Food for thought

Dr Karen Davies is asked the right time to feed a gun dog when a hunt is on, and sets out the sci­ence and re­search that pro­vides a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of ca­nine nu­tri­tion.

Field and Game - - VET AD­VICE -

With re­gard to the ques­tion posted, feed­ing im­me­di­ately be­fore or dur­ing a hunt can lead to an en­ergy drain caused by meet­ing the re­quire­ments for di­ges­tion.

To give a quick burst of en­ergy that is not go­ing to sit in the stom­ach or re­quire sig­nif­i­cant en­ergy spent on di­ges­tion, try an elec­trolyte so­lu­tion (Vy­trate and Lec­tade) con­tain­ing glu­cose, which can be ab­sorbed to meet en­ergy re­quire­ments with­out the need for di­ges­tion. It also has the added ben­e­fit of re­plac­ing elec­trolytes.

More broadly, there is sig­nif­i­cant in­for­ma­tion sug­gest­ing feed­ing a hard­work­ing dog is op­ti­mal when the food is pro­vided well in ad­vance of hunt­ing or train­ing for the day, and not im­me­di­ately be­fore or dur­ing.

Know­ing that it takes 20 to 24 hours for your dog's meal to be com­pletely di­gested and elim­i­nated as a bowel move­ment, we can then de­cide what and when to feed.

Nu­tri­tion stud­ies have pre­vi­ously shown a dog's en­durance can be as much as dou­ble when on an empty stom­ach as com­pared to hav­ing eaten within four hours prior to ex­er­cis­ing.

Fat in the diet will re­lease more en­ergy per gram and con­tains dou­ble the amount of calo­ries than found in car­bo­hy­drates. How­ever, fat re­quires longer to be di­gested and must be fed sig­nif­i­cantly ear­lier than a car­bo­hy­drate-based diet for that en­ergy to be avail­able to the mus­cles.

If en­ergy is to be de­rived from the fat con­tent in the meal, it is best fed 12 to 18 hours prior to ex­er­cise. When a car­bo­hy­drate-based en­ergy source is the main­stay of the diet, then this should be fed six to eight hours prior.

Be­cause of the lead times re­quired for di­ges­tion and the use of higher-fat di­ets, we of­ten rec­om­mend once-daily feed­ing.

If you are plan­ning to work your dog, feed prefer­ably 18 hours prior to the hunt and use a diet higher in fat (20–22 per cent). Per­for­mance di­ets take this into con­sid­er­a­tion, such as Royal Canin En­durance 4800.

If you are us­ing a main­te­nance diet (this will have about 10 per cent fat), the bulk you will need to feed may mean the an­i­mal needs seven to eight cups per day. This is too great a quan­tity to be fed in one meal, so split feed­ing may be re­quired.

Bear in mind, all dry for­mu­la­tions swell in the stom­ach as they are di­gested.

Most pel­lets will swell to dou­ble the size, mean­ing your dog will feel bloated and nau­seous when a large, carb-based meal is fed all at once. It is also widely recog­nised that hunt­ing an­i­mals fed high­carb di­ets are at in­creased risk of lac­tic acid build-up and “ty­ing up” in the hours/ days af­ter the hunt.

If you are on a multi-day hunt, it is im­por­tant to let the dog rest at the end of the work­ing day be­fore feed­ing. Con­cen­trate on get­ting the dog's breath­ing back to nor­mal and re­hy­drat­ing it. Leave feed­ing for at least an hour af­ter the end of the hunt. This will also lower the risk of “bloat” or gas­tric di­la­tion/tor­sion.

Home­made di­ets are a bit hit and miss. While many hunters and breed­ers

de­velop and swear by their own di­ets that they have “used for years”, we know from ex­pe­ri­ence that more than 95 per cent of these di­ets are nu­tri­ent de­fi­cient.

While you al­low for pro­tein/fat/carb quan­ti­ties, when tested, these di­ets are of­ten de­fi­cient in fi­bre and mi­cro-nu­tri­ents such as EFAS (essen­tial fatty acids), vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

The right amount of fi­bre and the right type of mod­er­ately di­gestible fi­bre is essen­tial for good gut health. In­suf­fi­cient fi­bre means poor gut health.

