Consistency & Performance: Feeding the Canine Athlete

What you put into your dog will ultimately determine what you get out of it.

For hunters, what you feed your dog can be directly related to the kind of performance you’ll get from him in the field. To help them perform at their best, hard-working dogs need a different kind of nutrition than most house dogs. Sporting dogs can benefit from a premium performance diet.

A hunting dog retrieving in the water.
Short bursts of energy are best fueled by carbohydrates. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

In 1969, Paul Iams set out to create the first blend of food for high performing sporting and working dogs. Iams revolutionized the dog food industry by launching Eukanuba, a company that focused on performance diets made from high quality of ingredients. Eukanuba was among the first to include animal-based protein in dry food. The company was also the first to introduce FOS (Fructooligosaccharides) a prebiotic to help support digestion and the first to discover an optimal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help promote the skin and coat of dogs. The addition of glucosamine and chondroitin has helped promote joint health.

That longstanding commitment to canine nutrition has positioned Eukanuba as a leader in the sporting-dog world, and 50 years of science backs each piece of kibble and helps set up dogs for success. Recently, Eukanuba scientists and researchers raised the bar on performance nutrition again with four new formulas that comprise their Premium Performance line.

“I’ve been feeding Eukanuba since 1997 when I was in vet school,” said Dr. Joe Spoo, a Eukanuba Pro Staffer and veterinarian from South Dakota. “The thing that sold me then, is the same thing that keeps me feeding it now: the science of nutrition. Eukanuba has always been innovative in developing products to help dogs live healthy, active lives. The researchers and team behind the formulas they create are nutrition experts. Those are the folks you want producing your formulas for they are people obsessed with creating science-based nutrition that helps deliver next level performance and health.”

Spoo is a veterinarian, a Diplomate of the American College of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and one of a small handful of specialists in the country who has committed his career to sporting dog health. In fact, his veterinary practice focuses on gundog breeds. While he’s lived in Iowa and Minnesota, he moved to South Dakota because he didn’t draw the non-resident duck tag one year. Now he can hunt South Dakota as a resident, and the plethora of sporting dogs hunting the state allows him plenty of opportunity to focus on his specialty: gundogs.

Two hunters walking through a field of tall grass.
Bird and versatile dogs run hard, and they need nutrition to fuel them all day long. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

“I’ve always been interested in physiology, nutrition and optimum performance,” said Spoo. “I take a cradle-to-grave approach to medicine. The nice thing about South Dakota is that my clients are hunters. The casual ones put in more days afield than many people in the country.”

When Spoo talks diet, he points to Eukanuba’s ability to consistently use quality ingredients. Eukanuba has always used premium ingredients even during pricing fluctuations in the market. “Traditionally, protein and fat have been the focus of performance dog kibble, and 30-20 was the standard,” said Spoo. “Now, it’s not just protein and fat, but instead about matching nutrients with a dog’s specific activity levels.”

Going Deeper: Optimum Canine Performance

Bob Owens, owner of New York State’s Lone Duck Kennels is a Eukanuba Pro Staffer, trainer, and breeder. Every year, Owens runs dozens of AKC hunt tests and field trials. “We put our dogs through the paces, six days a week, all day, every day,” he said. “They’re hard-core athletes. Knowing how hard these dogs work is why it’s important to feed them nutrition that helps them perform at their peak. Canine athletes need excellent physical health, focused attention, and faster recovery so they can bounce back for tomorrow’s run. I’ve been feeding the new Eukanuba Premium Performance 30/20 SPORT and have seen my dogs have good energy levels and proper body condition. Their teeth have improved and they are healthy, happy, and energetic.”

Protein

The building blocks of muscle, protein gets the majority of attention when discussing sporting dog foods. However, not all protein is created equal, and its role is about much more than just adding muscle.

“Look at a bag of dog food and you’ll see that proteins come from a wide variety of sources, such as chicken or lamb” said Russ Kelley, science lead at Eukanuba’s Pet Health and Nutrition Center. “Many other protein sources are highlighted on the packaging for good reason. A dog’s body uses different protein for different reasons. But what the packaging usually doesn’t say is how digestible the proteins are. Digestibility, and not from whence the protein came, is key.

“Protein digestibility can vary widely from source to source and from diet to diet. The typical range for protein digestibility of commercial diets is quite wide. Sporting dogs work best if they have a higher protein digestibility. In that instance, more protein is absorbed by the dog’s body, while less is passed through as stool. Protein that is easily digested supports the dog’s various systems,” he continued.

While protein builds strong muscles, it also helps replace cells lost during vigorous work and supports the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, skeletal and nervous systems. When combined with antioxidants, it helps facilitate recovery so your dog can go day after day.

A hunting dog surrounded by brush in a swamp.
Labrador retrievers work hard all day long. Proper amounts of protein and fat help them perform at their best. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

Fat

Fat provides energy used during long runs and multiple retrieves. This type of work is aerobic, so the longer the dog’s run time, the more fat they need. “In this era that focuses on lean, fat is oftentimes considered to be a dirty word. In fact, fat is of critical importance in a dog’s diet. Dogs that are too thin can be energy deficient, and they’ll run out of steam before the day is over. Similarly, overweight dogs may not perform well, either. Dogs that are overweight have to work much harder than those that are in shape and with appropriate musculature,” said Kelley. “Stored fat is a reserve that is utilized by the dog’s body when he has engaged in significant workloads over an extended period of time. As the dog metabolizes more readily available energy from fatty acids and carbohydrates, the fat reserves offer additional energy for the dog. Metabolizing stored fat is hard on other systems which is why it’s preferable to have fat in the diet.”

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils and omega-6 fatty acids from chicken fat and plants help dogs absorb nutrients, which aid in recovery time while helping support muscular, respiratory, circulatory, nervous, skeletal and other bodily systems, including skin and coat.

bags of Eukanuba Premium Performance Line dog food on a wooden floor.
Eukanuba Premium Performance Line. Eukanuba Sporting Dog

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide an important energy source for canines by delivering immediate energy for bursts of short, intense activity. It’s anaerobic exercise, and it’s over before fat starts to burn. Carbs also have fiber that aids in digestion, while helping to maintain blood sugar levels and nervous-system support.

Carbs from wheat, sorghum, and corn provide this instant energy, and what’s not burned by the dog is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, readily available for use when it is needed.

Eukanuba’s latest range of Premium Performance formulas continue the tradition of providing the optimal ingredients for your working dog, but now they’ve formulated four specially created diets to best suit a dog’s exercise levels and nutritional needs.

Premium Performance 21/13 SPRINT (21% protein, 13% fat): Dogs that require bursts of energy for up to three minutes need more carbohydrates and moderate protein and fat.

Premium Performance 26/16 EXERCISE (26% protein, 16% fat): Dogs working for up to two hours need carbohydrates for immediate energy, but higher quantities of protein and fat to support muscles and systems.

Premium Performance 30/20 SPORT (30% protein, 20% fat): Dogs that run for up to four hours at a time require an even higher percentage of protein and fat.

Premium Performance 30/28 WORK (30% protein, 28% fat): Dogs that run for over four hours of time need higher fat for long-lasting energy, as well as high levels of protein. Specifically designed for herding and sled dogs.

With four formulas of premium-quality performance food, the ability to feed to your dog’s needs has never been easier. And that’s an advent that comes from 50 years of evolving canine nutritional science to meet the demands of hard-working dogs and their trainers throughout the country.