For many people, a good hunting dog is the result of two main things—training and good genes. However, there is also another factor that is probably equally as important as the other two, but which often gets overlooked by many people when it comes to their hunting dogs, and that factor is nutrition. The importance of providing the best dog food for hunting dogs can't be stressed enough.
Simply put, while genetics and training obviously play hugely important roles, understanding the proper diet that a hunting dog needs to function is just any important if you want to get the best out of your dog. Basically, while the best dog food for hunting dogs will help keep your dog in the best possible shape, the majority of dog foods out there simply won't cut it, as they don't provide the proper type of nutrients in the right quantities that hunting dogs need.
Top Picks for Hunting Dog Food
Here are our choices for the best hunting dog food. There is more details below for each food but you can also click on the links if you would like to see the prices for each.
*Disclaimer: All information presented here and in this table are based on research and our opinion. It is always advised to consult a vet before deciding which dog food to purchase and feed your hunting dog.
Through selective breeding, humans have successfully created a number of different pointers, retrievers and other breeds that are lean, mean hunting machines, with bodies that have been specially developed to handle the rigors of hunting. Compared to the average dog, hunting dogs are bred to be much more active, meaning that they require more calories. This is especially true hunting season, as all that running around and excitement means they burn many more calories than the average dog, thus requiring a special diet.
For an easy analogy, think about a hunting dog as being like an athlete. Just like athletes, hunting dogs needs to undergo special training and require a specific diet in order to keep their bodies in tip top shape. What this means for you as the owner is that it's necessary that you pay special attention to your dog's nutrition to keep it in the best shape possible.
To help you out, we've put together this handy guide that should tell you almost everything you need to know about hunting dog nutrition, including what you should look for in dog food. After that, we'll then provide you with reviews of the top dog foods for hunting dogs to help you make a more informed decision on which is best for your dog.
Proper Hunting Dog Nutrition: What Do Hunting Dogs Eat?
Sticking with the athlete analogy, it only makes sense that your hunting dog requires a special diet in order to keep its body able to handle the rigors of hunting. However, just like most athletes, hunting dogs also have an offseason, meaning that it's important not only to ensure that they get the proper diet during hunting season, but also a proper maintenance diet for those months when they're more inactive. Still, the question then becomes, what is the best dog food for hunting?
In terms of nutrients, the three most important for a dog are fat, protein and carbohydrates, in that order. Whereas humans require a diet low in fat and high in fiber, dogs are basically the opposite, needing much more fat to keep going than carbs. The reason here is that while humans rely mostly on carbohydrates for energy, dogs' bodies have developed to efficiently burn fat as their primary energy source—in essence saving up the quicker-burning sugars in the carbohydrates for times when they need an intense boost of energy. In fact, studies have shown that when deprived of enough fat in their diet, dogs tend to tire much quicker as the burning of carbohydrates tends to cause muscle exhaustion.
This is why all of the top level hunting dog foods usually contain at least 20 percent fat, as this provides the dogs with their primary energy source. As well, most top products also contain around 30 percent protein to help build muscle and keep it strong, with the rest being made up of carbohydrates. However, these foods may not necessarily be the best for every hunting dog, as the best dog food for hunting beagles is probably not the same as the best dog food for hunting labs. It all comes down to trying to manage the amount of calories that the dog burns with the amount of energy intake in terms of fat and protein.
If your dog is out for hours on end during hunting season, you'll definitely want to feed it something with around 20% fat and 30% protein, such as any top brand performance dog food. On the other hand, if your dog is only out running around for an hour or two a few times a week, you may easily be able to get away with just feeding it a high quality maintenance food, such as that you would feed it the rest of the year when it's not hunting season. These typically contain somewhere between 10-17 percent fat and 20-28 percent protein.
Still, the question of performance vs. maintenance food and what's best for your dog really comes down to your dog and its energy and activity levels. If your dog is still quite active throughout the year, you could easily still feed it the performance food all year, as long as you reduce the portions for when it's not out hunting every day.
Canned vs. Semi-Moist vs. Dry Dog Food
Considering how many different brands and types of dog food there are on the market, it's no wonder that so many people are so confused about what type they should buy, as the sheer number of choices can make your head spin. First of all, you'll need to decide whether to buy canned wet food, semi-moist or dry dog food.
In terms of taste, there is no doubt that dogs generally preferred canned food best, followed by semi-moist and with dry food coming in a distant third. However, in terms of what you should be feeding hunting dogs, there really is only one choice—dry food, and again, the reason comes down to nutrition.
When comparing the three types of dog food, dry food obviously has the lowest moisture content, and it's this lowered moisture content that makes it superior to the other two. Basically, as the moisture level in the food increases, the amount of protein, fat and other nutrients decreases. What this means is that your dog will need to eat increasingly bigger amounts of food to take in the same amount of nutrients, which is obviously not good if you're trying to keep your dog fit and ready to go.
