Are You Overfeeding Your Gun Dog?

There are few recurring themes that show up in the Man's Best Friend mailbag, but one of the most common is this question: How much do I feed my dog?

Obviously I'm no expert on canine nutrition, but I did run the feed question by Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. Stewart has a herd of Labradors under his watch and is responsible for Deke and Drake, the Ducks Unlimited dogs. Stewart's first piece of advice was simple: use the recommended amount of cups listed on the bag as a benchmark but not as a golden rule. Then it's time to study the fine print. "Look at the ingredients," he said. "For retrievers you want a feed with a ratio of 24 percent protein to 14 percent fat. If you're running a hard-charging bird dog all day you might want to move up to a ratio of 32 percent protein to 26 percent fat."

If you've never looked for these ratios, you'll find them listed on the side of the dog food bag. Beyond that, Stewart recommends keeping a close eye on your dog. "You should be able to see the lightest definition of the back rib and some nice muscle movement around the neck area when the dog is walking." Stewart conducts visual exams of his dogs weekly and weighs them once a month. (Click here for a body condition chart.) All of this information is listed on each kennel. In addition, Stewart will cut back a bit on his dogs' food in the summer when they're on light duty and go up a bit in the winter when the extra warmth from fat is beneficial.

"You also have to be a connosieur of poop," says Stewart. Any dog that's going often and excreting a lot poop is probably eating a food with a lot of fillers. You'll want to change to something that's more digestible and beneficial to the dog. "Garbage in. Garbage out," says Stewart.

In my own experience with Pritchard, I've found her optimal amount of food to be slightly less than the recommended amount listed on her food bag. (She eats a 24/14 ratio food.) And if you feed your dog treats you must take that into account. Many dog treats are loaded with fat and calories and are often considered the culprit in canine obesity. (A study I saw recently reported that 40 percent of dogs in this country are overweight.)

I'm curious of your choice of feed, and if you've ever had any an over or underweight issues with your dog.