Christmas food as a risk of acute pancreatitis in dogs and cocker spaniels / symptoms of pancreatitis / dog blog / pet blog / Perfect cocker spaniel book and blog / Natalia Ashton (C) English cocker spaniel puppy tips, advice, training, handstripping, grooming, diet, nutrition

Pancreatitis | The “Christmas illness” you need to know about

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;

… diarrhoea;

… vomiting;

… hunched posture or “praying” position;

… dehydration;

… swollen and painful tummy;

… lethargy;


If your dog develops any of these, take him to the vets immediately.


Photo credit: image by 奕茗 王 from Pixabay

Can my dog eat vegan diet? Vegetarian and vegan diets benefits, pros and cons, dog nutrition advice / Perfect cocker spaniel blog / book / English cocker spaniel grooming, puppy tips, advice, training (C) Natalia Ashton #worldveganday

Is there such a thing as a healthy vegan diet for dogs?

One of the very first books about dogs I’ve read was published in England. So it was rather modern and free-thinking in comparison to many other tomes I had. Besides the usual guides on breeds and grooming, this book (unfortunately I can no longer remember its title) had a chapter about vegetarianism for dog in case some people decide to feed their dog according to their ethics. The advice was very sensible, as far as I remember, and pretty do-able for any true vegetarian. The book clearly showed that a dog can definitely live on a meat-free diet and remain well as long as his food contained dairy, eggs and fish (think ovo-vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian or pescatarian diet). Some resent studies also suggest that, just like in people, complete balanced vegetarian diets are associated with several health benefits in dogs (vitality, reduced risk of arthritis, cancer and diabetes, to name a few).

Admittedly, years later I’ve become a vegetarian myself. It was soon after we got Oscar and somehow I realised that I am no longer interested in eating any form of meat. So I went down the lacto-ovo route as the most nutritionally-sensible (and face it – tasty!) choice. The rest of my family, Oscar included, continued enjoying poultry and occasional lamb though. Everyone was happy. Should Oscar ever gone off meat and wanted to eat a diet of eggs and fish I would, of course, let him. But he was the cocker spaniel and his diet was true to what any cocker spaniel should have eaten.

However, about three years ago I could not help but notice a new “breed” of canine food appearing on the market. Yes, the vegan one. Which naturally lead to the obvious question….

Can our dogs really be vegan?

In theory, yes. But only if we base it on the fact that the balanced diet is nothing more but a combination of nutrients including all essential amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals – and not ingredients as such. And  theoretically these nutrient blocks can come from any source otherwise many dog food companies would not use wheat gluten or soy protein in their formulas. It’s a bit like building a wall and filling the gaps with all kinds of bricks and stones as long as they fit in.

In reality, putting your dog on a vegan diet can come with quite a few issues…

Lets begin with the obvious. Cockers were bred and raised on meat-based diets. Not soy or beans. It has nothing to do with dogs being carnivores. They are not. Dogs really are omnivores and thus can eat a varied diet of, well, everything and anything including meat, plants and grains. But it didn’t make them choose veganism, no. The good old Obo and his relatives ate meat. So our lovely cockers would want some in their diet, too. Simple.

Another factor worth thinking about is the way most dog diet trends transition from the human ones. We had the Atkins and Keto – and now these are pushed into the dogs. People went carb-free – and so their dogs had to do the same. When dog owners decided to go raw, the whole bunch of companies produced another range of foods. Why? Because trends sell like hotcakes! The problem with every trend, though, is that any person can stop following it at any point (and trust me, as a nutritionist, I have never seeing anyone who would be able to live on vegan, Atkins, carb-free or raw diet for their entire life without consequences or simply giving it up at some point) yet most dogs will have no choice but to eat the same food for days, weeks, months and years, which is likely to increase the risk of many health problems.

Also bear in mind that vegan food for dogs must be balanced with an impeccable precision otherwise they are likely to lack certain amino acids, vitamins and minerals. This can theoretically be achieved through additional supplements, but under- or over supplementing a dog’s diet or using incorrect or low quality supplements can put a strain on the dog’s health – or worse, lead to toxicity.

