It still feels surreal to process but Perfect cocker spaniel became the best selling book about English cockers on Amazon. And I confess I wasn’t ready for it. Seeing the word “bestseller” next to my book somehow unearthed all the emotions and tears I’ve carried inside. The book was never meant to be written for profits or fame. I simply wanted to carry the memory of Oscar into the future… Now I feel that I’ve made him proud.
Oscar was a true cocker spaniel. He loved his food. Not as much as he loved us, but I suspect the food came second… Especially when it came to French bread.
How on Earth did Oscar figure out the delights of French culture? I am not sure… He grew up with a little crunchy crust of a classic English toast… And then, somehow, the English lad got the taste for one of the Parisian statements… The boy loved those crisp light baguettes. He always knew that we’d bring one on a saturday morning. And every time Oscar sat in the kitchen waiting patiently for us to cut off the end, took it carefully from our hands and then run, run fast, to the spot in front of the garden door…. To devour his “baguette magique” in the room with a view… This dog had more flair for joie de vivre than both of us combined.
I think it was probably the bread that made him put on a little weight. We didn’t notice at first. Ozzy was born deliciously chunky and his shape and glorious coat never really made him look anything but scrumptious.
But since “hips don’t lie” we had to do something about those extra kilos. He didn’t enjoy carrying them – and we hated seeing him uncomfortable. A few months later Oscar got back to his perfect shape. He never stopped loving or eating baguettes – we simply made sure to be careful with the quantities and frequency of the treat.
The whole “overweight” experience was something I’ve never really dealt with before. None of my dogs ever had issues. And after we helped Oscar to shed the pounds, I promised myself to never ever get into this situation again.
I kept my word. Both Coop and Fred have what would be classified as ideal body score.
Why does it matter to me so much? The most important thing to remember that any excess weight is not just a cosmetic imperfection. Trust me, I am a nutritionist after all.
The fat tissue is not simply sitting there like a cute cushion. It is actively producing hormones altering the ones circulating through the body and talking to different organs. As a result the excess fat can contribute to the development of inflammation and hormone-related cancers. In addition, the excess fat can lead to heart failure, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, skin problems, breathing difficulties, inability to maintain healthy body temperature or deal with heat, and reduce your dog’s susceptibility to illness because the immune system will be suffering from all those hormonal changes. Even a small increase in weight can shorten the dog’s life expectancy, make it more difficult for him to recover post-surgery or even get through one, if I am honest
Allowing your dog to remain overweight or obese means that you are willingly shortening his life day by day – and make the quality of his life unbearable as the time passes.
According to the BVA’s statistics 46% of dogs in the UK were classified as either overweight or obese in 2017. By 2019 the figure went to 51% according to the PFMA report yet 68% of dog owners thoughts that their pet was completely normal with 67% not expressing any concerns even after being told that their dog needed to lose weight
As a cocker spaniel parent you need to be particularly aware of the issue because cockers are one of the breeds that can put weight quickly if their food intake and exercise aren’t carefully monitored. This is especially important during the puppy hood or if your dog has been neutered or getting older.
What factors can lead to excess weight or obesity in a dog?
Overfeeding. Too many treats, free-feeding, constant swapping of different dog foods, unbalanced diet containing too much protein, fat or carbohydrates, mixing up brands and formulas, adding a few titbits to your dogs dinner “to make it nicer”, creating your own meals from scratch without consulting a canine nutritionist, letting your dog lick a bowl or plate after you finished cooking or eating dinner… All these factors are the reasons why the dogs can put on weight.
Any extra bite, any insignificant treat, anything that is given to your dog in addition to his daily food, comes with calories. And in case of dogs, these calories can add on incredibly fast.
A thin 25g slice of ham may seem like nothing to you, yet add 3-5% of your dog’s daily calorie intake in one go. Cheddar is widely recommended as a training treat, yet 25g contain 100kcal, which is about 15% (!) of a daily calorie requirement for an average cocker. A 40g slice of bread also contains 100kcal. An innocent looking digestive will add 70kcal or about 10% of your dogs daily energy needs… The grocery list goes on… To this add a couple of dog biscuits to the treat menu and voila – we have a problem.
The worst problem is that people do not really think about it until the dog already has a problem. And even then many will continue the treats because they associate them with love.
Please be honest with yourself. If you feed your dog with table scraps or tend to be generous with treats, you need to change your mind set right now.
