English cocker spaniel puppy eating dog food (C) Perfect cocker spaniel / English cocker spaniel blog, book, puppy tips, advice, grooming tips, nutrition, canine nutritionist / Natalia Ashton

Does less poop really mean better health?

Today I wanted to have a quick chat about a study that recently came out from the university of Illinois because I found it, how should I put it… disappointing? Especially when it was reviewed to reach a wider audience – you and me, in other words.

The study that included beagles fed with fresh food was run by a few people with PhDs, which to any layman would most definitely look like a sure sign of quality and confidence. The beagles got some fresh food made with a few ingredients and naturally produced less poop compared to a group fed kibble.

The scientists then concluded that fresh diet is better for dogs, but did it in a way that could easily mislead any normal non-science’y dog parent and, as a result, potentially put their dog’s health at risk.

Granted, I don’t have a PhD, but I do know nutrition. That is why I need to explain a few study statements and my concerns.

First of all, “producing less excrements” isn’t really a new thing. It’s just another trend that was mimicked on countries like Japan where high urban population and clear lack of space meant that dogs foods had to be adjusted to result in less poops. It had nothing to do with dog’s health, but obvious need for yet another space-saving know-how.

Secondly, the diets included “two fresh diets made using only USDA-certified human-grade ingredients” The ingredients were listed yet it wasn’t clear who created the diet, whether or not it was nutritionally balanced or how it would affect the dog long-term (the feeding regime only took 4 weeks, which isn’t enough to see any abnormalities or deficiencies should they happen, especially in healthy dogs previously fed a balanced complete diet)

The researches tested the dogs before the trial and after the trial and noted that blood test results did not change. Which means that the dogs were good to go on their original food.

The worrying part is that I can easily picture a health-conscious pup parent cooking up a feast using the list of ingredients mentioned in the study review thinking that it’s the best thing for his dog because “a guy with PhD said so”. And if one can’t trust google, one can surely trust a guy with PhD, right?

Also “human grade” fresh food doesn’t actually mean that kibble would not be made with “human grade” ingredients. In fact, there are strict rules to ensure that our dogs don’t end up eating road kill or any animal that died of natural causes or old age. The dogs would eat the same cows and chickens as their human family, but different, less palatable (in human view) parts of them (think hearts and organ meats, not hooves or feathers).

Then the study went into a human diet (really?) to say that people would be more satisfied with fresh food than processed food and as a result, would lose weight and be healthier.

The only problem is that processed human food is not the same as a good quality kibble. Ask any board-certified nutritionist – and they will confirm this. Letting people assume that kibble is nothing more than a dog version of a human junk from a famous food chain is not just wrong, it is harmful.

Now… the trendy microbiota…. because they simply had to mention gut bacteria as some of the levels changed. Not for better, not for worse. They just changed. But the study folks assumed it would be better because their previous studies said so. Which is so not PhD…

But if we do talk about microbiome and good bacteria, we need to jump straight to the beginning of this study and the rice and broccoli vs “horrible” kibble and carbs comparison.

Yes, kibble often results in more poop. But is it really a bad thing? Nope. Not. At. All. A good quality complete and balance kibble will contain good quality carbohydrates and fibre that will add bulk to the faeces. But it is vital to remember that besides the bulk, good carbs and fibre can play an important role in keeping your dogs healthy…


Well, the fibre itself will work like a brush to rid the gut from toxins and bacteria.

The soluble fibre will feed the good bacteria.

The good bacteria will take care of your dog’s digestive health, immunity, vitamin levels, reduce risk of allergies and possibly cancers.

The insoluble fibre will also look after the anal glands.

And carbohydrates and fibre will supply vitamins and minerals that your dog may not always get from other foods.

Plus, good carbs will keep the dog fuller for longer and may help him maintain healthy weight or even loose some.