Con­sti­pa­tion is not un­com­mon in dogs with in­suf­fi­cient fi­bre.

The gut bac­te­rial also pro­duce SCFA (short chain fatty acids), essen­tial for both gut and over­all health. Gut bac­te­ria pro­duce many of the B group vi­ta­mins and neu­ro­chem­i­cals re­quired for brain func­tion.

Poor-qual­ity fi­bre will re­sult in greater num­bers of fer­men­ta­tive bac­te­ria, and we have all been on the end of that prob­lem (usu­ally as a cap­tive au­di­ence with all the win­dows up). Beet pulp is a great source of mod­er­ately di­gestible fi­bre.

It is ex­tremely im­por­tant to use a bal­anced vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ment and some qual­ity sun­flower/saf­flower oil or co­conut oil in the food to sup­ply EFAS. The ra­tio of omega 6 to omega 3 is also crit­i­cal and ad­di­tional vi­ta­min E will be re­quired to utilise the omega 3. These nu­tri­ents are not only essen­tial for the de­mands of a high-in­ten­sity ath­lete but also for re­pair and re­gen­er­a­tion of tis­sues dam­aged dur­ing ex­er­cise. Over­whelmed yet? Now you are be­gin­ning to un­der­stand just how tricky it is to bal­ance a home­made diet, even more so when you are train­ing an elite ath­lete. I am not a fan of grain-free di­ets for hunt­ing dogs (un­less they have a med­i­cal prob­lem that means they can­not han­dle grain) be­cause they are a good source of carbs and fi­bre, essen­tial in any diet for short-term en­ergy re­quire­ments.

It is essen­tial you DO NOT USE vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ments in­tended for hu­man use. They are al­most all made with ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers such as Xyl­i­tol, which will de­stroy your dog's kid­neys. No Kid­neys=no Dog.

My rec­om­men­da­tion is to use a pre­mium com­mer­cially pre­pared diet that takes all the nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments of your pet into con­sid­er­a­tion. I have been us­ing the Royal Canin En­durance 4800 for sev­eral years and had great re­sults.

It is equally im­por­tant to re­duce the calo­rie load and nu­tri­tional con­tent of your dog's meals when you are not hunt­ing. There is noth­ing pretty about chubby hunt­ing breeds and the risk of in­jury is greatly ex­ac­er­bated.

Dur­ing the off-sea­son, (as­sum­ing your pre­ferred form of hunt­ing has one), it is im­por­tant the dog's calo­rie in­take is re­duced to match the de­crease in in­ten­sity of ac­tiv­ity.

The diet should be about 10 per cent fat, higher in pro­tein for mus­cle main­te­nance and tis­sue re­gen­er­a­tion and to give the feel­ing of full­ness, higher in di­gestible fi­bre to again make them feel full for longer and min­imise the “I'm dy­ing of star­va­tion” episodes, with that woe­ful look.

Calo­rie con­tent should be about the 3500–3800 calo­ries per kilo for your main­te­nance di­ets. In ad­di­tion, re­mem­ber to keep up the ex­er­cise; you can­not go from sit­ting on the couch to flat-out and not ex­pect prob­lems.

If you are feed­ing a pup, again it is im­per­a­tive you use a bal­anced diet suit­able for a pup of the breed size you are rais­ing. Bea­gles need a medium-breed diet, point­ers and labs a large-breed diet and bull arabs and wolfhounds a giant-breed diet, for ex­am­ple.

Pro­tein and calo­rie lev­els re­quired for growth, and cal­cium for the de­vel­op­ment of bones are the main dif­fer­ences in puppy di­ets.

Please do not feed large amounts of meat to pups as mus­cle meat is high in phos­pho­rus, which com­petes with cal­cium for ab­sorp­tion and can lead to brit­tle bones and in­creased risk of frac­tures.

Cal­cium sup­ple­ments can be fed, but again, a pre­mium-bal­anced diet will achieve all of these things with­out you need­ing to go out and get a de­gree in ca­nine nu­tri­tion and your own lab­o­ra­tory.

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