The canine athlete is a unique metabolic machine that is remarkably efficient in converting food into fuel for mind boggling feats of speed and endurance
It’s universally agreed upon that nutrition is the key to maximizing performance in our hunting dogs. The canine athlete is a unique metabolic machine that is remarkably efficient in converting food into fuel for mind boggling feats of speed and endurance. However, the strategy for feeding hunting dogs is hotly debated, and there’s a mountain of anecdotal evidence supporting a variety of techniques to achieve this common goal. While there’s never a single, correct way to approach a feeding strategy for your hunting companion, there is some compelling research that factors in the canine’s particular physiology.
How often should I feed my hunting dog?
The frequency of feeding depends on a variety of factors from age and breed of the dog to the amount and intensity of the physical activity asked of them. Research suggests that adult dogs are genetically programmed to maximize nutrient uptake when fed once daily after the hunt. This strategy assumes your dog has been allowed time to adequately rehydrate and get its respiratory and heart rates under control by offering a modest cool down period following peak physical activity.
I employ this technique on multi-day upland road trips or in other situations when I’m concerned that my team will dip into their fat stores when the calorie demand for their work increases drastically. In these types of scenarios, feeding prior to the hunt offers dogs little nutritional value, and may even be counterproductive in your quest to prime them for exercise.
First, exercise in the dog drastically speeds up transit time in the gut, fast-tracking kibble through the intestines before their energy and nutrients can be adequately absorbed. Secondly, the process of digestion requires energy and blood flow. If the body has to ration these resources to aid in digestion, then the muscles doing the serious work in the field can be robbed of their full output potential.
However, most hunting dogs love to eat, and many of their owners enjoy splitting up their food into two or more feedings throughout the day. My own team of hunting dogs are well accustomed to this routine, and they’ve done a great job of training me to carry out twice daily feedings throughout much of the work week and off season.
I tend to recommend dividing up the daily ration of kibble into multiple daily portions for puppies and for deep-chested breeds or individual dogs prone to bloat or torsion, as consuming single, large meals can be a risk factor for these conditions.
Should I feed a performance dog food year ‘round?
Generally speaking, research shows that most active hunting dogs should eat a performance dog food all year, even during the off season.
These high protein, high fat diets are the cornerstone of a solid nutrition program. Not only are fats a concentrated source of fuel for their bodies, these triglycerides actually help prime the canine body for exercise by sending signals to cells to increase energy production and output.
This feat of physiology is not an instantaneous process, however. Research shows that nutritional priming takes weeks to months to be fully optimized. If your hunting dog is switched from a low fat food in the offseason to a performance kibble at the beginning of the hunting season, it may be months before its body is taking full advantage of the extra power in the bowl.
Keep in mind that performance foods are rich in nutrients and calories, so owners need to dial back the quantity offered at meal time in the offseason to account for the drop in energy demand. There are situations in which the calorie demand for some hunting dogs dips so low in late winter and spring that the corresponding volume of performance kibble in the bowl doesn’t offer enough satiation. For these situations, carefully switching diets to one that offers lower protein and fat may help keep the peace with your hungry hunting dog at mealtime. Just remember to gradually switch back to a performance food well in advance of the hunting season.
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