Keeping Your Dog Energized in the Field

Proper Nutrition and Hydration

It will not be long until we are all waking up on a cold fall morning, loading up our gear and dogs into our vehicle and heading to the field as the sun is coming up.   It is that time of year again where we work as a team with our gun dogs and look forward to another year of bird hunting. Gun dogs are athletes.  Like all athletes, a proper diet and right amount of hydration is critical for maximum success in the field.  This article will cover the essentials for you to consider this season when feeding your hunting partner.

What to look for in your dog food

Like humans, your dog’s activity level will determine the proper balance of protein, good fat sources and carbohydrates they require in their diet. For example, higher levels of simple carbs are just as important as protein and fat levels for optimal performance during high-energy activities.

The top three energy sources you should pay attention to in your dog’s food.

  1. Protein (1st Ingredient) – Active dogs need protein to repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise. 
  2. Fat (2nd Ingredient) – Canine athletes use fat for energy more quickly than an average family pet. Fat contributes up to 75 percent of the energy demand during prolonged aerobic work during endurance training. 
  3. Carbohydrates (3rd Ingredient) – In the early stages of moderate exercise, carbohydrates provide 40 to 50 percent of the energy requirement. 

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Dry dog food is viewed as an essential tool in providing proper growth and development, stamina, healthy, longevity, endurance and recovery during training and conditioning. The best dog foods provide the list of nutrients below that are essential in reaching your personal goals for your canine athlete:

  • Protein – Amino acids to build repair and replace body proteins
  • Carbohydrates – Energy source and body maintenance
  • Fats – Energy, coats, structural functions and nervous system
  • Vitamins – Growing, reproductive and immune system for all growth and life stages
  • Minerals – Micro and macro forms

Everyone’s heard the term “you are what you eat”, and that also applies to our canine athletes and companions! Proper diet management practices can affect the results as much as the quality of food we select.

To get the most nutritional value out of your dog’s diet, a feeding regime providing a consistent number of feedings per day must be established to help train your canine athlete’s body to burn and not store nutrients. We recommend two feedings per day. Proper spacing of feedings and timing is everything to maximize nutrition in your dog’s diet. Feedings can be given after exercise with a minimum 4 hour time period before the second feeding.  Once the body is cooled down and rested, it will support rebuilding of muscle tissue used during exercise while offering the additional benefits to recovery. If it is not possible to feed your canine companion twice a day, we recommend feeding after exercise and before bed. Whenever you can avoid feeding a dog pre exercise is best. This can lead to stress stools and dehydration, taking away any nutritional benefit of that feeding.

Always remember that dog foods are nothing more than a tool formulated for the world’s dog population. As a consumer, you should try to find the tool that works best for your dog, which will often include supplementation of hydration and recovery products as well. 

Hydration 

There is no question that nutrition is one of the most important elements when caring for our dogs.  That being said, hydration is the single most important nutrient your dog can have.  They can survive for weeks without food, not the case without water.  Dogs are made of 80% water.  This means that if a dog weighs 50 pounds, they have 5 gallons of water in their body.

It has been said that a dog can lose 6% of its body fluids (approximately 6 cups) before it will stop what it is doing to drink.  Having water available during training and the hunt is very important for this reason as they lose fluids through the increased physical activity – sweat, breathing, urine, feces, etc.  Respiration alone can potentially cause a dog to lose up to 40% of their body fluid through exercise.  Once a dog loses 10% of their body fluids, it can be fatal.

If your dog begins to show signs of fatigue, dehydration could be setting in.  The dog will appear visibly tired, carrying on at a reduced speed.  If you pinch the skin on their back, a hydrated animal’s skin will immediately return to normal shape.  If it is slow to return to normal shape, the dog is showing obvious signs of dehydration.  The most extreme signs of dehydration are when the dog appears weak in the hind end and is wobbling with unsteady feet.

Always have water available to your dog in the field.  It can be life saving and will help your dog maximize their performance.  With a better understanding of what to look for in your dog’s food, how to account for calories being replenished and knowing how water is used by your dog to perform, you are now ready to provide the best nutrition and hydration for your hunting partner.

About Michael Moncada

President - Upland Gundog Association
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