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Does Good Nutrition Really Help?
Despite the general agreement that optimal nutrition is valuable and desirable, the lingering question of the effect of top nutrition on the performance of a bird dog has puzzled trainers and owners. Research conducted by The Iams Company on the quail plantation in Georgia mentioned earlier yielded some remarkable answers to that question.5 23 English Pointers were selected for the study. The dogs were allotted to two experimental groups based on age and gender. No information on the previous hunting performance of the dogs was available to allocate them to the respective groups. Allocation as to hunting performance was completely randomized. The dogs were further assigned randomly to one of two professional handlers employed by the plantation. While these handlers were responsible for the daily care and hunting of their dog group, they were unaware of the diet that the dogs were being fed. Data collected over the hunting season included blood values, body weight, stool quality, body condition, skin and coat health, and, importantly, the hunting performance of the dogs.

One group of dogs was fed a well-known performance-type food* while the second group was fed a diet that is popular with bird hunters but was not a “performance food”. Over the entire season, the dogs on the performance food not only maintained their body weight and condition better, they found more birds. Pointers fed the performance food had nearly 2.5 finds per hour over the season, versus just over 1.5 finds per hour for the dogs fed the other food.

In the second year of the study, two performance foods were fed. Diet A contained animal-based protein, featured an adjusted omega fatty acid ratio between 5:1 and 10:1, and utilized a well-researched fiber source (beet pulp) proven to promote intestinal health* while Diet B contained some plant-based protein, a fatty acid ratio of 17:1, and corn bran as the fiber source .**

Over the quail season, the Pointers fed Diet A had 3.0 finds per hour, versus the Pointers fed Diet B’s 2.2 finds per hour. This translates to 33% more finds per hour for the dogs fed Diet A. Rectal temperatures were also taken after hunting each day. Dogs fed Diet A had average temperatures of 104.9° F, while dogs fed Diet B had average temperatures of 105.9° F. It was also noted that the dogs fed Diet A, with the animal-based protein, required 2/3 cup less food per day, on average, than the dogs on the diet with some plant-based protein. The dogs fed Diet A performed better, ran cooler, and ate less food than the dogs fed Diet B.5

Several nutritional factors may have contributed to the better performance of the dogs on Diet A. Animal-based protein may provide more optimal nutrition for the dogs. The adjusted omega-6:omega-3 ratio can modify the inflammatory process, so that could have contributed to the higher level of performance. Certainly, beet pulp’s role as an excellent, moderately fermentable fiber source could have been a factor due to improved intestinal health. It is likely that several dietary factors combined to support the improved hunting performance. Regardless of the reason, the point is clear: optimal nutrition does affect hunting performance in a positive manner.

Attention to detail is an important characteristic of successful people. Field trial bird dog trainers are no exception. The logic carries over to every aspect of preparing a dog for big events and nutrition is part of the complex equation that leads to achievement. The more we can learn about every aspect of training, conditioning, nutrition, and health care for our dogs, the more likely we are to be successful. Even the little things mean a lot, and this is especially true in performance dog nutrition.

*Eukanuba Premium Performance
**Purina Pro Plan
1Chew BP. Importance of beta-carotene nutrition in the dog and cat: uptake and immunity; Iams Nutri Symp; 1998. Pp513-522.
2Chew BP. The role of dietary lutein in the dog and cat; Iams Nutri Symp, 1998, pp. 547-554.
3Kearns RJ. Effect of age and dietary beta-carotene on immunological parameters in the dog. Iams Nutri Symp, 2000, pp. 389-402.
4Altom EK: Effect of Dietary Fat and Physical conditioning on the metabolic and physiological responses of the canine athlete. Unpublished Dissertation, 1999. Page 81.
5Davenport GM, Kelley RL, Altom EK, Lepine AJ: Effect of diet on hunting performance of English Pointers; Vet Therapeutics Vol 2, No. 1, Winter, 2001.
6Davenport GM: Effect of Diet on hunting performance of English pointers; Am Canine Sports Med Symp, Kansas City, 2001.
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