Study: More Fat, Lower Protein Boosts Dogs' Sense of Smell

posted on October 10, 2014
dogs_ah2015_fs.jpg (66)

Conventional wisdom has long dictated that performance dog food formulas—which experts recommend for active gundogs—ought to contain a high ratio of protein. For instance my preferred choice, Purina Pro Plan Sport, offers a 30/20 ratio of protein to fat.

However, a study of drug-detection dogs by Cornell's College of Veterinary medicine may call that somewhat into question. According to Joseph Wakshlag, Cornell associate professor of clinical studies and chief of nutrition, the study found that detection dogs' senses of smell improved when they were fed more fat and less protein. Test dogs were fed three different foods: a high-performance diet (27 percent protein), a regular dog food diet (27 percent protein), and a regular dog food diluted with corn oil (18 percent protein). Those fed the food mixed with corn oil exhibited the strongest sniffers when detecting gunpowder, ammonia nitrate and TNT.

"If you're a dog, digesting protein raises body temperature, so the longer your body temperature is up, the longer you keep panting, and the harder it is to smell well," Wakshlag said. "Our study shifts the paradigm of what 'high-performance' diet can mean for dogs."

So, would cutting protein in our bird dogs' diets better equip them to sniff out pheasants and mallards this season? Maybe, but here's the rub: Upland hunting dogs and even duck dogs require great stamina—it takes protein to fuel that endurance.

"It depends on what you want your dog to do," Wakshlag said. "A sled dog or greyhound may need more protein to keep going. But detection dogs tend to exercise in shorter bursts and need to recover quickly and smell well. For that, less protein and more fat could help."

Interesting as this study may be, I don't intend to switch from feeding my dogs a 30/20 formula anytime soon. A potential improvement to olfactory senses means nothing if your dog doesn't have the energy—derived from protein—to continue the hunt.


Keefe Shooting 712 G3
Keefe Shooting 712 G3

#SundayGunday: CZ-USA 712 G3

Get a closer look at the CZ-USA Field Sports 712 G3, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

Recipe: Shane’s Goose Bake

This recipe uses all components of the goose, including legs and thighs, breast meat, and the gizzard, heart and liver. The different textures and flavors often surprise people who actively seek “special parts” from the roaster.

Hardware: Savage 93 Minimalist

The Savage 93 Minimalist combines a classic laminate stock design with modern aesthetics to achieve a lightweight platform with improved ergonomics.

First Look: Alps OutdoorZ Deadquiet Ember Handwarmer

Alps OutdoorZ has debuted its Deadquiet Ember Handwarmer. This handwarmer works in conjunction with the company's Deadquiet Shield Bino Harness, or as a standalone product to help keep hands warm and ready when the temperature take a dive.

New for 2023: Fiocchi Speed sTEAL

Fiocchi has expanded its Flyway offerings with Speed sTEAL shotshells. Boasting dense patterns for terminal performance Speed sTEAL is developed specifically for early-season teal hunting.

First Look: Bond Arms Rawhide .22 LR

Made after its namesake, the Bond Arms Rawhide .22 LR is as tough as leather and ideal for plinking or varmint control.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.