If you decide to cook the meals at home to avoid genetically-modified ingredients (think soy, corn, maize etc) or the “toxic chemicals” that may lurk in the dog food, you are very likely to fail. For a while you dog may enjoy the meals – most dogs would happily eat a bowl of porridge or rice with carrots and a bunch of greens. But the problem will begin as soon as their natural “amino acid pool” will “dry out” and the body will start missing out on the “building blocks” that are essentials for creating new cells and maintain the immune system.

Even most complete vegan dog foods are likely to be based on a combination of pulses (beans, lentils, peas etc.) or vegan proteins (soy, corn or wheat gluten), which have been linked to many cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening disease associated with deficit of specific amino acids such an taurine and l-carnitine that can only be obtained through animal proteins. Additionally, the dog can also become deficient in vitamins B12 and D, which will have a negative effect on several body systems.

In other words, if you choose to try putting your dog on a vegan diet to see what happens – don’t be surprised if your expectations are not the ones you’ve pictured in your head.

My advice? Don’t risk it when it comes to your dog.

Choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle because it can make a positive change to the environment, planet, animals or your own well-being is one thing. Feeding a dog with a vegan diet is something completely different and, lets be honest, against nature.

Dogs don’t have as long as we do, so let them live these years with pride and joy of being an animal.

Make the changes by changing your own habits. Eat less meat, skip it completely or be a vegetarian who has a couple of completely vegan days a week. Don’t waste food. Choose household product and cosmetics made without animal-based ingredients. Go organic. Buy dog food that contains moderate quantities of protein (an adult dog requires 18-28% of protein in dry food, that’s all!), not meat-only or high-protein mixes. Do something. Anything!

If everyone chips in, the little steps will compensate for the fact that dogs do need to eat their meat- (or more precise, animal protein) containing diets. Because we can choose how to live our lives including accepting responsibility for making conscious and health-appropriate choices for our pooches. They may like an occasional carrot but can’t jump in a car and go grocery shopping should their parent decide to replace a tasty chicken dinner with a less-than-palatable kibble made of chickpeas and soy.

As we celebrate the World Vegan Day I will leave you here to marinate the medley of thoughts… Should you decide to learn more about appropriate nutrition for your cocker spaniel, benefits and pitfalls of certain diets or how to choose the best food, you will find the answers in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel.


Photo source: photo by Sergiy Kabachenko via

why dogs do not need to eat cheese / cheese can be toxic to dogs / bad and good cheese for dogs / puppy tips and advice / english cocker spaniel blog / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel (C)

Let’s talk about cheese

Cheese is like ice-cream… It’s a delicious sin, so scrumptious and tempting that some people would rather say they don’t like it than confess their love…

A lot of people share both with their dogs. Ice-cream is given as a sweet express ticket to cocker’s heart. It works, it’s definitely not brilliant for dogs health, but like any treat, is an occasional affair.

Cheese, on the other hand, is different. Even books advise on using cheese as a high value reward making it a daily necessity for any successful training.

As a self-confessed bore (and cocker mum) I disagree with such a statement.

Cheese, after all, is not as dog friendly as it’s portrayed. Personally, I never give it to my boys (with an exception for home-made tvorog (a Russian version of German quark) that suits young puppies)

Let’s be fair, I have my reasons…

Cheese is dairy & adult dogs would find it hard to digest it due to lower levels of lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose.

Cheese is high in salt, which can cause problems because you can easily overdo the recommended amount.

Cheese is very high in fat, which can increase risk of pancreatitis and unwanted kilos. Cockers are prone to both – why play Russian roulette with luck?

Cheese, the mouldy & gooey types, are extremely toxic to dogs & eating them can be fatal.

Cheese is an extremely concentrated source of calories, so what seems like a tiny piece to you is likely to cover your dog’s daily calorie needs (I’m exaggerating but you get the idea)

Cheese made with cows milk, unless it’s organic, can contain pesticides, antibiotic residue & even traces of puss.

Cheese, especially the strong types like cheddar, contains an amino-acid tyramine that can reach dangerously high levels (and lead to critically elevated blood pressure) when consumed with food by dogs taking MAOIs, a type of antidepressants (sold as L-Deprenyl, Selegiline and Anipryl).

