Best Dog Food for Hunting Dogs

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So you are one of those people who has a working dog and actually works your dog – that’s great! Well trained hunting dogs in a world of pampered “fur babies” are a rarity. Not that your hunting partner can’t be your fur baby as well, but still. :-)

You’ve spent countless hours dedicated to training your dog to be a highly skilled athlete. Of course, you want to do everything you can to keep them in great shape. Finding the best dog food for hunting dogs is at the top of your priority list.

Best Dog Food for Hunting Dogs

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You’ve spent countless hours dedicated to training your dog to be a highly skilled athlete. Of course, you want to do everything you can to keep them in great shape. Finding the best dog food for hunting dogs is at the top of your priority list.

But

There are SO many breeds of hunting dogs!

These breeds range in size from the Miniature Dachshund to the Irish Wolfhound.

This means that the best dog food for your hunting dog has a lot to do with what breed it is.

It also has to do with the intensity of the work you expect them to do.

There are a lot of different articles written about the best dog food for Golden Retrievers or the best dog food for Cocker Spaniels.

We suggest that to get started, you look up breed-specific feeding recommendations.

Did you do it? Did you read up on the needs of your specific breed? Good job!

So let’s take some time to look into the specialized nutritional needs your working hunting dog has.

It’s silly to think that your beloved Labrador Retriever who brings your ducks back one after another on a successful hunt will need to eat the same as your neighbor’s dog that only gets to play fetch once a day.

So, what do you feed your hunting dog?

Hunting Dogs Have Special Needs

If your dog excels at its job, you most likely work them in the offseason, too.

This keeps them in shape for when hunting season gets underway. This means that you will want to feed them appropriately all year round to keep them ready for opening day.

The main concerns that most hunters have in regards to their dogs being “in shape” have to do with:

  • Supporting their endurance through heart health.
  • Supporting joint and muscle health.
  • Skin and coat maintenance.
  • Maintaining a healthy immune system.
  • Providing the energy needed for intense work.

Is it even possible to find a dog food that does all that? Of course, it is!

In this hunter’s special dog food review, we did some digging to make your research a little easier. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for the best dog food for your hunting dog, no matter the breed.

Heart Health to Support Endurance

Heart disease is a common problem in dogs. Especially for those that don’t get enough exercise and are overweight.

Your hunting dog most likely doesn’t have that problem. You don’t see a lot of fat working dogs.

All the same, the best dog foods for heart health are also good for your hunting dog. A strong heart is vital to your dog’s endurance.

What, exactly, makes a dog food “heart-friendly”?

A lot of it has to do with vitamins and amino acids.

Make sure your dog food provides a generous daily dose of:

  • Vitamin A – If dogs have a vitamin A deficiency, they can develop a weakened immune system. This could create the right environment for certain kinds of bacterial infections in the heart.
  • Vitamin C – Deficiencies of this vitamin can cause inflammation in the heart! You might notice your dog suffering from shortness of breath. They could also have heavy breathing or a generalized state of weakness.
  • Vitamin E – This vitamin is important for eliminating free radicals and the damage they can cause in the cells of your dog’s organs. This includes the heart.
  • Taurine – This amino acid has to get into your dog via its food. When dogs lack taurine their heart can enlarge and the muscles can weaken and fail.

So where do these vitamins and amino acids come from? 

Taurine is found in meat and fish. The other vitamins are common in dark leafy vegetables.

If your dog doesn’t exactly like kale, or the dog food you find doesn’t list it as an ingredient – there is no need to worry.

Vitamin A can also be found in sweet potatoes and carrots. Non-veggie sources include liver, fish liver oil, and egg yolks.

Vitamin C is actually made by your dog in their body processes. Unfortunately, hard-working dogs that push their levels of endurance tend to deplete their reserves.

This makes a vitamin C supplement through diet an important ingredient in the best dog food for hunting dogs.

When it comes to whole-food sources, vitamin C is most readily found in fruits.

It’s unlikely your dog’s food will contain citrus fruits, though it might contain berries or other fruits.

If not, read through the ingredient list to check for sodium ascorbate. This is the most digestible form of vitamin C available.

Vitamin E is abundant in different vegetable oils or seed oils. It can also be found in liver and animal fats.

Supporting Joints and Muscles

Like their human hunting companions, dogs can suffer from stiff muscles after a hard day in the field. Joint pain, arthritis, and general stiffness can hinder a dog’s performance on a multi-day hunt.

Unfortunately, some dogs are retired from the field before their time because of lagging recovery and slowness caused by pain.

Joint health is no different than many other health conditions. The best way to support your dog’s joint health is to provide them with a diet that aims to prevent future problems.

What should a diet look like that supports your hunting dog’s joints?

  • It contains vitamin C. Here’s one more reason to love vitamin C. Did you know that this vitamin plays a key role in the production of collagen? Collagen is essential to the regeneration of connective tissues throughout your dog’s body. This means a faster recovery time after a long day in the bush.
  • Has copper. What? A metal? Copper is actually really important for both people and animals. This mineral, along with vitamin C plays a vital role in the production of collagen.
  • It contains fish oil. Fish oil is anti-inflammatory by nature and works against cartilage destroying enzymes.
  • Has Glucosamine and Chondroitin. These two words are the names for physical structural components of cartilage. They’re not really a vitamin or a mineral. But they are proven to support joint health when consumed through the diet.

These are most readily found in the tough parts of meat – bone, gristle, and cartilage.

