As the owner of a hardworking dog bracing for the upcoming Light Goose Conservation Order season, you know that he is prone to stress from days spent retrieving in the field. The duration and intensity at which your dog retrieves, combined with cold weather, travel and exposure to other dogs in a new environment, are contributing factors to this natural stress that challenges a dog's gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

A dog's GI tract is associated with a large portion of his immune system. Here, specialized cells help protect his body against invading organisms, such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses, while recognizing beneficial bacteria. When the digestive tract is inflamed, digestibility and absorption of nutrients are reduced, which can compromise your retriever's performance.

"Because 70 percent of a dog's immune system is associated with the gut, an upset digestive tract can result in reduced immunity," says Purina Senior Research Scientist Arleigh Reynolds, DVM, PhD, DACVN. "When digestive tract inflammation and reduced immunity occur, an imbalance of the intestinal microflora also can occur, resulting in digestive upset."

If your dog experiences digestive upset, you may notice a decrease in stool quality and a reduction in energy levels and performance. Other signs include loss of appetite, excess gas, vomiting, constipation, loose stools, and fatigue.

To help handle stress and promote a healthy immune system, your dog can be given Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets FortiFlora canine nutritional supplement. Prescribed by veterinarians and containing a special strain of probiotic that has been proven to restore normal intestinal health and balance, Enterococcus faecium SF68, FortiFlora may help nutritionally manage diarrhea from stressful situations that can disrupt a retriever's digestive system.

"You can begin using FortiFlora as early as during training," Reynolds says. "Support healthy immune function in your retriever by starting FortiFlora before a big hunt."

After a day of hard work in the field, it's important to make sure your retriever recovers and is well-rested. Maximizing rest helps to minimize stress. Warm, soft, dry bedding is crucial, as is comfortable, not cramped, quarters when traveling.

You also can maintain your dog's immune function by feeding a high-performance dog food, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula. The foundation of optimal performance and recovery, this complete and balanced formula sustains a dog's energy needs and helps keep him properly conditioned.

The role of the GI tract as a dog's natural defense system often is overlooked. Supporting digestive health in your dog is key to reducing stress and to helping ensure he performs in peak condition from the blind.