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Seven week old gun dog prospect- $400 to $1,000 or more, vet bills, training expenses, kennel facility , dog crates for house and vehicle, collars, leads and more- $1,000 to $1,500. The cost of purchasing and training a gun dog prospect can easily exceed $2,000 in the first year. Or, you could buy a started dog for that much and more.

Anyone who seriously pursues upland game or waterfowl with a gun dog has incurred all or most of these costs. Yet, when it comes to perhaps the most important aspect of a dog’s health and welfare, nutrition, a few dollars suddenly takes precedence beyond reason. In fact, discount and grocery store foods not only have the potential to harm your star prospect, they also are not a financial savings in the long run, but more about cost later.

How do our gun dog’s nutritional needs differ from other dogs, and what factors should influence your choice of food? A dog’s nutritional needs are based upon many considerations such as age, size, metabolism and level of activity to name a few. For example, puppies demand more and different octane food than do adults. In adults, some smaller individuals may even have greater needs than their larger counterparts due to metabolism alone. In general, working dogs have greater nutritional needs than non-working breeds. These would include herd dogs, sled dogs and our gun dogs.

With our gun dogs, we need to consider their level of activity, metabolism, outside or inside housing and the time of year, striking a balance between all of those things. During the off season, protein levels in the mid-twenties and fat levels from twelve to fifteen percent would be sufficient for most adults. About six weeks before the season the fat content should be raised to twenty percent depending upon the individual and how hard he/she is being worked. A gun dog that is kept in a kennel may double or triple its caloric needs during the coincidence of hunting season and cold weather. Stored fat is drawn upon for the dog to perform and to resist cold temperatures. Protein levels should only be increased beyond the mid to upper twenty-some percent level under extraordinary conditions. My dogs standard diet of 26% protein and 18% fat is sufficient most of the time. Under extreme stress a diet of 30% and 20% may become necessary. Some of the retrievers have a tendency to gain weight, so their calories need to be reduced when not working.

As important as protein and fat levels is the quality of the ingredients used to attain those levels. A high level of digestibility is achieved with high quality ingredients, meaning more is used by your dog’s system and there is less waste. A good quality food should have a digestibility rate above eighty-five percent. Large amounts of poorly formed fecal matter in an otherwise healthy dog may indicate poor quality food or over-feeding. Other indicators are coat and skin condition and stamina. The bulk amount you feed depends upon the digestibility rate. Thus you will feed less of a higher quality food, have a healthier dog and not actually spend more money.

All protein, fat nor grain is of the same quality. Better quality foods use ingredients that meet standards for consumption set by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), and many are fit for human consumption. Do these foods cost more? Not necessarily! The per bag cost may be more, but because of the lesser amount being fed, the cost per feeding may be less. You may be able to feed half as much with better results. In addition, better nutrition means lower health care costs.

By law, the percentage of protein, fat, fiber and other ingredients are listed on the bag, and the source of ingredients are posted in order of bulk amount in the food. Suggested amounts to feed are also listed on the bag. These are good starting points. However, take into consideration the factors discussed, adjust the amount to suit your dog and do not allow them to get fat.

With regard to actual ingredients, meat and fat for gun dogs should come from chicken and chicken fat unless there is an allergy, or your dog has other special needs. Chicken seems to metabolize into fatty acids and energy producing enzymes more efficiently than other meat or fat sources. I also recommend that you avoid foods with artificial preservatives or soy. Quality foods can be purchased for reasonable prices. You need not buy the high priced brands to get quality. Consult a series of professionals- trainers, breeders, vets- making sure that they understand your dog’s needs, and have no ties to a particular manufacturer.

Quality foods will keep your dog healthier longer, performing at a higher level, and in the long run, can save you money.

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