Lack of exercise. A cocker needs an hour of exercise every day – and any dog should be walked for minimum 30 minutes a day to remain healthy. Yet the study published in 2019 showed that less than 50% of dog owners walked their dogs daily and even when they did, many dogs only got 20 minutes of walking per day!
A dog, especially a life-loving cocker, will walk with you whatever (or almost whatever) the weather! Please don’t deny them this joy – and learn to enjoy the activity together, rain or shine. It will be beneficial for both you and your wonderful companion, I promise.
Genetics. Cockers are one of the breeds prone to weight gain. This can differ from line to line and even location, but should always be taken into consideration.
Neutering. There isn’t enough evidence to say that all neutered dogs will automatically gain weight, however, the hormonal changes, especially the absence of oestrogen, that follow the op, will alter your dog’s metabolism and appetite, and increase the risk of weight gain as a result.
Health status. Thyroid disorders and diabetes are two of the hormone-related disorders that can cause excess body weight. Some prescription medication such as steroids can also lead to weight gain. Your vet should be able to talk you through the side-effects and how to avoid them.
Age. As the dog gets older his digestive system becomes less active and able to process the nutrients effectively and his endocrine system will be producing lower levels of hormones. Often the dogs will be getting less exercise, too.
How do you know if your spaniel needs to slim down?
Ask the vet. They are brilliant.
Identify if your dog is overweight or obese. The overweight dog has more body fat that is required for optimum health. The obesity means that the weight is seriously affecting the dog’s health and wellbeing.
Weight your dog. Not so much to use the number as the life sentence but more – to have a starting point. Just like with people, weight is a very individual thing for every individual dog. Yes, there is a specific “ideal weight” for a cocker spaniel , which is 12 – 14.5kg (26.5-32lbs) for a female cocker and 12.2 – 15.4kg (27.5-34lb) for a male, according to the veterinary manual and the breed standard. But some cockers can be a little bit smaller or bigger or into their exercise, which can shift the number slightly. The weight will also depends on your dogs age, genes and health status.
In his glory days Oscar handsomely weighed 14.5kg whereas Coop is about 13kg and Fred, my tiny pup, is barely 11 (but Fred really was the tiniest puppy of all times!)
Which takes me to the next point.
Use the body scoring chart. If you compare the shape of your dog to the chart it will show you straight away if your cocker is ideal, under or overweight. In fact, even British Veterinary Association advocates the use of body scoring over the scales. It is visual and can be done any time and anywhere.
You need to be able to feel the ribs and see the waist outline both from the top and the side. The dog must not look like a barrel.
If your dog’s weight is 30% or more above the “ideal weight” and/or has a body score of 8 or 9, he is likely to be considered obese and require immediate attention and weight loss strategy.
Even if your dog does not fall into obese category, but his body score clearly puts him into the overweight category, act now.
What can you do to help your dog lose weight?
Be honest with yourself. Admit that your dog has a problem and it is your responsibility to improve the situation.
Keep a food diary for 3-7 days to help you record everything you dog eats on a daily basis. This can be an eye-opener.
Weigh your dog and establish his body score. Keep the record of it. Weight your dog every 2-3 weeks to see any changes. Aim for 0.5-2% loss of initial body weight per week.
You can even take a photo of your spaniel once a week and store it in your phone’s favourites. Having visuals is one of the most powerful tools.
Be mindful when feeding your dog. Stop giving your dogs any left overs, bits of your food or dog treats. If you absolutely have to give your dog a treat, choose a thin slice of carrot and limit them to 2-4 a day max. You can create a treat container measuring precise quantities of carrot pieces a day. This step alone, especially when combined with moderate physical activities, can be enough to see weight loss.
Weigh your dog’s current food. Every food manufacture has a guide on a packet that shows you how much your dog should eat when he needs to lose weight, remain at his current weight or gain a little. If you unsure, ask your vet and contact the nutrition team of the pet food brand. They will be more than happy to help you.
Reducing the amount of your dog’s favourite kibble or wet food by 25% can be less stressful for both of you than replacing his entire menu with some low-fat formula that may dogs find utterly unappetising. Always discuss the reduction amount with your vet. You may need to do it gradually or not at all – if the treats are to blame for your dog’s weight.
Feed at set times.
Be active. Take your cocker for a walk at least once a day. Bear in mind that many obese dogs will find it challenging to go from very little activity to a mile-long walk. Build up carefully and keep setting new challenges as your dog gets fitter. Always carry some water with you to help your dog stay hydrated. Remember the weight can make it difficult for them to regulate the body temperature effectively.
Work with the vet that give your support – not judgement. It is crucial to find a vet who is there to give you advice and encouragement – not to blame you for being a “bad dog owner”. The latter can be really disheartening for even the most determined parent. Life has its own rules and it is not always something we can fully control, so it is best to focus on the present and the future and see this weight loss journey with your cocker as a positive fun adventure – not a punishment. It will take time, but you will see the difference!
If you would like to learn more about nutrition for your English cocker spaniel, how to choose his foods and keep him healthy and fit, read the relevant chapters in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel, the complete breed and puppy guide.
Getting back to the work mode after a lovely Christmas break always feels like a light concussion – the brain isn’t quite there, a little foggy, getting through the whirlwind of information suddenly thrown like a lonely night wanderer pushing his way through a snow storm… I am in a serious need of coffee, lots and lots of coffee… and vitamin C… Because there is no Christmas without a lingering cold in our household.
But enough about me… For the record, the first paragraph took me two days to write…
I hope you had the best holiday time with your spaniels!
Did you make any resolutions for 2020? Mine are more like a list… I use the word “resolution” as a general description because psychologically it doesn’t quite work for me compared to the lists. And Christmas break was the perfect time to slow down, think, dream and write it all down to solidify the impact on my coffee-saturated mind.
Today is all about ideas just in case you are still in the process of deciding what to do with your English cocker in 2020. The main purpose of them is to help everyone to achieve the most fulfilling companionship between the parent and the pooch, help you understand your dog – and help the dog live the best life because he feels connected to his mum and dad.
I get criticised for often focusing on the human – and not the dog, when it comes to building a relationship between the two, but I truly, sincerely believe that everything, absolutely everything in the life of our dogs starts with our commitment to them and our responsibility of understanding the true meaning of being a pup parent. Yes, commitment… much heavier than just love. Love is for the heart, senses and oxytocin. Commitment is for happiness, safety and many more other things including discipline… Not for the dog alone – but for his parents, too.
2020 looks like a such a balanced number and a perfect starting point for creating more balance for us and our wonderful spaniels, making a plan, getting committed to the plan, completing it from start to finish challenging yourself in a positive way. It would be a shame not to give it a try, wouldn’t it?
Make each walk meaningful. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 20 minute stroll or a 2 hour adventure. The point is to be focused on your dog and remember that the walks are his life. Let him explore, see each trip through his eyes, let him stop and sniff, have a play and run together, have a conversation, laugh and share a cuddle! Most importantly, put your phone away! You’d be surprised how many little things you can notice around you and how much you can discover about your cocker if you concentrate all your attention on him – and not the screen.
Discover new places. And the funny thing is that a dog can see an ordinary street as something very exciting even if he walks there every day! All you have to do is to change your route sightly – turning left instead of right, re-visiting a spot a couple of times during the same walk, sitting down somewhere just to have a quiet moment together, stopping to watch birds and people… If you can travel further – even better!
Never compare your dog to the others. It’s such a simple habit to fall into. Just because some other pooch can do something your dog can’t – it doesn’t make that dog better than yours! Focus on the positives, never call your spaniel names, even as a joke, – and most definitely never criticise them in front of other people or let others share negative comments towards your dog! People only process what they see and hear. Tell them that your dog is ab absolute dream – and they will walk away with a smiling heart.
Train with purpose. Some dogs are born to be on TV, others – search for drugs or help people in need. Your spaniel is here to live his life with you. Everything he knows and learns needs to fit into your lifestyle – not mimic some random dog who may know a super-special trick or behaves like a well-programmed robot. Spaniels are such personalities and you need to find the golden mean between keeping that wonderful charm and helping your dog to learn how to behave for the sake of safety and peace. And remember to have fun and be enthusiastic about any kind of training lessons.
Read some good books about dogs. I am a believer that the best information comes from books – and not social media. So do make a list of good titles and set yourself a goal of reading a book a month. You will be amazed how much better you will be able to understand your dog, his needs (think diet, behaviour, grooming, health) and how much it will improve your life. Perfect cocker spaniel is the best place to start. Beside all the information it contains a list of brilliant dog books to help you build a great little library.
Do you know that the dogs are more likely to suffer from acute pancreatitis during the festive season than any other time? Especially if they are cocker spaniels, one of the breeds genetically predisposed to the disease. The risk is even higher in dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Cushing’s or diabetes, taking certain prescription drugs and those suffering from obesity and excess weight.
Christmas is impossible without special dinners and treats, most of which are very rich and not particularly dog-friendly and can lead to pancreatitis.
The pancreas is a small organ that sits in the abdominal cavity. The main function of the pancreas is to produce insulin and control blood sugar. Dog pancreas also produce special digestive enzymes.
Acute pancreatitis or sudden inflammation of the pancreas can happen if a dog eats large quantities of fatty and greasy foods in a short period of time. These titbits can be a part of the Christmas dinner or even table scraps that dogs can find in a bin. The excessive intake of nutrients overstimulates the pancreas and leads to excessive enzyme production. The reaction causes severe inflammation, bleeding of the tissue and organic damage. Other parts of the body including kidneys, lungs and heart can suffer next.
The symptoms appear suddenly. The acute form of the pancreatitis can be fatal.
Even though I may sound like the one who kills the festive spirit of Christmas, I need you to remember the simple rule:
Regardless of the festivities your spaniel’s daily diet must remain unchanged, any form of treats – limited to a bare minimum, and any parts of the holiday meal – avoided completely.
The symptoms of pancreatitis can appear very suddenly and include…
… loss of appetite;
… hunched posture or “praying” position;
… swollen and painful tummy;
If your dog develops any of these, take him to the vets immediately.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about the boys. So today is all about Fred. In a scarf.
I believe this sort of diary post isn’t something of public interest, but I love this photo so much and I will never forget how we took it.
Initially, I wanted to photograph them together. But Fred, who has never worn any fashion gear before, really wanted a portrait. I wrapped him in my scarf thinking that the boy will protest or run away to play with it.
I was wrong. Fred was a pro! I think he actually felt proud sitting and posing for me. The camera clicked and clicked and clicked, but my beautiful spaniel stayed there motionless until I was happy with the shot.
He is fabulous. Just fabulous. And I love him to bits.
Photo credit: Fred photographed by me
This was one of the most popular questions I had to answer since the beginning of December, so I thought we need to have a proper conversation about puppy-proofing the Christmas tree.
Christmas trees and cocker spaniels can live in utter harmony most of the time. Admittedly, we never had to worry even though my boys have always been inquisitive about things. Thankfully, Christmas trees were never on their list of objects to explore. I guess they thought that it was just another piece of furniture that we chose to add to the house decor.
On the other hand, and after I was asked the question, there were things that I’ve always done on subconscious level or perhaps because I tried to perceive the tree from the dog’s point of view – and it helped me to avoid any disasters.
And this is why I made the list to document my actions in one place…
Put the tree in a room that your dog won’t be able to access if you have to leave him on his own. Putting a puppy playpen around the tree may stop some cockers, but many dogs will just force their way through any barriers because the prize is way too good to ignore!
Fake it! Choose an artificial tree over the real thing. Just think how tempting a fir tree would be for your pup who lives to sniff and chew! Boys may even mark it… because it’s exactly the same as the “message boards” they use outside!
Additionally, fir needles contain oils that can irritate the mouth and digestive tract and cause drooling, vomiting and upset stomach. Your cocker cannot digest any needles he swallows, which can lead to additional digestive issues and even stomach punctures. If your dog walks over them, the needles (especially old and dry ones) can cause anything from a mild irritation from the prick to an injury.
Another thing to bear in mind when it comes to the real trees is the water – it can become stale, contain chemicals and oils from the tree and “special solutions” such as pesticides, preservatives and aspirin, which are toxic to dogs.
On the other hand, an artificial tree is not that fragrant even from the canine prespective and is relatively safe unless your pooch chooses to pull the entire arrangement down for the fun of it.
Talking of the latter… Give your dog some time to get used to the tree. Put it up, make sure it’s sturdy and then leave the tree without any decorations for a couple of days. Do not attract your dog’s attention to the tree when installing it. Do not ask him to come and look at branches or sniff it. As soon as you begin to fuss over “the new thing”, it will become something enchanting for your cocker.
Inspect your artificial tree for loose needles and brittle brunches. Some materials can become fragile with age and if they fall off and get swallowed by your dog, the pieces of plastic or metal can be harmful.
Decorations need to be chosen wisely, especially if your cocker is still young. When my boys were puppies I made sure to avoid putting any bubbles onto the bottom brunches and always picked plastic, metal, paper, fabric and unbreakable “glass” decorations if they were within my boys’ reach. They never tried to steal them – it’s was my cautious paranoia that made me do it.
Some dogs do find baubles interesting: the toys move at the slightest draft, they are reflective and sparkling, the pup can often pick the changes in light when staring at them, and they look like his favourite balls… begging to be stolen and thrown around!
The only way you can decide how to avoid any potential disasters is to put a few baubles on the tree and observe your cocker carefully from nearby. If he shows too much attention, reconsider the decor. If his curiosity is mainly to do with the novelty of the object, use the “leave” word and make him forget about the tree decor completely by playing together or doing some training in the “tree vicinity”.
Also most definitely avoid tinsels unless your spaniel is completely oblivious and indifferent to the festivities. Tinsel can cause digestive blockages and injuries when swallowed, so it’s best not to use it.
Make sure that the tree lights are off if you cannot supervise your dog and the tree and there’s a slight chance that he may bite into the cable.
Last but not least are the edible decorations. Chocolate “baubles” and “stars” are toxic to dogs. Spicy cookies can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and some may contain toxic raisins. Dried fruits may also upset digestion. And just imagine what any normal dog would do if you embellished the tree with any dog biscuits and treats… He is not going to just camp under the branches, that’s for sure.
For more useful tips on having the most wonderful peaceful Christmas with your cocker spaniel read my Dog friendly Christmas check list post.
If you have ever lived with a cocker, you know they are a very special kind of dogs. The pups do appreciate a touch of quality in everything they are surrounded with. And let’s admit, anything of a great quality is the sure way to put a smile on an often moody face of a cocker spaniel.
Today’s post is all about them! Our beautiful, wonderful, funny, adorable, irresistible, huggable and goofy little guys. And of course, the best gifts we could get for them this Christmas.
My guide is more of a curated boutique’y kind, but it’s only because these gifts are the best of the best – and it takes a lot of time, trial and error to discover them. Hope you’ll find something for your spaniel here.
There are hardly any cocker spaniels who would not appreciate a beautiful tennis ball – or any ball, but tennis ones are the ultimate. These balls from Barc London will please both the pooch and the human who, like me, think that a hint of a classic fluorescent yellow in the interior feels like a painful shot to the brain.
Choose among 5 beautiful shades or get the rainbow! Christmas only happens once a year.
Toys are a special story in our house, too. We went through so many, especially during the teething times. Then I shut down my inner Scrooge and bought a “ducky” from Fluff & Tuff. It was a gift for Fred’s first birthday. Fred is now two and the toy, even through it’s been living an outdoorsy life, is still in one piece and looks very “fluff and tuff”, too. They aren’t cheap, but they really are the best and safest soft toys for your cocker whatever the age. Make a good cushion, too.
New year – new collar! I’ve got these two because the tan colour should suit most coat colours. The “Butter” collar in cognac is from Austria-based Molly&Stitch and the “Gerard” is made in England for Maison le Lou.
If you feel that your cocker may need something extra warm, give him a baby blanket made of natural wool or cotton. The natural fibres will adjust to the body temperature and be kind to the coat unlike any static polyester or fleece. I’ve got these Tartan Blanket & Co baby blankets when my boys were puppies and am currently admiring the striking one by Lillemor.
Any pampered spaniel will love the natural spa and grooming products from Dug & Bitch, the Scottish company that pups and I adore. We’ve been using and talking about their wonderful whimsical things for years and I was glad to see that now any dog parent can truly indulge their pup by getting the Ultimate Gift Set box.
My boys have home-baked biscuits as a special treat, but if you want something ready to eat for your food-loving cocker or as a gift for one of his friends, Pooch&Mutt Christmas Dinner mini treats should hit the spot.
If you haven’t done so yet, don’t forget to check my Gift Guide for dog lovers that I shared earlier. Because you deserve a special treat, too.
And it’s worth to mention that this post has not been sponsored by any of the above mentioned companies and brands whatsoever.
Photo credits: Cooper & Fred photographed by me, images c/o Barc London, Fluff & Tuff, Molly & Stitch, Maison Le Lou, Cooper photographed by me, The Tartan Blanket Co, Dug & Bitch by Fetch & Flash Photography, Pooch & Mutt,Cooper photographed by me