So skip the cheese if you care about your pup. Chicken, turkey, eggs, chopped air dried venison sausages, sprats and even your dog’s own kibble (whatever he’s insanely in love with, basically!) can work as a high value reward instead, keeping your cocker focused and giving you a peace of mind.

Photo source: image by Дарья Колмагорова from Pixabay

Rape or rapeseed plant dangerous toxic and poisonous to dogs and why / Plants that are toxic to dogs / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

3 reasons to keep your dog away from rapeseed plant

I don’t know about you but I’ve always loved the yellow carpeted fields of rapeseed. They seemed cheerful & inviting, a true sign of spring.

Then I had my dogs & had to re-think the whole “romantic part” completely.

Rapeseed (Brassica napus) turned out to be one of the worst toxic plants for dogs because it contains glucosiolnates & S-methyl-L-cysteine-sulfoxide (an analog of alliin found in garlic, leeks & onions also known to cause haemolytic anaemia in dogs). It’s so bad, the pups don’t even need to digest rape to experience the ill effects.

And here’s why…

The entire plant is toxic if eaten. It can cause haemolytic anaemia (read, death sentence for ALL dogs), blindness, breathing difficulties & digestive problems. It can damage the nervous system, too.

Worst, rapeseed has another way to attack our dogs thanks to the plant’s natural “defence mechanism”.

Rape comes from the Brassicaceae family that can protect themselves by attacking any pests with what is known as “the mustard oil bombs”. Any damage to the plant activates the enzymatic response & causes rapeseed fire out a bunch of chemicals (nitriles & isothiocyanates) to repel the offender. It is suggested that it is the “bomb” that causes burns and skin reactions in any dog who comes in contact with the plant.

Third reason not to let your pup anywhere near the rapeseed is the level of herbicides & pesticides that the crops are sprayed with several times during the growing season. The chemicals are unlikely to be fatal to dogs, but they can cause issues and, if the dog is exposed to them regularly & for a period of time, lead to serious health problems in the future.

As I was preparing this post, I noticed two polar opinions about the rapeseed. Some research, toxicity manuals and dog owners claimed that the plant must be avoided. The other camp, mainly of growers and manufacturers, said that the quantities of the toxins are so low, the dogs would not experience any ill effects whatsoever.

Personally, I am not prepared to take risks. And I am posting this today to make you aware of both opinions, so the final decision is yours.

Photo source: image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

how to choose best natural treats and training treats for puppies and dogs / puppy tips and advice / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Your cocker will love these good-for-him treats

“What do you feed your dogs with?” is one of the questions I’m asked at least once a day. I don’t usually advise on the choice of dog food because I believe in individuality and the choice of dog food should depend on your dog, his health, age, gender, activity and preferences, and discussed with a knowledgable vet (though I’m more than happy to chat about different brands, ingredients and types of diets)

Treats are a bit different. They are something I give to my boys in addition to their meals – because if I don’t, they will queue in the kitchen forever…  I thought I’d put all our favourites in one post in case you’ve been curious but felt a bit shy to ask.

Remember that any new food must be introduced gradually, these foods below are suitable for healthy active dogs without any diagnosed health problems, any health issues you’re aware of or dogs who take any form of medicine, prescribed drugs or supplements. If you’re in doubt, always check with your vet!

The list below is condensed, but I’ve put a lot more info in my book Perfect cocker spaniel.

DAILY my boys have…
… home-made biscuits;
… natural yoghurt / kefir (they love the taste, plus it’s a tiny dose of some B vits, calcium, magnesium, and good bacteria);
… raw manuka honey (not suitable for dogs under 12 months of age. Full of minerals, antibacterial agents and yummy taste);
… raw organic virgin coconut oil (for fab fatty acids and antibacterial properties);
… raw dried sweet potato (makes a great chew, packed with beta-carotene, B vits, vit C, magnesium, calcium, iron & fiber;
… whatever is in season and always – organic. I limit the quantities to a couple of slices for cucumber/carrot, 1-2 strawberries or 4-5 berries like blueberries. Boys have one option per day, not a salad!

ONCE A WEEK pups also have…
…. a hard boiled egg, usually we use it for training;
… cooked plain chicken or turkey, again it’s a high value training treat;
… salmon (two very small pieces, just as a little treat);
… passata (2tsp, plain passata free from salt, herbs or any other flavorings. It’s not so much for the vitamin value but to keep the plaque away)

What is your dog’s favourite treat?