Skin and Coat Maintenance

Your dog’s skin and fur are its first line of defense. If your dog is plunging into frigid waters, racing through brambles and thorny underbrush, or digging into burrows – their fur is their body armor. Your dog’s diet has a lot to do with fur quality and skin health.

Two of the most key ingredients in any high-performance dog food are fat and protein. These key ingredients are vital for maintaining a healthy, shiny coat.

But your dog needs other vitamins and minerals as well. Which ones are most important for keeping their skin and fur in great shape?

  • Copper – It doesn’t just have to do with supporting joints! It’s also vital for a healthy coat. If your dog has a deficiency, you might notice that it has dry fur and patchy fur loss.
  • Zinc – This mineral is really important for skin health. Zinc deficiencies are more common in larger breeds, particularly ones that are hard-working and athletic. If your buddy isn’t getting enough, you may notice thickening and cracking skin around the joints. You might even notice skin ulcers forming.
  • Selenium, Iodine, and Manganese – are also important for healthy skin.
  • Vitamin E – Helps skin recover quickly by its anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Vitamin A – is essential in normal cell growth and the hardening of skin cells.

Because we already talked about what ingredients contain vitamins E and A, we won’t go into it again.

But what about those minerals? Does your dog need a supplement?

No.

The best dog food for hunting dogs should contain high-quality ingredients that contribute those minerals to the mix.

What you feed your hunting dog should contain whole grains or legumes, seeds and/or seed oils, seafood or kelp, beef, and a selection of vegetables. All these minerals are naturally found in whole food ingredients.

Keeping that Immune System Strong

The last thing you need is for your prized hunting companion to come down with a serious infection because of a minor wound he got in the field.

Besides a basic understanding of first aid, you need to have a basic understanding of the nutritional needs for a healthy immune system.

Problems with the immune system can show up through skin sensitivities, digestive issues, and chronic infections.

The best dog food for hunting dogs will not cause allergic reactions and will support their overall gut health.

Here are some things to keep in mind when considering the best dog food ingredients for a healthy immune system.

  1. Experts recommend limiting starchy grains such as corn and wheat.
  2. Find food that contains probiotics or consider a dog-specific probiotic supplement.
  3. Look for healthy fiber ingredients such as sweet potatoes or other vegetables.

The most important thing you can do to keep your dog’s immune system healthy is to give them lots of exercise.

But we know you’ve got that covered.

Which brings us to our final point to consider when looking for the best dog food for hunting dogs.

Energy Dense Food for Intense Working Conditions

Hunting dogs, no matter what their breed, will burn more energy and calories than their non-working cousins. What kind of energy sources are best for a hunting dog? How many calories should they be consuming?

The actual quantity of calories your dog needs will vary depending on their size and breed. However, the percentages of fat and protein remain more or less the same.

Hunting dogs will sometimes run or swim for more than 30 minutes at a time. They may also spend hours in the field with you and need sudden intense bursts of energy, like a sprinter.

I found this great interview with Dr. Joseph Wakshlag. He’s an expert in nutrition and sports medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. He explains that dogs primarily get their energy from fat and then protein.

According to his recommendations, the best high energy foods for dogs include:

  • a fat content up to 20%
  • around 25% protein
  • protein sourced from meat

Now, be honest with yourself. Is your dog really intensely active year-round? Do you train with them or give them lots of intense exercise even in the offseason? If so – switching to commercial dog food that meets these requirements is probably a good idea.

But does your hunting buddy spend more time on the couch when not in the field? If so, you could be doing them more harm than good with so much fat.

A high protein diet that contains a standard 15% fat could be plenty of energy for your dog.

Take a good, hard look at how much energy your dog really needs before switching up their dog food. You might find that adding some coconut, olive or flax oil to your dog’s food during the hunting season offers them the extra boost they need.

So Let’s Sum it Up

So after all our research, we’ve come to the following conclusions. The best dog food for hunting dogs should look something like this:

  • Contain around 25% protein
  • Contain between 15% – 20% fat
  • Be primarily meat-based and will ideally include whole animal meats like liver, gristle, and bone.
  • Have minimal or no corn or wheat ingredients.
  • If containing grain, should have whole grains like rice, oats or barley.
  • Include probiotics, glucosamine, and chondroitin.
  • Contain fish, fish oil, or seed-based oils such as sunflower seed oil or flaxseed oil
  • Have a selection of fruit and vegetable ingredients. Look for berries, kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other dark leafy vegetables.

All the vitamins and minerals that your dog needs to stay healthy will come included in high-quality commercial dog food that follows these guidelines.

What you feed your hunting dog will make a huge difference in the field. Invest in the best high-performance dog food you can. Your dog will thank you for it.

Related Questions:

Should I feed my dog before hunting?

No. Feed your hunting dog at least 12 hours the night before a hunt.

If your dog eats immediately before a hunt, or even five or six hours before, their metabolism will not function at its peak. Their performance will suffer.

In general, you should only be feeding your dog once a day. This allows their digestive system to process their food. Insulin in the blood will peak and decline and your dog will be able to access his fat stores to burn as energy. Additionally, your dog will have time to poop, eliminating any excess weight in their body that may slow them down when speed is of great importance.

Can I try a homemade or raw diet for my hunting dog?

We recommend switching to a commercially available raw dog food option. This will guarantee a complete and balanced nutritious meal for your dog. Some companies specialize in certified homemade meals that are freeze-dried or frozen. Other companies specialize in raw food preparations that you can just thaw and serve.

Why go with a commercial option? These companies work with certified pet nutritionists. They guarantee nutritionally balanced meals for your dog.

If your dog is a high-performance athlete that you have invested countless hours in training, do you really want to take any chances with his health?

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