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Fuel Their Fire: How to Provide Your Retriever with Proper Nutrition During the Late Season

Between blowing snow, frigid temperatures, and freezing water, your duck dog has an increased energy demand as the season progresses; here's what you need to know to help them finish strong.

Fuel Their Fire: How to Provide Your Retriever with Proper Nutrition During the Late Season

Set your retriever up for late season success by giving them proper nutrition through a balanced and enriched formula scientifically designed for hard-working sporting dogs. (Photo By: Nathan Ratchford)

Every hardcore waterfowl hunter knows that as weather conditions deteriorate later in the year, the migration and hunting opportunities improve. As the season wanes on we begin to plan our outings around forecasts of cold fronts, snow squalls, and polar vortexes. We prep our minds and maintain our gear to perform in the most punishing of conditions.

We need to do the same—or perhaps even better—with our dogs when it comes to late season duck and goose hunting. Aside from reading the obvious signs of cold stress and other field-related injuries, preparing our retrievers for the late season condition begins with proper nutrition. This proactive strategy isn’t simply just “feed them more dog food,” but rather feeding them the right formula of ingredients at the right time to help them succeed in the field. To learn more about how we can best set our dogs up for late season success, we connected with Michael Keith, senior vice president of nutrition and supply chain at VICTOR Super Premium Pet Food.

Meeting the Demands of the Late Season Duck Dog

Wildfowl: How much more energy and nutritional demands are needed of retrievers in late season/winter conditions versus other times of the year?

Michael Keith: A typical duck dog at 50-pounds will burn about 1,450-1,500 calories a day if they’re just lounging around the house, 1800 calories with moderate activity, and then about 2,200 calories for a long day at peak performance. These numbers are well-published as an industry standard, but when it comes to hunting dogs in the water and in colder environments, hunters need to pay special attention to the increased needs above that. There is a greater caloric need as their bodies are now working harder to maintain the physical demand and thermally regulate their internal temperature.

labrador retriever swimming in water with duck decoy
The late season retriever needs an extra boost of calories to stay properly nourished and at the top of their game. (Photo By: Nathan Ratchford)

Wildfowl: Regarding proper nutrition, what can we do to prepare our dogs for the late season and before a late season hunt?

MK: Just like humans, every hunting dog has their own unique nutritional needs, and every dog is trained and worked to a different level. The main thing for proper nutrition is to set a firm foundation, ramp up food intake heading into and during the hunting season, and then feed a little more in preparation for going out into the cold, wet environments of a late season hunt. We want to be cognizant of what we’re feeding our dogs, but also when we’re feeding them, as it typically takes around or up to 12 hours to fully digest a meal. For morning hunts, we want to make sure to feed our dogs the night before, to be sure they can completely digest that food and have ample energy to work from, but not have food settled in their stomach that can affect their performance.

Wildfowl: Are there any specific considerations to proper nutritional intake for hunters traveling with their dogs on late season hunts?

MK: Absolutely. You have to take into account those basic needs and then the increased demand beyond that, especially for those hunters traveling with their dogs. This often means properly feeding dogs prior to departure and then being mindful of those increased needs once you arrive at your destination, as well as adjusting to any environmental needs at that specific location during your stay.

All dogs respond differently to travel, and with all of our products being built for digestion and palatability, dogs should have no problem on that end. Palatability is very important to us, that’s the ultimate acceptability of our products. For dogs that do have a greater deal of travel anxiety and may not eat kibble, our consumers have reported feeding their dogs canned food to help alleviate some of that stress and get their dogs to eat while on the road.




Wildfowl: What makes VICTOR’s products the ideal choice for duck dogs working in the harshest of late season conditions?

MK: All of VICTOR’s dog food products contain our proprietary VPRO® Blend. It’s a four-part formula that is scientifically proven to provide superior digestibility, support a stronger immune system, boost paw and pad integrity, and foster a healthy skin and coat. Specifically, these ingredients are selenium yeast, mineral complexes, prebiotics, and probiotics.

The MAX-5 PRO is our premier product for hunting and working dogs and was inspired by our #1-selling Hi-Pro Plus formula. This enhanced offering came together after receiving feedback from professional dog trainers and hunters that needed a little more from their dog food. MAX-5 PRO starts with a 30/20 protein/fat ratio for these dogs with high physical demands. In addition to the VPRO® Blend, this powerful formula contains other additives above and beyond our other products. This includes glucosamine and chondroitin to support hip and joint function and salmon oil for Omega 3’s and 6’s.

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labrador retriever eating VICTOR Super Premium Pet Food Max-5 Pro dog food
A well-balanced and enriched dog food formula can make all the difference in your retriever's ability to handle the challenging conditions of late season hunting. (Photo By: Nathan Ratchford)

Wildfowl: Can we feed our dogs the same formula all year long?

MK: Yes, absolutely. Our MAX-5 PRO formula is perfectly suited to serve as a year-round, adult maintenance dog food and every ingredient always serves a purpose. The only regulation you need is the amount you’ll be feeding, whether you’re in-season or out of season. We take pride in providing a superior product at an economic value, and our products are field tested and field trusted to help dogs perform better, day in and day out.

Wildfowl: Are there any signs or symptoms that we can observe in our dogs during the late season to recognize they’re getting enough or not getting the right amount of calories and nutrition?

MK: With canine nutrition in general, what we see on the outside is usually a direct reflection of what’s happening on the inside. Hunting dog handlers generally have a pretty good read on their dogs, so they may see their dogs are off their peak performance or showing subtle signs they need a little more. It’s difficult to give a specific recommendation, but more could be as simple as an extra ¼ cup of kibble to get enough nutrients that day. A lot of hunters also forget about hydration while shivering in a cold drizzle during the late season, but even in cold, damp conditions, hydration is just as important as nutrition for working dogs.

Typical things to look out for on the day of a hunt that indicate your dog may need more nutrition are lethargic behavior, and on a broader scale when we look at nutrition, you should also look for skin and hair/ coat problems or paw pad issues. On the other side of that, we get feedback from owners of duck dogs who are fueled by VICTOR who say that their dogs are just as excited and perform as well on days two, three and four of a hunt as they did the first day. They get comments from other dog owners about how impressive their dogs continued performance is throughout longer hunts. We love getting that feedback and it’s a great accolade to bring to life the impact our science-based approach to nutrition has on the pets we’re entrusted to feed.

labrador retriever sitting in dog blind duck hunting
Both you and your retriever have waited all year for the late season. Now is the time to make it count. (Photo By: Nathan Ratchford)

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