Getting your dog?s diet right is highly rewarding. A better diet can improve a dog?s ability to find game, reduce the chances of injury, enhance its ability to work in adverse conditions and extend its working life.
Young, growing dogs have different dietary needs from those that have reached maturity. For an adult working dog that exercises for two hours per day, a standard so-called ?maintenance diet? containing between 20 and 26 per cent protein will suffice. Some maintenance diets are made up of home-made food, some are made up of commercial tinned or dry food and others are made up of commercial food with added meat and fat.
In the build-up to the shooting season, the amount of exercise a dog will have is likely to increase and so it will need to have more energy. This could be supplied either by giving more of the maintenance diet or by changing the diet to a more energy-rich one, adding more meat such as chicken, or carbohydrates such as cereal. You can simply increase the quantity of food without entirely revising the diet ? for example, a dog on one meal per day would be given a second feed. When dogs are unwilling or unable to eat the larger amounts of a maintenance ration, the share of the protein in their diet must be increased to 31 per cent.
Working diets should also contain more fat as fuel to help dogs quickly replace lost energy, and to make the food tastier. Gundog diets can have fat contents of between 16 and 18 per cent, and a lurcher?s diet often has an extra 100 per cent fresh fat added. Research also shows that higher fat diets may help to reduce overheating, which is especially important on hot days. Adequate energy levels in food can also reduce susceptibility to bacterial infection and parasites.
Any adjustments to diet should be introduced gradually over two weeks. When changing a diet other factors affecting the dog?s health should also be taken into consideration, such as allergies or intolerance to food or ongoing illness.
When deciding on the amount of food needed, various factors should be considered. For example, a family pet required to sit at a peg only a few times per season will not need as much as a beater?s dog working all day, several times a week. Weather conditions should also be taken into account. Weight loss is common in dogs working in cold and wet conditions. In warm weather it may be harder to get the dog to eat enough.
For beaters? dogs you can replace 50 per cent of the maintenance food with a protein and fat source such as tripe or beef. So, for example, for a dog that was on three cups of dry food in the summer, it might initially be increased to two cups of food twice a day during the early season. As the coldest weather comes, half of the food could be gradually replaced with tripe. The content of natural foods varies, but typically tripe contains about 70 per cent water, 12 per cent protein and 16 per cent fat, with ash and others making up the remainder.
In addition, different breeds have been developed for different purposes and so have correspondingly different needs. When working, a lurcher or greyhound probably needs only 10 to 20 per cent more energy than the normal maintenance diet, whereas huskies working consistently in the coldest conditions could need up to twice as much energy as normal. For rabbiting lurchers, slightly lower protein and higher fat content diets may produce better results. Tripe, offal and lamb mixed with some vegetables have a protein content of around 27 per cent and fat around 20 per cent. Pure fat from cattle stomachs may also be added during the winter months.
Is your dog overweight?
Owners wishing to keep dogs in good condition should use the Body Condition Score (BCS) system. This is a way of assessing how fat or lean a dog is. The scale ranges from 1 to 5, with an emaciated dog having a BCS of 1 and an obese dog a BCS of 5. A healthy dog would have a BCS of 3 ? its ribs can be felt, but not seen, and its abdomen is tucked up when seen from the side, without the tops of the lumbar spine being visible. The BCS system allows owners to assess a dog?s condition without just relying on weight. It appears in at least two forms ? I prefer the simpler five-point system advocated by Ohio State University (visit http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/body-condition-scoring-chart), though Purina uses a nine-point system (visit www.purina.com)