Nutrition often is an overlooked aspect of a dog's health. But dogs, like athletes, need the proper diet to perform at top level.
Some dogs retrieve only a bird or two all season. For them nutrition isn't a big deal. But other dogs hunt most weekends during the fall and get week-long trips of truly intense hunting. Some perform in field trials and hunt tests. Jag (see photo) made about 250 duck retrieves this season, more than many dogs make in a lifetime. Feeding a high-performance dog the food that's cheapest this week is the equivalent of using regular unleaded gasoline in a top-fuel dragster.
What food is best for your high-performance dog?
Researchers at the Iams Company studied the effect diet had on the performance of English pointers on a quail plantation. Dogs were divided into two groups and both were fed quality diets. One group was fed Eukanuba Premium Performance dog food. The other group was fed a premium adult maintenance food. The dogs' performances were evaluated throughout the season by trainer/handlers who were unaware of which diet the dogs received. Veterinarians, also blind to the diets, evaluated blood parameters and physically examined the dogs.
Their discoveries were eye opening. All the dogs were healthy and consumed typical amounts of food throughout the season, but that's where the similarities ended. Dogs fed the performance diet maintained or gained their body weight. The other group lost weight as the season progressed.
The Eukanuba-fed dogs performed better in the field as well. They located and found more birds per hour of hunting. They were in better shape and hunted better than their counterparts on the high-quality maintenance diet.
The main difference between the performance diet and the maintenance diet was that the former had a higher fat content. Fat is the preferred endurance fuel for dogs. This is different from human athletes. We need carbohydrates, thus the pasta feed the night before a marathon. Dogs need few carbs but more fat.
The performance diet also had more protein. Like human athletes, dogs undergoing aerobic training need more protein than other dogs. The fat and protein in the performance diet also might have contributed to better adaptation to temperature extremes, especially heat stress.
It isn't necessary to feed your dog a performance diet if it doesn't perform year-round. But if you switch between performance food and maintenance food do it gradually over a three to four day period. Mix the two foods. It's important to switch to the performance diet at least eight weeks before training/hunting/trialing begins. This allows the body time to adjust to the increased amounts of fat.
I've fed my Chessie, Emma, several different brands of high-quality food. I settled on the Eukanuba Premium Performance two years before the above-mentioned study was published. I thought a performance dog should eat a performance diet. Now the study shows why.
To answer the question you're probably asking, yes, I must pay full price for the food. I just like it that much.
Working dogs are athletes that need proper food for maximum performance. Feeding your dog a performance diet won't bring birds out of the woodwork. But it might mean that third rooster in the bag on the last day of a late-season Dakota pheasant hunt, or nailing that last water triple on the second day of a field trial. Just a little food for thought.
Much of the technical information cited above was taken from two sources: Davenport, GM et al: "Effect of Diet on Hunting Performance of English Pointers." Veterinary Therapeutics. Vol 2. No 1. 2001. pps 1-14.
Coffman, M: "Conditioning the Performance Dog. Nutrition for Competitive Dog," The Iams Company. 2000. pps 6-11.)
Joe Spoo is a doctor of veterinary medicine at Lakeland Veterinary Hospital in Baxter. He can be contacted at (218) 829-1709.
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