On the other hand, an unbalanced fresh diet may cause deficiencies and affect digestive health due to lack of fibre. The reduction of carbohydrates and fibre also means that they are either replaced with another form of bulking ingredients that dogs may not always be able to digest so well or without side-effects (think bloating). Alternatively, less fibre and carbohydrates often mean higher fat content, which can increase the risk of weight gain, pancreatitis and any disease caused by excess weight.

And upon checking on some foods used in the study as “better alternatives” I noticed ingredients such as garlic (think, Heinz bodies and risk of fatal haemolytic anaemia), potatoes (nightshades and risk of arthritis, plus potential link to DCM), spinach (think oxalates and risk of kidney stones), and pea fibres (potential bloating and increased risk of DCM) to name a few.

It absolutely pains me to say negative things about a study because I really love science and this is a bit like a car crush…


Image credit: cocker spaniel puppy by Switlana Synonenko via 123rf.com

Is dog flea treatment poisoning rivers? Pros and cons of using anti-flea spot on treatments on dogs (C) Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog

Is your dog’s flea treatment really poisoning the rivers?

I am a dog person, so it’s only natural that I read dog magazines more than news paper articles. As a result I was blissfully aware of a research that was published in Science of the Total Environment magazine. The study suggested potential link between dog’s flea treatments and water toxicity in British rivers. Sadly, one of the dog’s magazines picked on it as a “lets fuel a controversy chat” subject. Worse, the news papers decided to join in and, as it often happens, created a pile of misinformation.

“Toxic flea treatments contaminate rivers!”

“Stop using flea treatments on your dogs!”

“Vets are overdosing our dogs! Use these natural alternatives instead!”

said the papers.

“I never use chemicals on my dog…”

“These chemicals are bad. I won’t inflict them on my dog…”

“Only use them when you can see fleas…”

“I would never use wormers or flea treatments on my dog ever…”

said “the majority” the “caring owners” interviewed by the magazine.

The noise of these articles became so overwhelming. At no point any of the journalists consulted professionals, veterinarians or allowed dog owners who did use the treatment to speak up. Most of them did not ever read the study by referred to a news paper articled that was the first one to come out! So I made a cup of tea and decided to have a chat with you here.

I found the study. Read it. Finished the tea and summed up the facts to help you digest the information with clarity and precision before setting into the panic mode.

First of all, the study did not say that it was the dog flea treatment that poisoned the rivers. It suggested potential role of the treatments in pesticide contamination. The firm “it’s the flea treatment” and “potential role” are two very different meanings that would require more research and carefully controlled studies for becoming a definite statement.

It is not new that any kind of pesticide is toxic to aquatic life. That’s why they put it on every leaflet that comes with the product!

The 98% of samples taken from the rivers indicated the presence of fipronil and some also showed imidacloprid (66%). It was fiproles (fipronil, fipronil sulfone, fipronil sulfide) that exceeded the toxic limit in most samples. The levels of imidacloprid “did not pose risk in most rivers”, took two years to detect, were below toxic in 13 out of 7 sites (and the sites that contained more only exceeded the limit by 3.3 ng/l (31.7 ng/l vs 35 ng/l as identified toxicity limit)

The study concluded “a high environmental risk to aquatic ecosystems from fiproles, and a moderate risk from imidacloprid”.

Before jumping into flea treatments, it is important to note that fipronil is an active agent found in ant baits, cockroach poisons, rootworms and several other treatments that are habitually used by households. The concentration varies by the amount use is often exceeds anything you’d ever put on your dog making it toxic to dogs and not just aquatic life. That’s why they put it on a leaflet too!

At no point it was clearly established and confirmed that the fipronil in rivers came from the flea treatments and not common ant baits or household pest treatments that casually got flushed down the toilet or drain (which is still a common practice).

The papers also referred to veterinary approved products containing fipronil. I checked them. These include Fipnil, Frontline, FIPROtec, Johnson’s 4fleas dual action and a few others. All of those products are sold over the counter – not through vets who issue prescription and can control the quality and frequency of the treatment.

