As hunters, we are particular about our dogs. We want staunch points, steadiness and soft-mouthed retrieves. If we expect this of our dogs, we should be just as particular about what we feed them. Our dogs rely on a multitude of interrelated factors to perform in the field. Here are some things you should consider when thinking about your dog’s specific nutritional requirements.
The energy source should match your dog’s effort. “In very short and intense effort, the main nutrients used are carbohydrates,” says Russ Kelley of Eukanuba’s Pet Health and Nutrition Center. “By contrast, for long and sustained activity, the main source of energy comes from fat. Other environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, type of terrain, and altitude, may influence the dog’s energy needs and how much food he needs to consume.”
Consider your dog’s activity when determining what diet to feed him. Fat is a better energy source for a dog that performs sustained activity. Carbohydrates are better suited for short bursts of energy.
Muscles and Joints
Exercise consumes energy stored in muscles, which can cause fatigue. “With a high amount of exercise, there is a high demand for protein to feed the muscle,” says Kelley. “Protein helps maintain and rebuild muscles, making it an essential component of a performance dog’s diet.”
Sporting dogs can also experience more stress on their joints, particularly the cartilage—the crucial shock absorber. Lots of miles or retrieves also mean repeated impacts on their joints, and muscles mean nothing without healthy joints to support them. “The important dietary components for supporting healthy, agile joints are glucosamine and chondroitin,” Kelley says.
Antioxidants play a vital role in post-exercise recovery. Kelley emphasizes including antioxidants in your dog’s diet in order to help combat free radicals, which are unstable atoms that damage cells and can cause muscle fatigue.
Antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, lutein, beta-carotene and taurine, among others help reduce oxidative stress and free radicals. In a study* of Iditarod dogs, the ones that run a 938-mile course across 8 to 15 days, the results found that dogs with a higher pre-race plasma vitamin E concentration were twice as likely to finish the race.
Advanced nutrition means nothing if a dog’s body can’t absorb it.
“Heavy workloads put a lot of stress on a dog’s digestive system, and if the gastrointestinal (GI) system is irritated, the dog may have GI upset,” notes Kelley. “Nutrition that supports the GI system includes insoluble fibers, psyllium, prebiotics and beet pulp. Those ingredients help ensure that nutrients are absorbed by the dog’s body.”
Keep in mind that you can also help your dog get the most from his meals by following an optimal feeding schedule.
Skin & Coat
The condition of a dog’s hair and skin comes from feeding, and it’s far more important than just making the dog look good. Healthy hair and skin protect the dog from the environment.
Skin cells are constantly replicated as epithelial cells are lost every day. Some are lost from normal cellular reproduction while others are removed when dogs run through fields and swim in rivers. The replacement of these cells requires a tremendous amount of protein and amino acids, so much so that from a requirement standpoint, the skin uses more protein than any other system. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are what adds the sheen to a dog’s coat and help keep hair from breaking and exposing the skin to cuts.
Sporting dogs have a lot to pay attention to: the environment, their handlers, other dogs and, of course, birds. “Fatty acids play a structural role for neuron membranes and synapses within the brain,” notes Kelley. EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oils, have been shown to promote healthy brain function. Eukanuba’s new line of Premium Performance diets takes all of these factors into consideration. Four tailored formulas in varying amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates and other nutrients help meet your dog’s nutritional demands based upon workload.
SOURCE: * Piercy RJ et al. Association between vitamin E and enhanced athletic performance in sled dogs. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2001, 33 : 826-833