Little Things Mean A Lotby Martin Coffman DVM
Uncommon Knowledge About Field Trial Dog Nutrition
Modern bird dog trainers are up to date. They are well-read, knowledgeable professionals who keep up with the latest training techniques, veterinary care, breeding, and kennel management. But, there is no area that perks their interest like nutrition. Everyone is looking for that special diet or feeding method that will give their dog a special edge that will allow it to finish the trial with it’s head up and hunting all the way. If we continue to feed our field trial dogs the same way we did twenty years ago, we are destined to compete without the benefits of new nutritional research. When competitors use these dietary improvements, they have the advantage in field trials.
Antioxidants are a “hot topic” in human and veterinary nutrition. The reason for this interest is the antioxidants’ effect on the body and especially the immune system. One important type of antioxidant is a carotenoid. Carotenoids are the compounds responsible for the green, yellow, orange, and pink pigmentation in fruits and vegetables. Examples of carotenoids are beta-carotene and lutein. Other common antioxidants are vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Antioxidants are important because they help prevent widespread tissue damage due to free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that circulate throughout the body and through a process called “peroxidation” can destroy or damage healthy cells. Free radicals are produced as part of the normal body functions but their production can increase due to cold, wet conditions and high-stress activities. Thus, field trial bird dogs are susceptible to free radical damage and can benefit from added antioxidants in their diet.
This is particularly true of older field trial dogs. Because the immune system is responsible for preventing disease, recent research sponsored by The Iams Company examined the benefits of certain antioxidants on the immune response of dogs. 1,2,3 The results of these studies indicate that antioxidants are important in helping adults and older dogs maintain a healthy immune system. The research also showed that one antioxidant at high levels is not as important as a group of antioxidants acting together because each antioxidant benefits the immune system uniquely.
To help support the immune system of field trial bird dogs, an antioxidant “package” should be added to the diet. This type of added group of antioxidants is now available in some dog foods.
It takes energy to compete effectively in bird dog field trials. Tired dogs cannot do their best. Energy comes from calories. While either carbohydrates or fat can supply calories, fat has many advantages.
Fat has over twice as many calories per gram. This means a high-fat diet can provide maximum calories per bite. When stressed field trial bird dogs do not eat as much as normal, they must get a lot of calories from a small amount of food. The best way to provide these calories is with a food that is about 20% fat.
High-fat diets burn cooler. Some trainers debate this, but the research is clear. In a study done at Auburn University, English Pointers had rectal temperatures of 104.9° F after exercise when fed a diet containing 12% fat. Dogs in this study that were fed a diet containing 16% fat had rectal temperatures of 104.0° F.4
Further research by Iams scientists on English Pointers at a quail hunting plantation in south Georgia documented similar results.5 Bird dogs fed a diet containing 21.4% fat* consistently outperformed dogs fed a diet containing 17.2% fat. This was true throughout Georgia’s quail season, which included 9 days in which the temperature-humidity index was high or severe. Even on those hot, humid days, the dogs fed the higher-fat diet had more finds than their kennel mates on the lower fat food.
Clean white teeth, while beautiful, don’t help a dog win a field trial. But, if teeth are neglected, plaque deposits can lead to tartar accumulation and eventual gum disease. Infected, inflamed gums contribute to ill health, which can affect performance. Routine dental care by the trainer is not practical in many bird dog kennels. While periodic professional dental cleaning at a veterinary clinic is optimal, a diet that helped minimize plaque formation and tartar buildup would be advantageous.
Research by Iams scientists has led to the development of a manufacturing technique that allows the application of micro-cleansing crystals to the surface of the dog food kibble. Kibbles coated with these tiny crystals scrape off the thin layer of plaque that forms on dogs’ teeth. In addition, after the dog’s meal is completed, these micro-cleansing crystals adhere to the dog’s teeth, serving as a physical barrier to plaque formation. In a study done at the University of Mississippi Dental School, dogs fed a diet including these micro-cleansing crystals formed 55% less tartar after professional cleaning than dogs fed a diet without the dental protection. In a working bird dog kennel, this addition of a dental defense system to the diet can serve as an important tool in maintaining good health in competitive dogs in a practical manner.