The leaflet and protocol for anything prescribe by a vet “takes into consideration individual veterinary diagnosis and on the local epidemiological situation”. This is for those “experts” who expressed their scepticism at veterinary knowledge or expertise.

Every prescription-based flea treatment product comes with instructions that clearly specify that a dog “must not be bathed for at least two days after treatment” or “should not be allowed to swim in surface waters for 4 days after treatment”

There is no natural alternative on the market scientifically proven to be effective against fleas – or any other parasites that can be prevented by a veterinary spot-on product.

More over, most natural alternatives contain at least one ingredients known to be toxic to dogs. Even though it may not kill your dog straight away, it is likely to lead to a reaction when used regularly. Additionally, as none really deter fleas or other parasites, they can leave your dog exposed to those “bugs and worms” as well as several diseases transmitted by fleas, ticks and other creatures. Some of those diseases are fatal.

Anyone suggesting that you should only use a product when you actually see fleas or worms is a nincompoop. The sign of a parasite on your dog means that dog has already been exposed to disease, your house and your family (especially children and elderly) are at risk, any dogs and people you come across unknowingly become exposed to the disease, and any form of decontamination and parasitic treatment you will have to use is likely to take weeks and months and be much more toxic for your dog and the environment.

If you still believe that fleas are nothing serious, bear in mind that fleas are still one of the two main causes of dermatitis, itchiness and serious skin issues (which many owners mistake for food allergy these days), they can cause iron deficiency anaemia in your dog, they can infect your dog with tapeworms, in unlucky circumstances they can also pass a life-threatening disease to you.

Besides the fleas, most veterinary-prescribed products also protect your dog from ear mites, sarcoptic mange and decodicosis (the number one cause of allergy-like dermatitis in your dog – again, not food allergy!), lice, heartworm, lungworm, roundworm and a whole group of gastrointestinal nematodes.

So if you have any doubts, filter the information and talk to your vet – the person who spent years learning and practicing the art of keeping your dog well. Not a journalist, shop assistant, and most definitely not some fella on Facebook because he “sounds friendly”. It will be safer for your dog, your sanity – and indeed, British rivers and aquatic life.

Diet, exercise, lifestyle advice to help obese dog lose weight safely. Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog and book guide for English cocker spaniels

Q&A | What to do if a spaniel is choosy about his food?

For a breed that lives to eat, it is always a surprise to see or hear about an English cocker who refuses his food in a manner of an ingenue prepping for her big break.

Yet, these dogs clearly exist because their mums and dads contact me on a practically daily basis asking a very simple question “Why my dog does not eat?”

So lets discuss several scenarios that may lead to anorexia (which is a veterinary term that describes loss of appetite) and ways to help your dog re-discover his inner gourmet.

Is it just because he no longer likes his food? Not always…

Dogs may refuse to eat because…

… they are not feeling well. Most dogs are likely to skip their meals if they have temperature, feel nauseous, have diarrhoea, or any kind of digestive discomfort. Several serious health problems can also lead to anorexia.

… they are getting older. Just like humans, dogs begin to lose their sense of taste with age. This can lead to loss of interest in food or changes in food preferences.

… they had diarrhoea or felt sick after eating their meal. This does not need to be immediate for a dog to put two and two together. The time lapse between eating and sickness can be as long as several hours.

… they tasted medicine added to their food. If a dog hated the taste of medication (or worse, felt any form of discomfort after eating the meal – see above), he may start associating all his meals with the one containing meds – and refuse them all together.

… they are teething or have dental problems. Teething puppies may refuse their kibble during their teething period because their gums often become swollen and may even bleed. Adults suffering from dental issues are likely to lose interest in their food, too. Dry food or any food that requires chewing and toothache don’t make a good combo.

… they recently had their vaccinations or boosters. Some dogs may be more sensitive to the vaccines and lose their appetite for a day or two as a result of feeling a bit “off”. This does not mean that you need to start skipping vaccinations – this inappetence is temporary and your spaniel should be back to his happy self within days. If you are concerned or unsure, talk to your vet.

