Feeding Highly Active Dogs During Hunting Season

A feeding program that optimally complements your hardworking canine is a great way to help ensure that your dog’s season, performance and health will be in peak form. Among the important considerations to achieve success, you should feed a performance food with greater caloric density and adjust the feeding amount relative to your dog’s needs.
For many enthusiasts, having a dog that is very active during the hunting season and much less active in the spring and summer may be the way of life. For others, training, competitions and hunting may be a year-round passion. To optimize the performance of a hardworking dog, it is best to feed a performance food that contains 30 percent protein/20 percent fat versus a maintenance formula containing from 24 to 26 percent protein/12 to 16 percent fat. Performance foods have been shown in nutrition studies with dogs to optimize many physical and metabolic characteristics that are important to exercise.
A performance food provides two major benefits. First, it is more calorie-dense, which is important when more food is needed to meet a dog’s higher energy demand of increased activity and cooler temperatures. Second, and more importantly, a performance formula appropriately provides a greater proportion of nutrients delivered from fats and protein to significantly increase a working dog’s metabolism that favors exercise.
Did you know that a hardworking dog’s energy needs can double or as much as quadruple over the course of the season, compared to its resting energy needs in the off-season? The change depends on the dog’s intensity, frequency and duration of exercise, as well as the terrain and environmental temperature while not exercising.
As an example, if your dog consumes 2 cups a day during the lazy summer, you may have noticed that you have to increase the amount of food during the hunting season to 4 cups, or even up to 8 cups, a day by the middle or end of the season just to keep the dog’s weight stable. However, this significant increase in caloric need does not occur overnight and will vary for each dog. This is a gradual shift that occurs over several weeks as the season progresses, time in the field increases and physical conditioning improves. Therefore, the increased caloric needs will increase accordingly as metabolic rate and exercise frequency increases.
Enthusiasts often ask, “How do I know how much more or less to feed, and how do I best adjust the amount?” Ultimately, there are two rules of thumb. First and most importantly, always feed an amount to maintain a stable body weight and ideal body condition. And second, always add or subtract in small incremental changes, such as ¼ to ½ cup amounts every few days as appropriate, to promote a stable body condition.
An actual measuring cup filled with a level amount of kibble is the best tool to know exactly how much food you are giving daily. This will help make it easier to adjust the feeding amount of specific increments. Using an unmarked container can make adjustments more challenging and less consistent. In addition, having a standard measuring cup will aid communications between you and your veterinarian during routine health visits, in which topics relating to maintaining a healthy body condition and feeding practices are likely to come up.
This strategy is recommended because it is significantly easier to understand and practice than trying to calculate a specific caloric energy requirement that is an estimate based on things such as your dog’s body weight, how much time he exercises a day and level or unlevel terrain. To sporting dogs in the field, every day or week could potentially be different terrain, different game (ducks vs. pheasants), different duration and intensity. Consequently, trying to fit you and your dog’s field experience into an equation would not be the most beneficial.
Keeping your dog’s body weight and condition stable as the effects of the season wear on is the best indicator that his caloric and nutritional needs are being met. Finally, large and abrupt increases in food volume could result in an incidence in diarrhea. Therefore, gradual changes to food intake would be the most appropriate approach.
Our hunting dogs are nothing less than elite athletes. We expect high performance when they are afield and we train them for success, so it is important that we consider providing the best nutrition and feeding strategies to support our canine athlete. This is critical to complement the training and breeding of our dogs. Taken together, all these suggestions can contribute in simple ways to developing an optimal feeding program for your hardworking dog.