The right food for bird dogs can make your four-legged partner stronger and sharper in the field while extending quality of life. Read on to see if your dog is enjoying the best diet possible.
Bird dogs and other working or sporting dogs need more calories and nutrients than a typical family dog who walks a lap or two around the neighborhood every night. All the training and time you put into your gun dog can never fully pay off without the right diet plan in place. Working dogs are athletes and should be fed as such.
Bird dogs and other active dogs burn through more calories while putting excess strain on muscles, joints, tendons, paws, and so forth. Not only does your dog need more fat and protein, but also, they require additional nutrients to help combat wear and tear on their bodies.
Protein, Fats & Carbs for Gun Dogs
Calories and portion sizes are important, but so too is the nutritional content of food. Hunting dogs need the correct number of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in their daily diets to excel at their job. Fats give dogs their energy, while protein helps build muscle and strength. Your dog needs fewer carbohydrates than protein or fat.
According to several hunting dog nutrition experts, hunting dogs should eat around 30% crude protein and 20% crude fat during active hunting season. The average dog food you buy at the store has between 5% and 10% fat content, and that’s just fine for sofa setters. But sporting setters and other working dogs need more than that. Look for premium performance foods that contain closer to 20% fat and 30% protein.
Dogs are designed to burn fat more efficiently than carbs. Researchers have found dogs who eat excess carbs and fail to eat enough fat burn out faster than dogs with diets higher in fat. Fat offers the best energy source for dog muscles and readily supports endurance exercise.
You may need to add additional fat sources to your bird dog’s diet. Krill oil is a healthy source of fat that offers countless other benefits, like healthier joints, and a prettier coat (but more on that later.) Other healthy fat sources include coconut oil and flaxseed oil.
According to Research, When You Feed Your Bird Dog Matters
According to a report published by Purina, it takes around 24-hours for food to make it from your dog’s mouth all the way through their gastrointestinal system and into a stinky poop you scoop up and toss out. Interestingly, dogs fed within the last 4-hours have half the endurance of dogs who were fed 12 to 24 hours before working in the field. Purina nutritionists recommend feeding hardworking bird dogs around 12 to 17 hours before working them. Feed dogs again 30 to 60 minutes after they finish working.
Goodgamehunting.com explains that when a dog eats 6-hours before exercising, their body burns carbohydrates to form energy, which causes them to tire out faster. On the other hand, when dogs exercise on an empty stomach after eating 17+ hours before, the body burns fat much more efficiently, increasing stamina and endurance.
That’s why some people believe feeding your hunting or sporting dog once a day is beneficial. Others, like myself, can’t quite imagine facing the look of hunger on my dog’s face if he only ate once a day. Even if you feed 2 times a day, you can attempt to spread out feedings so that your dog doesn’t go to work right after a meal.
What to Feed Bird Dogs During Off-Season
Our favorite go-to vet, Dr. Shawn Wayment, recommends feeding your bird dog a similar diet all year long—which means you’ll need to keep your dog active during all 4 seasons. If your dog’s routine drastically changes during off-season, say for instance he gets very little exercise, you definitely don’t want to feed as much food or he’ll pack on pounds fast. Keep in mind, an overweight dog is more prone to joint, tendon, bone, etc., issues. Bird dogs should never completely stop exercising. A solid maintenance plan should be in place to keep your dog fit and agile all year long.
If you train straight through the year, you can continue to feed your bird dog a similar quantity of high performance food. If your dog’s training program isn’t too rigorous, you might want to consider switching over to a quality maintenance food containing something like 10% to 17% fat and 20% to 28% protein. Keep close tabs on your dog’s stamina, weight, coat and overall health to ensure they are getting the nutrients and calories they need from maintenance food.
What About Supplements for Bird Dogs?
The ideal food for bird dogs isn’t complete without added supplements. Hip dysplasia and arthritis are common ailments for hunting dogs. Hip dysplasia can cause arthritis over time, but it starts off as a completely different disorder in which the ball of the thigh bone does not fit perfectly with the socket of the pelvis. It is common in large hunting dog breeds. It’s believed to be mostly genetic but can be sparked by injury, repetitive use, or obesity.
With or without a genetic tendency for hip or elbow dysplasia, sporting dogs are more prone to inflammation, osteoarthritis and premature breakdown of joints, cartilage, etc. Certain supplements have been proven to help postpone joint and bone issues, and in some instances, can even help your dog’s body rebuild tissues it would otherwise not be able to rebuild.
Glucosamine HCI, MSM, and Chondroitin Sulfate are three powerful ingredients used in conjunction to treat stiff joints, inflammation and arthritis.
Omega 3 fatty acids are another crucial component to your bird dog’s diet. Krill Oil has been identified as the purest, healthiest, easiest to digest and most sustainable source of omega 3s for dogs. Researchers have found krill oil reduces inflammation and painful joints in dogs (and people) with osteoarthritis. It can also help postpone the onset of arthritis in younger dogs.
How Much Food for Bird Dogs?
Hunting dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds; and so naturally you can’t lump them all into the same category when it comes to portion sizes and exact diet plans. Research your dog’s breed to find out the healthiest weight range and make dietary changes based on current activity levels and weight.
According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, a 30-lb working dog who conducts “light work” requires somewhere in the range of 1,030 calories per day. If that dog starts taking on “heavy work” they’ll require anywhere from 1,873 to 3,747 calories a day. In other words, the amount of time a dog spends working can greatly influence how much food they need. Additionally, older dogs and dogs who have been spayed or neutered typically require fewer calories.
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