… they are stressed. The brain suppresses hunger and digestive function during periods of stress and focuses on the vital aspects of survival instead. It is important to bear in mind that dogs can’t simply relax if the stressful even is over – instead some may “pile up” the stressors and become chronically anxious. This will affect their appetite accordingly.

… they suffer from separation anxiety. For many dogs, separation anxiety is a stressful event (see above) and a form of panic attack. During such moments food and treats become irrelevant.

… they find themselves in an unfamiliar territory. Travels, trips and house moves can make a pup stressed and lose interest in his food until he is either content with the changes or returns home.

… they don’t like their bowls. This may sound really odd, but dogs can be picky about their bowls – their shape, colour, depth, height or even the noise it makes if dragged around the floor during meal times.

… they can smell or taste the change of ingredients in their food. Sometimes pet food manufacturers decide to alter the recipe without any notifications. The dog won’t even need to read the label to know something is not quite the same anymore. He’ll be able to smell it as soon as the bag is opened.

… they prefer different texture. By nature, most dogs would prefer to eat moist cooked food over kibble because they can consume wet food faster and easier than a typical dry dinner.

… they know the food is gone off. It can be past it’s expiry date or you may simply have a bag that’s been opened for too long.

… they have been overfed. If they overeat once or twice, most dogs will naturally do their best to avoid food until they restore the equilibrium, which may take a day or two. This can change for overweight or obese dogs because brain chemistry and their response to hunger can change.

… they have been given too many options. Dogs are smart. They also like novelty even though they don’t particularly need it long-term. They can train you to feed them a variety of foods and treats very easily just so they can try as many things as possible at least once. If the “sad puppy eye” technique works, many spaniels can literally pressure you into giving them only “the good stuff” and ignore their dog food as completely unworthy. In 1987 Fogel even came up with a term “starvation games” to describe this behaviour. Sums it up perfectly.

... they have been given too many treats and snacks between their main meals and don’t feel hungry by the time their own meal is served.

So what can you do?

First of all, make sure that your dog is well and healthy: watch him, look out for any changes in his appearance, behaviour and toilet habits, check his mouth and teeth, and consult a vet.

If you feed kibble, try changing the texture by adding warm water to the dry biscuits, just enough to create “a gravy”, then leave to cool before feeding.

Weigh his food to avoid overfeeding.

Stick to meal times. If your dog is an adult and can technically skip a meal without serious outcomes (this is different for puppies!) leave his bowl for 10 minutes – and remove if he didn’t touch it or left something out. Serve the following meal according to schedule.

Do not feed table scraps and too many treats.

Avoid adding “just a bit of chicken” to your dog’s food to encourage him to eat. He will eat the chicken. And then ask for more… chicken… And then he will manipulate you to obey him over and over and over again. Because now chicken is life…

Check the ingredients list on your dog’s food for any changes and expiry dates.

Do try to change your dog food once, usually from kibble to wet option. Ensure that the new food you choose is complete and balanced, and remember to make a gradual swap over several days – not overnight.

Do not start swapping various dog foods every other week to see if there’s something he may like. Best case scenario is that he will like the first new food you give him and happily eat it. If he doesn’t approve your choice and you start offering him something new over and over again you are likely to end up dealing with frequent bounds of diarrhoea or finicky behaviour.

If your dog is old, try hand-feeding him by putting small pieces of food in his mouth to stimulate taste buds and encourage him to eat. Always discuss this with your vet and nutritionist to make them aware or the problem and any improvements.

Mix food and fun by using food as training treats or hiding it inside enrichment toys.

Make sure that your dog is comfortable when eating – his bowl is at the right height for him and doesn’t spin around the kitchen floor turning every meal time into hard work.


Photo source: “Tell me this isn’t celery” (C) by Cartoon Comics for Shutterstock / Perfect cocker spaniel