Whole Dog Nutrition

sporting dog

By Ryan Sparks

A sporting dog’s performance is reliant on a multitude of interrelated factors: training, conditioning, and nutrition. When thinking about your dog’s specific nutritional requirements for the hunting season, think of feeding ‘the whole dog.’

Russ Kelley, the Science Lead at the Eukanuba Pet Health and Nutrition Center, says “at Eukanuba, we start with a ‘whole dog approach’ to nutrition. That broader view examines how food impacts the dog’s entire bodily functions. It looks at the foods’ relationship to the circulatory, respiratory, muscular, digestive and other systems, and how nutrition can help elevate performance. The whole dog approach helps Eukanuba scientists focus on all bodily functions which helps with improved performance when dogs are at work.”

yellow retriever

Think Nutrients, Not Ingredients

“Dogs are natural athletes, but when we talk about performance dogs, we are describing a level of athleticism beyond that of the typical pet dog,” says Kelley. “People tend to give all the nutritional credit to specific ingredients, when the right nutrients truly deserve the spotlight,” he says. “Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are all functional components that help fuel performance.”

Protein helps maintain and rebuild muscles, making it an essential component of a performance dog’s diet. But it also helps strengthen the cardiovascular, skeletal, and respiratory systems.

While protein can serve as a source of energy, fat and carbohydrates are more important. “Some dogs need a higher concentration of fat to sustain energy over long days in the field or when making countless retrieves. Other dogs that do sprint-based activities like dock diving or flushing need carbohydrates for quick bursts of energy,” says Kelley. “Your dog’s activity levels should factor into the formulas they’re fed.”

Eukanuba dog

Nutrients for Healthy, Agile Joints

Joints, and in particular cartilage, are subjected to significant use as dogs turn, jump and accelerate in the field. “Important dietary components for supporting healthy, agile joints are glucosamine and chondroitin,” Kelley says.

Nutrients for Skin & Coat

The condition of a dog’s hair and skin comes from feeding, and it’s far more important than just making them look good. Healthy hair and skin protect them from the environment.

Skin cells are constantly replicated as epithelial cells are lost every day. Some are lost from normal cellular reproduction while others are removed when dogs run through fields and swim in rivers. The replacement of these cells requires a tremendous amount of protein and amino acids, so much so that from a requirement standpoint, the skin uses more protein than any other system. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also key to promoting a healthy skin and coat.

Nutrients for Healthy Brain Function

While your hard-charging gun dog might seem as if he’s single-mindedly focused on birds, he actually has a lot more to pay attention to: the terrain, your commands, and other dogs. “DHA and omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oils have been shown to help ensure healthy brain function,” notes Kelley.

Eukanuba Sporting Dog

Nutrients for Optimized Digestion & Nutrient Absorption

“Heavy workloads can put a lot of stress on a dog’s digestive system, and if their digestive system is irritated, the dog won’t be able to perform at his peak,” notes Kelley. Diets that incorporate fermentable fibers and prebiotics help with GI health. “Insoluble fibers, psyllium, prebiotics, and beet pulp are all ingredients that help ensure nutrients are absorbed by the dog’s body and that the nutrients can be used to help replace cells lost during activity,” says Kelley.

Nutrients for Post-Exercise Recovery

Antioxidants play a vital role in supporting post-exercise recovery. Some of a dog’s fatigue may come from oxidative stress and the buildup of free radicals. Free radicals, the by-product of strenuous activity, are a normal part of a dog’s everyday life. Increased workload results in more free radicals being released in the dog’s body. Large amounts of free radicals can slow down the rebuilding of cells lost during rigorous exercise. Antioxidants like Vitamin E, Vitamin C, lutein, beta-carotene and taurine can help reduce oxidative stress and free radicals.


Creating a feeding program centered on whole dog nutrition can help your dog prepare for the field. And Eukanuba’s new line of Premium Performance diets pulls all of these nutritional elements into a range of formulas tailored to different activity levels. While each of the formulas vary in protein, fat and carbohydrates, they all contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to help provide every dog with nutrients they need to perform at their peak.