There are many breeds of dogs used for hunting, and they all have various needs, builds, and abilities – but they do have one thing in common; they’re incredibly athletic. And athletic dogs, of all shapes and sizes, require specific nutrients to keep them going.
The best dog food for hunting dogs will provide them with essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins to give them the energy they need to take on the day and keep their active bodies strong and healthy.
A Quick Glance at Our Picks:
- Best for Puppies: Victor Grain-Free Active Puppy Dry Food
- Best All-Around: Victor Purpose – Performance, Dry Dog Food
Before we get into the complete review of our favorite food options, let’s take a closer look at hunting dogs and their diet requirements.
Activity Level of Hunting Dogs
Of course, hunting dogs are some of the most active breeds of dogs ranging from medium-sized terriers to the larger redbone hounds and labradors.
Their activity during hunting often includes climbing, trekking long distances, running after game animals, and retrieving animals that have been shot at far distances (such as ducks). This type of activity can, over time, take a toll on a dog’s body if they’re not given the proper meal to replace lost nutrients and rebuild their bodies.
Types of Hunting Dogs
Previously, we mentioned briefly that there is a range of hunting dogs. Generally, these dogs will fall into one of three main categories: Gun dogs, Terriers, and Hound dogs. Let’s take a look at each of their body builds and hunting specialties.
Hounds are lean dogs built for stamina. These are used to sniff out and actively pursue live game. They have loud barks and a fantastic sense of smell that allows them to follow the scent of game for miles. Hounds are also quite fearless, used for hunting and treeing (or cornering) large and medium-sized animals such as coyotes, deer, bear, boar, raccoons, and big cats.
Some of the most common hunting hounds include Coonhounds, Bloodhounds, Redbone Hounds, American Foxhounds, and Beagles.
Terriers are the most petite of hunting dogs and are generally used for hunting small, quick game such as squirrels, rabbits, foxes, and birds; as well as common household pests such as rats. They’re incredibly energetic and are most commonly used for hunting game outside of the U.S., primarily in the United Kingdom.
This category includes Boston Terriers (though not widely used for hunting in our modern era), Jack Russell Terriers, and Rat Terriers.
Gun dogs are generally of the larger breeds and are primarily used to scare hidden, nearby game for the hunter to shoot when spooked. They’re also great for retrieving downed game such as ducks and other wetland creatures.
These dogs usually consist of Labrador Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Notice how many of the Gun Dogs have the word “retriever” in their names, expressing their intended purpose.
Essential (and Inessential) Nutrients for Sporting Dogs
Dogs, in general, rely on at least some quality-sourced proteins and fats – and this is especially true for active, hunting dogs. Whole meats such as chicken, lamb, or salmon are essential for providing adequate nutrients to sporting dogs.
Compared to the under-active stay-at-home majority that can survive off of primarily grain-based dog food, hunting dogs require an excess of protein to fat ratios to keep their hard-worked bodies performing sufficiently throughout the years. So it’s important to consider dog foods that contain higher amounts of good meat, and fewer amounts of wheat and filler.
Although it’s important to note that carbohydrates aren’t all bad. However, they’re better when sourced from vegetables, such as sweet potatoes rather than being sourced from grain. Overall, it’s best to feed hunting dogs, of all kinds, a kibble that is low to moderate carb percentage.
Like their home-bodied companions, hunting dogs also require a mixed array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to fight inflammation, build strong bones and teeth, and maintain healthy skin.
What About Raw Food?
As a hunter, it may be tempting to throw down a piece of meat to your hound as your skinning and carving your game – or even feed them a raw diet entirely. While the debate has been fiery, there are a few pros and cons to doing this.
As we mentioned previously, hunting dogs do benefit tremendously from a diet that is high in protein and fat and at first glance, it may seem as though meat straight from an animal would be the best option, but let’s consider a few things:
- Domesticated dogs have adapted over generations to consuming more concentrated, cooked, or somewhat processed proteins. Jumping into a raw diet may be upsetting to a dog’s digestion.
- Raw meat, especially from wild animals, have the potential of containing harmful bacterias or parasites that could possibly be detrimental to the health of both owner and dog.