Photo source: image by katerinavulcova from Pixabay

Easter chocolate toxic poisoning for dogs / signs of chocolate poisoning / what to do if dog ate chocolate / first published on Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Easter chocolates & your dog

Chocolate-filled weekend is coming, so I wanted to write a little post about chocolate poisoning (that’s the spirit, right?)

Most people already know that chocolate is toxic for dogs. The darker the chocolate, the less of it is needed to make your dog ill.

White chocolate is not as dangerous as the milk and dark varieties because it contains practically no theobromine (about 0.75mg per 100g vs 1600mg per 100g of cooking dark chocolate). However, white chocolate can still cause diarrhoea and vomiting due to high fat content.

Signs of poisoning can take up to 12 hours to appear and may take up to several days to clear up.

Signs of chocolate poisoning include…
…heavy breathing
…increased heart rate
…increased urination
…anxiety and restlessness
…muscle tremors
…sudden death

If your dog ate chocolate, take them to the vets immediately. Tell the vet how much chocolate was eaten. Take the wrapper with you for extra information. The vet will stimulate vomiting using hydrogen peroxide and give the dog activated charcoal tablets to absorb theobromine (do not try to do it at home unless you know how!)

Avoid the risk by keeping any form of chocolate out of your dog’s reach. Remind your guests and kids not to give your spaniel any chocolate-containing treats.

Carob is a chocolate-like ingredient that can be given to dogs. If you choose to buy carob dog treats, always check the label for unwanted ingredients such as sugar, derivatives of animal or vegetable origin, milk, unspecified fats and oils, just to name a few.

Better still, stick with super safe and nutritious options like carrots, eggs, yummy cooked chicken or dog biscuits. Trust me, your cocker will not complain!

Photo source: image by Vratsagirl from Pixabay

Questions to ask the breeder before getting a cocker spaniel puppy / how to avoid puppy farms / how to find a cocker spaniel reputable breeder / health tests for English cocker spaniel / puppy advice and tips / via Perfect cocker spaniel blog (C)

Q&A | Why is it important to ask a breeder about health tests before getting a puppy?

Lets get straight to the point… A “YES” or “NO” answer to these questions can map the entire course of life with your cocker spaniel. And these are the questions you really need to ask the breeder even before you meet a puppy. Because once you see him, the answer may not seem important anymore.

So if you come across an ad for a litter and are eager to run and choose a puppy, ask the breeder if BOTH PUPPY PARENTS ARE HEALTH TESTED.

Health testing doesn’t simply mean that the dam and sire saw a vet for vaccinations & health check. Any dog used for breeding must also undergo specific tests to determine whether or not they carry genes for certain conditions that can affect English cockers.

The mandatory list includes…

…PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), a condition that leads to blindness if the dog carries a defective gene;

…FN (Familial Nephropathy), a disease that affects structure of the kidneys and causes kidney failure;

Plus four more conditions that breeders can test for are…

… AMS (Acral Mutilation Syndrome) characterised to localised insensitivity to pain, which causes dog lick or bite his legs and paws until lesions and ulcers appear. Amputation is the outcome;

… AON (Adult Onset Neuropathy), a neurological disease that causes inability to control limbs movement resulting in full disability by the age of 7.5-9.

… Hip Dysplasia, an abnormal development of the hip socket;

… Gonioscopy to screen for glaucoma.

According to test results, the dogs can be “clear”, “carrier”, or “affected”. The affected dogs must not be bred for. The carrier mixed with a clear dog will not develop a disease, but will pass an affected gene to half of the puppies.

Personally, I prefer parents who are both tested “clear”. Unless a breeder can confirm that his puppies are from tested dogs AND show you original certificates as a proof, do not commit to getting a pup from him. You may be lucky and the puppy will live a long happy life, but you’re running a risk of heart aches, seeing your dog deteriorating, and paying out huge sums to cover vet bills.

Ask for certificates, check the record against the Mate Select register available via The Kennel Club, and if everything is good, get ready to meet that scrumptious puppy!

Photo source: image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay