Early-season waterfowling is about to begin with the arrival of blue-winged teal and green-winged teal and the start of early local Canada goose seasons. Heading to the marshes with your loyal retriever could be a steamy proposition, thanks to late-summer heat and humidity.

Driven to please, your retriever enjoys waterfowl hunting as much as you do. To help your hunting partner do his job well, you want to make sure he or she is physically fit and in shape to retrieve. You also should practice healthy hydration. Retrieving ducks is a heat-producing activity that can lead to dehydration. Warm weather temperatures also can add to stress and fatigue.

"Hydration is not something to be taken lightly," says Dr. Brian Zanghi, Purina Research Nutritionist. "Dehydration can occur rapidly. Dogs that swim to make retrieves at 70 to 80 degrees can experience mild to moderate dehydration pretty quickly based on how hard they swim and for how long."

Dehydration also can occur after multiple days of hunting. In extreme heat, cold and humidity, water turnover increases several times. Some dogs will have problems consuming enough water, so it is important to monitor their hydration.

Dogs also can become distracted in a hunting environment and lose interest in drinking water. Here are tips to help keep dogs hydrated:

  • Offer small amounts of water every 15 to 20 minutes when dogs are working, as frequent small amounts of water are better than a large volume
  • Make sure a dog has access to water when working but always wait until the painting slows down before allowing the dog to drink a large volume of water
  • Mix food kibbles with water and/or add a little low-sodium chicken broth, creating a light soup, to help boost water consumption
  • Try giving ice cubes after a hunting outing
  • Never give ice cold water, as it could cause vascular constriction, or narrowing of the blood vessels

"In short, maintaining hydration in working retrievers is critical," says Zanghi, who studies performance nutrition for active dogs. "Hydration helps to remove the byproducts of energy metabolism and helps exercising muscles function optimally, the most important determinant of endurance over multiple days of waterfowl hunting. Water helps dissipate the heat from work and cool a dog's body temperature."

Healthy hydration combined with feeding a performance food enriched with the right nutrients will help give your hunting partner an optimal start to the waterfowl season. A high-protein/high-fat performance food helps to support a working dog's fat and protein metabolism. Zanghi advises feeding hunting retrievers a food that provides from 28 to 30 percent protein and from 18 to 20 percent fat to sustain their high energy demand.

Do you feed your retriever Purina Pro Plan SPORT dog food? Take a moment to tell us about your experience feeding the brand that delivers Nutrition That Performs. How has Purina Pro Plan helped your retriever's performance in the duck blind?