- Simply feeding raw meat could create an imbalance in nutrients if your hunting dog’s diet isn’t substituted with other essential elements such as fiber and (minimal) carbs.
- Bones pose a choking or internal injury hazard.
- Dogs can and do thrive on high-quality, high-protein and fat kibbles, so there’s really no panic to be had about their food-in-a-bag diets.
So while raw meat could possibly provide your hunting dog with excellent protein right from the woods, veterinarians have practically concluded that the cons outweigh the benefits. That’s not to say that you can’t feed your dog game every now and again – this could actually be wonderful for putting some variation in their diets – but be sure it’s cooked to remove all potential risks.
Hunting Dog Health Issues and the Effects of Diet
Speaking in generalities, hunting dogs can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, stomach bloating, and arthritis. These are most commonly found in the larger hunting breed categories of Hounds (such as Setters) and Gun dogs (such as Retrievers).
Some, though not all, of these ailments, can be combatted or avoided with diet specifics. For example, Gun dogs, such as Labs, can benefit tremendously when they’re kept from becoming overweight or obese. Of course, you want to keep your hunting dogs lean, and by doing so you can save them from future torments such as joints popping out of place and arthritis.
For hunting dogs with bloating issues, such as Irish Setters or Coonhounds, they may do best on a diet made for dogs with sensitive digestive tracts and stomachs. Hunting dogs with stomach problems may also do better on foods that don’t contain chicken protein, grains, or highly processed or unnecessary ingredients such as dyes.
Best Dog Food for Hunting Dogs Review
For All Ages: Purina Pro Plan SPORT Formula
A big name in the dog food game, Purina’s Pro Plan SPORT Formula is a top-notch dry food for active pooches.
This dog food option contains 30% protein to 20% fat, all responsibly sourced from high-quality chicken products. That means that half of this kibble consists of the two top nutrients required for a strong, healthy hunter.
The SPORT Formula is designed for athletic breeds of all ages, making it an ideal choice for hunting dogs in training, adults, and even dogs getting up in their years. It contains amino acids to nourish muscles, antioxidants to support the immune system, and omega-3 fatty acids to encourage healthy joints.
Along with the boundless essential nutrients and focus on protein and fat, this formula puts an emphasis on optimizing the oxygen metabolism in hunting and sporting dogs to increase their endurance while out in the field.
Not only is this an excellent option for hunting dogs of all breeds, but it’s affordable (especially for how nutrient-dense it is) and available in variously-sized bags: 4, 6, 18, 24, 33, 37.5, 48, and 50 pounds.
- It contains an ideal protein-fat percentage for hunting dogs.
- Available in a wide variety of bag options.
- It contains omega-3 fatty acids to build healthy joints – something that is a necessity in hunting dogs especially.
- The formula focuses on oxygen metabolism to build your hunting dog’s endurance.
- Great for dogs of all ages.
- Affordable, especially for the quality.
- Because the protein and fat come primarily from chicken, this may not be an ideal choice for dogs with a history of allergins or food sensitivities.
For Adults: Victor Purpose Performance, Dry Dog Food
Our favorite dog food for hunting dogs, the Victor Purpose Performance dry dog food is made with high proteins sourced from beef, chicken, and pork products. The combination of the three types of meat is great for a variety of nutrients compared to kibbles with only a single source of protein and fats.
This formula is created specifically for dogs that have greater physical demands, focusing on nutrients such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin to encourage healthy joints long-term. It’s made with gluten-free grains, making this kibble ideal for dogs with gluten sensitivities or bloating issues; and it includes a range of prebiotics and probiotics for healthy digestion and nutrient absorption.
Additionally, this dog food contains yeast and minerals to aid cellular regeneration and create strong paws, immunity, and healthy skin and coats.
Victor Purpose Performance is available in two size options: a 5-pound bag, and a 40-pound bag.
- 81% of the food is formulated with proteins from three different sources: pork, beef, and chicken.
- Made with extremely active dogs in mind.
- It contains pre and probiotics to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption.
- A professional, high-quality option for an affordable price.
- Great for dogs with gluten sensitivities or bloating.
- Victor puts an emphasis on Glucosamine and Chondroitin in this formula to strengthen joints to possibly prevent long-term damage, arthritis, and dysplasia.
