There are many different and deeply opinionated view points on how to feed or not feed your dog prior to heavy activity such as hunting or agility programs. Most peoples concerns are rooted in the fear of their dog bloating if fed prior to exercise. While this is a significant and real concern especially for deep chested breeds, feeding can be done safely with the proper considerations.
Feeding prior to exercise actually starts the night before. I usually recommend feeding 1.5 to 2X the normal amount of food the night before a big day afield. This will make sure there is plenty of metabolized fuel ready to burn early the next day.
The morning of the event I also recommend feeding, but only a limited amount. This can be done safely assuming your dog has no underlying medical complications to consider. Follow the simple guide lines below to help prevent bloating and other related conditions.
What to know:
1. The stomach of an average dog empties its contents in 1-6 hours depending on what was fed. This is important because we want minimal to no digesta present during exercise.
2. Digestion rates are determined by ingredients. Fats stay in the stomach the longest, carbohydrates stay in the least amount of time and proteins fall in the middle.
3. Canned or moist food exits the stomach much faster than dry kibble.
4. The smaller the meal the faster it will exit the stomach.
So using the basic guidelines above this is what I recommend:
Feed a reasonable amount of low fat, higher protein canned food at least 4 hours prior to the event. This should provide an adequate source of energy for your dog to function their best. During activity make sure your pet has access to plenty of water to maintain hydration and keep a few dog biscuits handy as a snack.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!