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Healthy eating: how and when to adjust your dog's food intake for optimal performance.

AS WE PREPARE for hunting season and begin conditioning and feeding programs to get our dogs ready for colder weather and the hard work of days afield, it's a good time to discuss how energy requirements affect feeding to maintain good health, proper body condition and endurance.

Our gun dogs' nutritional needs vary from day to day due to continual changes in weather and activity. Beyond size and each individual's metabolic rate, exercise, environmental temperature, and stress are key factors. It's good practice to keep your dog trim throughout the warmer seasons, then allow a little weight gain coming into fall. When viewed from above, a properly fed and conditioned gun dog will exhibit an "hourglass" figure, and from the side we should see some "tuck up" in the flank area. Seeing this body condition along with a clean, shiny coat, clear eyes and a generally healthy appearance is our best indication of proper feeding and health.

For a quick "rib check" stand over the dog, place your thumbs together in the middle of its back and extend your fingers down over the ribs. You should easily feel the backbone and ribs as you slide your hands down the dog's back.

FEED THE BEAST Digestible calories supplied in your dog's food are the source of energy to support exercise. As activity increases or decreases, food/caloric intake should follow accordingly. Studies at Nestle Purina PetCare show an average 50-pound dog at rest during the summer requires around 1,450 digestible calories per day while that same dog during moderate work or training will require 1,800 and during hard work, like hunting, might require as much as 2,160 calories or more.

From rest to hunting, our dog's caloric needs can grow by nearly 33 percent. In other words, if we're feeding that 50-pound dog a premium food delivering around 450 calories per cup, we go from around three cups to more than 4.5 a day.

Feeding to support the hard work of hunting is only the beginning. The cold, wet conditions faced in many parts of the country during hunting season create additional demands on your dog and his daily diet must meet those. Additional studies from Purina show dogs require about 7.5 percent more calories for each 10-degree drop in temperature. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it! This means a dog living outdoors during winter can easily use 45 to 50 percent more calories just to stay warm.

For example, an area with an average summer temperature of 80 and average winter in the 20s gives us a 60-degree drop and a 45 percent increase in caloric needs.

The combined effects of winter temps and the hard work of hunting could result in our dogs' caloric/ nutritional requirements easily increasing by 70 percent and possibly doubling, potentially bringing our cups per day to five or even six using the same product delivering 450 calories per cup. This is where we begin to understand the need for "super premium," more nutrient-dense products delivering closer to 500 calories a cup. This enables us to provide that same required energy per feeding in just a little over four cups per day.

MENTAL GAMES Yet another contributor to caloric needs is stress. Here we think of the pressures we place on our dog or it brings on itself during training, travel and hunting. In a gun dog's life, things are constantly changing. Dogs are hauled to and from hunting areas, and they often overnight in strange kennels adjacent to dogs with which they're unfamiliar. In these situations, some dogs simply don't get enough rest while traveling, and as the days go by there is accumulated stress.

I'm not aware of any means of calculating increased nutritional needs based on stress, but be assured there is an effect, so keep a keen eye on your pup's weight if you hunt in these environs.

Your dog's daily caloric needs can increase by an additional 80 or 90 percent and possibly even more as the seasons and conditions change. So we should not measure dog food by the chunk but understand our dog's needs change, and we must be aware of the needed adjustments to keep our dog fit throughout the yearly cycle.

Super premium dog food has an obvious advantage of higher caloric content, requiring less food volume per serving, benefiting our dogs' endurance and lean muscle mass, plus faster recovery times. After feeding a short time, we'll have a baseline from which to adjust the amount fed to maintain ideal body condition and provide for energy requirements day-to-day and season-to-season. You should seek a reputable company who bases formulations for active dogs on live animal feeding studies.

I recommend you target a premium or super premium product designed specifically for hard working dogs that provides 1,800-2,000 Kcal/per pound in a complete and balanced formula providing all key nutrients to support health and endurance.

RELATED ARTICLE: Guidelines To Follow

* A complete/balanced dog food and a supply of fresh water will provide any normal dog with the nutrition needed to help maintain good health and body condition.

* If you're considering changing brands to fit these guidelines, the directions on the bag will get you in the ballpark. Then it's up to you to adjust to an individual dog's needs. You should see changes in your dog's coat as soon as two to three weeks, but be aware the total biophysical conversion can take around six weeks.

* The current recommendation is to feed healthy working dogs once a day (in the afternoon or evening), particularly before a day of hunting or contesting, allowing time for complete digestion and emptying.

* After activity give your dog enough time to rest, calm, and cool off so they're less likely to gulp food or water, avoiding discomfort, digestive upset and chance of a distended or possibly twisted stomach.

* If a dog's diet is changed, it should be done gradually over a period of several days. Vomiting, diarrhea and other stomach upsets can occur when an abrupt change is made.

* Normal adult dogs usually consume all the food they require each day within a 20-minute period. Uneaten portions should be removed after 20 minutes.
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Title Annotation:Notes from the Field
Author:West, Bob
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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