Written by: Dr Jacqueline Boyd, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCHE, CHES, FHEA, MRSB
Nutritional Consultant, Skinner’s Pet Foods
And once again, the season is nearing its end. While you might still have several days in the field planned, why not sit down with a cuppa and let’s think ahead to the close season and how to transition our dogs to different activities, out of season but also to think about how what we do out of season can impact on their performance next season too!
Once a gundog, always a gundog
For some lucky dogs, the close season just means a slight alteration to their daily activities. Some dogs continue to work daily and cover similar amounts of ground as working colleagues on the shoot ground/estate. For these dogs, often their diet needs little alteration as their energy output and thus requirements remain similar. However, many gundogs in the close season revert back to full-time family pets, have other disciplines to participate in (such as tests, scurries, obedience, agility) or have other roles out of season, perhaps even maternity leave! In these cases, nutrition and management can help to ease the change and support the health and performance of your dog.
Taking a break
For some dogs, the close season is a total rest period. Historically, some dogs were totally kennel confined out of season, resulting in a drastic reduction in their energy requirements but potentially also in their overall health, condition, muscle tone and fitness. Resting is essential and for some dogs, a “holiday” at the end of a hard season is well deserved. This helps the body repair and regenerate from any minor injuries and gives a chance for both physical and mental recuperation. Prolonged rest with restricted activity might not be ideal however and keeping some level of physical exercise and conditioning will help maintain a degree of fitness until serious conditioning is needed in the run-up to the next season.
Walking, training, swimming are all useful ways to keeping both body and mind active, albeit perhaps at a reduced level of intensity and frequency than during the season. As the level of energy output is likely to have been substantially reduced out of season, changing the nutrition accordingly can be critical to support the resting period BUT also to minimise the risk of weight gain! Depending on the dog, the close season, combined with reduced intensity, frequency and duration of activity means quite simply that fewer calories are needed. There is not the same level of metabolic output with regards to protein turnover and other nutrients either, so a diet with reduced levels of key nutrients might be useful. Field and Trial Maintenance (or Maintenance Plus, which has added Joint Aid supplement) can be a great option out of season and supports day-to-day activity without providing excess amounts of energy or protein that will either need processed and excreted by your dog or could result in weight gain!
Some dogs change their roles out of season and remain very active, just in different disciplines and with different environmental challenges (increased temperatures for example). Dogs taking part in tests, scurries, agility, flyball etc remain active but typically with less duration to their activities and looking at their nutrition to support “short-burst” activity might be in order. Typically, the level of carbohydrate is increased in the diet in these situations and the level of fat (which is critical for prolonged energy output) is decreased. A typical swap for these dogs might be from Field and Trial Superior, to Field and Trial Crunchy for example.
For those dogs looking at parental duties, nutrition is critical. Many bitches will benefit from a good nutritional plane both in the run up to mating and after the mating itself. It’s also important to not forget fuelling our stud dogs well either – good nutrition means an ability to both perform and be fertile! This also applies for our bitches and a bitch will typically only come into season when the environmental conditions are ideal; this includes nutrition and especially the levels of their body fat. That is not say they should be fat, but rather they need an adequate level of reserves to support all the necessary hormone changes and maintenance of a pregnancy (as well as the ovulation of quality eggs!) Once pregnancy is confirmed and from about week five of pregnancy, a gradual increase in both the amount fed and the meal frequency is useful, as well as a swap to a high quality, energy dense food such as Field and Trial Puppy or Field and Trial Superior. Either of these will also support lactation output after whelping.
Manage and monitor out of season too
Even out of season, it’s worthwhile to keep monitoring body weight, body condition and the amount fed. We don’t want “resting” dogs to gain lots of weight as that might be difficult to shift in the run up to the next season. If you are transitioning to a different food, do so gradually over a period of about seven days to allow your dog’s digestive system to adapt. Equally, keeping a level of physical activity and conditioning will make the transition to increased activity easier for next season for all concerned, not least of which is the metabolic system of your dog!
Have a great end to the season and if you would like individual nutritional advice for your dog, the nutrition team at Skinner’s would be pleased to help you.