on the body.
For maximum performance, as well as a speedy recovery it is crucial to feed our dogs properly. I am asked frequently “What do you feed your dogs during the hunting season”? The truth is that my dogs eat the same food year round. With rigorous training year round, as well as hunting during the season, I feed my dogs something with a high enough protein content, as well as fat. This way, not only do my dogs have a great energy source, but enough protein to repair and recover after a hard day afield.
My particular food of choice is the POWER Formula from Kinetic Performance Dog Food. This blend contains 30% crude protein, and 20% crude fat, which is ideal for dogs that have high activity levels in their day to day routines (1-2 hour increments). Let’s take a look at some key focus points when evaluating a food to feed your hunting dog during the season.
Multiple Protein Sources
Protein is what fuels muscle activity, so during the season when our dogs are most active it is important to have easily digestible sources of protein. The food I feed has chicken, fish and egg (the fish adds other benefits I will touch on soon).
Multiple Fat Sources
For energy, a dog’s body (just like human bodies) will metabolize fat. For that reason, adequate fat content is critical in maximizing the nutritional value of your dog’s food. The POWER Formula that I feed my dogs includes chicken fat, fish oil and sunflower oil. Fish oil is also rich in omega 3 fatty acid which creates healthy and durable skin, coat and paw pads to endure the hunting season. So many issues in dogs can stem from a lack of proper fats; energy level, itchiness and dry pads.
Common Ingredient Profile
One benefit to the Kinetic POWER Formula that I feed that I think we should all consider when selecting our dog food is the common ingredient formula. What this means is that a brand of dog food typically offers different varieties (for example “Adult”, “Sport”, etc.) but they all include the same basic ingredients. The benefit here is that if you were to switch to the different blend (maybe switch to the higher protein/higher fat content food during the hunting months) it would be stress free on your dog’s digestive system.
Vitamins and Trace Minerals
It is not only protein that helps a dog’s body recover from vigorous activity. Vitamins, chelated trace minerals, prebiotics and electrolytes all play a vital role in the process as well. You will want to make sure that your food contains an adequate vitamin and trace mineral package, as I believe these components are what can really set one food apart from another. For example, the food that I feed contains Betaine, which breaks down proteins and fats into more digestible form. This is fairly unique in dog food, so I really appreciate this “feature”. I also recommend looking at the ingredients list and seeing where potassium shows up. Is it early in the list? If so, that is great! We as humans are told to eat bananas to reduce muscle aches, soreness, stiffness and cramping. The potassium is what helps these symptoms and it is no different for our dogs. Typically potassium is far down the list of ingredients, so the sooner, the better. Another rare vitamin the food I feed contains is L-Carnitine which largely contributes to converting fat to energy.
Feeding a dog food that accounts for some of the items described above will ensure that your dog is receiving appropriate nutrition during the hunting season. Because of the high nutritional value from these factors, you will not need to increase their food intake (something several sporting dog owners do) to offset their increased activity. This is the benefit to feeding a food blend that is geared towards a true sporting dog. With the right amount of protein, fat, vitamins and so forth, your dog will receive the proper amount of nutritional value without having to overfeed (the body can only digest so much of these items before they essentially go to waste). Of course the other benefit here is the economics. Good food is not cheap, so being able to properly feed your dog with superior nutrition and make your bag last as long as possible is a great benefit to feeding premium food. There may be situations where higher caloric intake is necessary (pregnant female, working dog that burns very high calories on a daily basis, etc.), but overall a normal daily serving (I feed twice per day) will suffice.
There are several great dog foods on the market, but in using my choice of food as an example I hope I am able to point out key factors you should look for when managing your hunting dog’s nutrition during the season. Hunting dogs are athletes, and like all athletes, nutrition is one of, if not the important element in consistent performance and overall health.
Ryan is the President of the Upland Gundog Association and a longtime trainer of hunting Retrievers. You can learn more about Ryan and his training methods at the UGA website, www.uplandgundog.com.