Even though it’s the winter off-season, my sleeping dog’s muffled woof and twitching paws mean one thing—she’s in hot pursuit of a bird. Such afternoon hunts in dreamland burn far fewer calories than the real thing, however, so I adjust her wintertime diet so she doesn’t pack on extra pounds.
For more advice on feeding hunting dogs during the off-season, I reached out to Brian Zanghi, senior research nutritionist with pet food maker Purina.
KNOW THEIR IDEAL WEIGHT
To evaluate whether a dog is at its ideal weight, says Zanghi, veterinarians and canine nutritionists use a body condition score chart that takes into account the dog’s physical appearance. Ideally, your dog should be somewhere in the middle of the chart—not too thin and not too fat. See www.outdoorcanada.ca/dogweight for the chart produced by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.
CONTROL PORTION SIZES
According to Zanghi, measuring a daily portion of food based on your specific dog’s caloric needs will ensure it maintains a healthy body condition. As a rule, dogs need fewer calories in the off-season, and more when hunting. To maintain a stable metabolism and minimize muscle loss, gradually adjust the portion size in one-quarter to half-cup increments, from one week to the next.
SKIP LOW-CAL FOOD
While you should adjust portion sizes as your dog’s level of physical activity changes, Zanghi says you should always keep the dog on a diet that’s high in fat and protein. If you shift to low-calorie food with a higher proportion of carbohydrates, your dog’s metabolism will change over eight to 10 weeks; switching back to the fat- and protein-rich diet would take a similar amount of time. And in both cases during the transition, your dog will have a lower level of endurance.
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