Bird Dogs & Training  |  04/17/2024

Ask A Vet Ep. 8: How Do I Address Nutritional Concerns in My Bird Dog?


Needs of dogs vary significantly depending on age, activity level, and reproductive status

By Seth Bynum, DVM

Few topics spark more debate in hunting dog circles than nutrition. There are numerous strong opinions out there, along with a decent body of scientific research behind how to properly feed an elite canine athlete. If you’re struggling to decide what to feed your hunting companion, it’s completely understandable how intimidating it can be to choose a pet food. Indeed, there’s a cluttered maze of wisdom and misinformation out there. The good news is that, in spite of what brand or formula of pet food goes into the bowl, we all share a common goal of enhancing performance in our sporting dog. We’re all motivated to pay attention to what goes into their bodies, with a shared interest in having our hunting partners enjoy long, healthy, and active lives.

Choose a pet food company you trust

When my clients ask me which food I recommend, I always direct them to pet nutrition companies that I trust. Part of that trust is established when a food company prioritizes transparency and support for its customers. One basic but impactful indicator of a company’s commitment is the inclusion of a customer support phone number on the bag. Admittedly, it sounds simple, but the ability to make direct contact with customer service is neither required nor commonplace in the pet food industry. The presence of a direct line to an actual company representative suggests they welcome your feedback.

After locating a phone number, search for the AAFCO statement on the bag. This declaration will clearly state for which life stage this particular diet has been designed. For the vast majority of working dogs, a food that is designed for all life stages is more than adequate to meet the nutritional needs of their active lifestyle, whether they’re growing puppies, adults, pregnant or nursing pups of their own, or in their senior years.

Trust is also earned when pet food companies take the extra step to conduct feeding trials that substantiate that the formulas they’ve created perform as designed. The AAFCO statement will clearly differentiate between foods that undergo feeding trials and, more commonly, those foods that are merely formulated to meet required levels of nutrients without any feeding trials to support that claim. As a veterinarian, I appreciate the additional research from companies that put forth the effort and expense of conducting feeding trials, and I believe our hunting dogs are the true beneficiaries of this endeavor.

Should I choose an All Life Stages Food or something more specific?

As research behind pet food nutrition has expanded, companies now offer a variety of diets that are custom tailored to each phase of development, from puppyhood to the senior years. As its name suggests, puppy food is formulated for the rapid growth period that occurs in the first year or so of your hunting dog's life. These diets are designed to offer abundant energy in the form of fats, as well as ample protein for growth and development. The vitamins and micronutrients are also scaled in proportion for a young dog that is actively developing its skeletal system, muscles and brain.

Conversely, senior diets tend to tone down the energy density within the food, due in large part to the decreased demand that accompanies advanced age and retirement from the field. Some specific senior formulas directly target cognitive health in geriatric dogs as well. Specifically, Purina’s Bright Mind is designed to mitigate some of the decline in cognitive function that some senior dogs experience in the latter phase of life. These foods are fortified in medium chain triglycerides to more efficiently provide fuel for the brain, which can be compromised as a function of aging.

How much should you feed your dog?

The energy requirements of dogs vary significantly depending on age, activity level, and reproductive status. The feeding guide printed on the back of the bag of food is a great place to start, but each individual dog may require tweaks throughout the course of the hunting season and over the years. Your veterinarian can help determine your sporting dog’s overall body condition score, an assessment that paints a far more accurate picture of health than just a number on a scale. And lastly, when speaking with your vet about the volume you should feed, make sure you’re using the right unit of measure. When they recommend a certain number of cups of food at each feeding, your veterinarian is specifically referring to a standard eight-ounce measuring cup. Many clients will tell me that their dogs eat just two cups a day, but it’s obvious from the examination that the “cup” that they reference holds a lot more than eight ounces.


Proudly brought to you in collaboration with Purina Pro Plan, Ask A Vet is a twelve-part series featuring Dr. RuthAnn Lobos and Dr. Seth Bynum, answering YOUR questions about your four-legged friend. Come back next month for Episode #9, and check out Episode #1, Episode #2, Episode #3, Episode #4, Episode #5, Episode #6 and Episode #7!