WINNER: Dry Food!
Considering it takes a dog nearly 24 hours to fully process and digest a meal, you ideally want to be feeding it as nutrient dense of a food as possible, as it will obviously be slower and less active/agile the more food it has in it. For this reason, when it comes to feeding a hunting dog, dry food is really the only way to go, as it will ensure they get the proper nutrients without having to overeat. In fact, considering just how many calories a hunting dog can burn in a day, it's highly unlikely you could actually get them to eat enough canned or semi-moist food to provide them with all the fat and protein they need to replenish their energy properly.
When to Feed a Hunting Dog
Along with ensuring your dog is eating the proper diet, you'll also want to pay attention to exactly when they eat in order to keep them performing their best. In the past, many vets recommended that hunting dogs be fed twice a day. However, recent studies have begun showing that this may not be the best way.
Evidence has shown that a dog has almost double the amount of endurance when running on an empty stomach as they do when they have eaten within the previous four hours, meaning that your dog will obviously perform much better if you don't feed it straight before heading out to the field. The reason behind this goes back to the differences in how dogs burn fat versus carbohydrates.
Studies have shown that when a dog runs on an empty stomach, meaning 17 or more hours without being fed, its body is much more efficient at burning fat for the required energy. However, when a dog runs less than six hours after eating, its body then burns more carbohydrates, causing it to tire much quicker.
For this reason, most experts now recommend only feeding your hunting dog once a day, in the late afternoon or as soon as you get home from hunting.
The Importance of Quality
Like all things in life, when it comes to dog food, you get what you pay for. If you buy one of the higher dollar, top tier brands, no matter whether it’s a maintenance or performance diet, you'll usually be getting a food that contains the right balance of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and other nutrients hunting dogs need.
On the other hand, should you decide to just buy Fido a bag of whatever the cheapest food you can find, it's probably the equivalent of feeding an athlete McDonald's every day. There's no way they can eat that stuff and still perform their best, as many of the cheaper dog foods on the market are full of fillers or don't contain all of the essential vitamins and nutrients a dog needs.
This is especially true when it comes to protein, as just because a particular brand claims it contains 30 percent protein doesn't actually mean that it's better than a brand that only contains 25 percent. The reason being is that the quality and type of protein plays an important role in determining how much protein your dog actually takes in.
While the top brands generally use real meat as the primary source of protein, many cheaper brands rely on grains and other vegetables for protein instead of using the more expensive, but infinitely higher quality animal-based protein sources. As well, many cheaper products may claim to only use animal-based protein, when in reality, much of the protein percentage comes from chicken and other by products, such as beaks and feathers. While these things are technically protein, it is not actually protein that can be digested or used by the dog.
This means that even if a product says it contains 30 percent protein, it's important to look to see what the sources of this are to ensure that your dog is actually getting the nutrition it needs. Basically, if you see protein from grains or animal by-products, you should probably find a different brand.
Best Dog Food for Hunting Dogs: Top Products
This grain free formula packs a real punch, containing 26 percent protein and 18 percent fat, as well as Omega 3, Omega 6, selenium, vitamin E and other beneficial nutrients. Still, far from just being a decent performance food from one of the country's top brands, this food also works to help keep your dog's joints and digestive system healthy thanks to the added glucosamine and probiotics. For this reason, this particular food from Victor is our top pick, as while it may be a bit more expensive, it generally outperforms Iams, Purina and other top brands.
This 30/20 protein fat formula food is without a doubt one of the purest, best products on the market, completely free of fillers, additives and other things you don't want. Made from healthy chicken meal, whole brown rice and oatmeal, this food will keep your hunting dog in perfect shape, while also helping to promote a shiny, healthy coat, strong bones and joints and overall good health. However, it happens to be rather pricey, which is why it scores slightly lower than the Victor food.
Containing even higher levels of protein and fat (32 percent protein, 20 percent fat), Redpaw PowerEdge is designed specifically for high performance working dogs that train at least three or four times a week. As with the other top brands, it is 100 percent free from fillers, sugars, artificial colors or flavorings, meaning it contains all the things your hunting dog needs and none of what it doesn't. Still, it does contain some grain, unlike Victor dog foods, which are always grain free.
As one of the world's top brands, it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that Purina Pro Plan Sport is also one of our top picks for the best dog food for hunting dogs. This 26 percent protein, 16 percent fat performance food offers a complete level of nutrition, making it ideal for hunting dogs of all sizes and activity levels. However, it does contain a few artificial ingredients, as well as grain, which is why it scored slightly lower than the others. Nonetheless, it's still a decent mid-range food for those that don't want to spend the extra on one of the top end products.