- Good for dogs with certain sensitivities, but may not work for dogs who are sensitive to chicken proteins.
- Only available in a 5 or 40-pound bag. Not that great of a variety.
For Adults with Grain Sensitivities: VICTOR Purpose Grain Free Hero
If your hunting dog has an allergy to grains (or if you want to prevent your dog from developing a sensitivity), the Victor Purpose Grain-Free Hero formula may be your best bet.
As we’ve mentioned, hunting dogs, in general, are susceptible to joint damage – and this formula is made specifically with active dogs and their joints in mind. Like the previous Victor dog food option, the Grain Free Hero focuses on ingredients such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin to support strong joints and prevent long-term issues.
This formula contains a tremendous 79% protein and fat sourced from beef, pork, and fish products (rather than chicken, which can be too heavy for some dogs); and contains pre and probiotics for better digestive health.
It also includes a wide range of vitamins, minerals to support bone, teeth, and immunity. Because this product is grain-free, what carbs are included are through vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
- A wonderful choice for dogs with dietary allergens to high amounts of poultry or grain.
- It contains 79% of proteins and fats from beef, fish, and pork products.
- A formula that focuses heavily on active dogs and their joints to prevent long-term joint damage.
- Available in three different size bags: 5, 30, and 50-pound.
- It contains a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to prevent inflammation, create shiny coats, maintain healthy teeth and bones, and encourage a healthy immune and digestive system.
- Definitely on the higher end of the price spectrum – but exceptionally high-quality.
For Hunters in Training: Purina Pro Plan Dry Puppy Food
If you’ve got a puppy that you’re raising to be a determined, avid hunter, you want to give them a kibble that will strengthen their bodies and enable them for the hard physical times to come.
Purina’s Pro Plan Puppy Food is formulated with nutrients such as calcium and phosphorous to help puppies develop strong teeth and bones; along with a range of antioxidants to support their developing immune systems.
High-quality lamb is the first ingredient and provides athletic puppies with the protein and fat they need to keep them growing, energetic, and build their endurance.
A wide variety of vitamins are also included to keep their coats and skin healthy and encourage their vision and brain development.
This is a highly-digestible formula that will serve as a decent building block as your puppy matures into adulthood.
- Affordable, high-quality option.
- Made with lamb as the first ingredient – great for providing essential protein to growing hunters.
- Purina put an emphasis on nutrients such as phosphorous and calcium to encourage the development of strong bones and teeth.
- Omega-3s keep growing joints healthy and strong.
- A wide range of minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins develop healthy eyesight, immunity, and endurance.
- The easy-to-chew kibble bits are highly-digestible and easily absorbed to give puppies as much nutrition as possible.
- Available in bags of multiple sizes
- We have no complaints!
For Hunters in Training: Victor Grain-Free Active Puppy Dry Food
Yet another choice from Victor, the Victor Grain-Free Active Puppy formula is an ideal option for hunting puppies.
Like the other Victor formulas on our list, this puppy food contains pre and probiotics to encourage a healthy digestive system and maximum nutrient absorption; along with a wide array of minerals and vitamins to develop their immune systems, strong bones, and teeth, and protect them from future joint issues.
This formula is designed with active puppy breeds in mind and contains proteins from three animal sources: pig, beef, and fish for variation in nutrients and taste.
- Grain-free. Great for preventing the development of allergins.
- Made with 77% protein from beef, pork, and fish.
- Comes from a reputable brand known for making satisfactory dog foods.
- It helps puppies with digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Builds immunity, strong bones, and teeth.
- A little on the expensive side, like the other Victor products on our list.
Though there is a wide variety of breeds considered hunting dogs, they all require nutrients that build their muscles, increase their endurance, protect their joints, and provide the right percentages of proteins and fats; and the best dog food for hunting dogs will address these needs. While we feel that all of the options on our list would make excellent choices for hunting dogs, our favorite is the Victor Purpose – Performance, Dry Dog Food. It’s formulated with protein from multiple animals, giving it variety in nutrients, it’s great for dogs with stomach sensitivities or bloating, and it’s designed specifically with hunting and sporting dogs in mind. For puppies, the best option we reviewed is Victor Grain-Free Active Puppy Dry Food.