Common myths about dog food, home made diet for dog, holistic dog food / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog / English cocker spaniel breed and puppy guide, tips about puppies, grooming, nutrition, training, behaviour (C) Natalia Ashton

5 common myths about dog food

I talk about dog food a lot. I also read, research and think about it to a practically unhealthy degree. I guess this comes with a territory. Nutrition occupies a huge chunk of my brain, so I simply can’t help feeling extremely interested in food/diet/health connection and everything that could be possibly squeezed into the subject of canine diet.

“I can just picture you sleeping with your nutrition books and supplement catalogues by your side,” my human nutrition tutor once joked. If only it wasn’t true…

I see the science of nutrition as a complex of puzzles that somehow communicate, evolve, and mix with each other leading to something pretty wonderful or terribly wrong. Many of these outcomes depend on our choices.

Naturally, it is not surprising that many food conversations and believes I overhear or come across leave me stunned. I also feel rather uncomfortable and somewhat frightened by some advice and suggestions offered by “professionals” who claim to be educated in canine nutrition yet seem to have very little scientifically backed evidence to support their claims.

And as somebody who does tend to eat, sleep and breathe nutrition, I would like to discuss a few food-related myths today to help you make better choices for your amazing dogs.

Myth 1: Home-prepared diets are the best for our dogs

There are some anecdotal and poorly researched claims suggesting that home-made diets lead to improved health in dogs. In reality, cooking for your dog at home comes with several risks of potential nutrient imbalances that can lead to problems. At the moment there are literally no cook books on the market containing recipes that would be fully complete and balanced. And even when a recipe is balanced and created by a board-certified animal nutritionist, the risk of missing out on specific vitamins and minerals is still very high.

When a 2013 study at the University of California analysed 200 recipes for home-made dog foods taken from 34 different sources including books, websites and even consults with veterinary nutritionists, 95% of these recipes turned out to be deficient in at least one essential nutrient, 84% of the meals were imbalanced in several important vitamins and/or minerals, and 92% didn’t provide clear guidelines.

“Some of the deficiencies, particularly those related to choline, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin E, could result in significant health problems such as immune dysfunction, accumulation of fat in the liver and musculoskeletal abnormalities,” researchers concluded.

The bottom line is that a dog parent can, theoretically, prepare food for his or her pet, but the recipe must be created by a board-certified nutritionist, each ingredient must be carefully selected, measured and analysed (which requires computer programmes and measuring tests to be precise), the meals must be rotated carefully, and the supplement programme must be prescribed to suit  dog’s requirements.

Considering that dogs may not always show the signs of deficiencies immediately or quickly enough, any problems caused by a DIY’ed diet will only become obvious when the dog is already in a state of disease.

If you really want to cook for your beloved spaniel, make it an occasional once-a-week or once-in-a-fortnight affair and only when your dog is fully grown and healthy, with no underlying or diagnosed conditions. Use a dog-friendly recipe and avoid ingredients known to be toxic.

Myth 2: Grain-free diets are much healthier

The popularity of grain-free diets seems to be getting out of control these days because dog parents are told and tend to believe that grain-free food is more species-appropriate and won’t cause allergies and other health problems in  dogs.

In reality, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these anecdotal claims.

As omnivores dogs are able to digest grains because their genetic makeup is different from their so-called carnivorous “ancestors”. They are also a lot more likely to develop an intolerance or allergic reaction to animal proteins than any grains. The gluten intolerance (dog version of human Coeliac disease) is very breed-specific and incredibly rare.

Wholegrains provide important vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, and fibre and help support digestive health, immune system, nervous system, blood sugar, and healthy anal glands, to name a few benefits.

Additionally, most grain-free diets still contain sources of carbohydrates from lentils, beans, cassava and potatoes that are not necessarily better or healthier for dogs – in fact, they are more difficult for the dogs to break down and may even lead to digestive upsets and other health problems if eaten long-term.

If you have a valid veterinary-approved reason to use a grain-free diet, make sure that it is formulated by a qualified nutritionist and produced by a reputable company.

Myth 3: High protein diets are more nutritious and species-appropriate

The thing is… Dogs evolved way beyond a simple wolf. They had to – otherwise they would not make it into our homes where the food is free, the bed is warm and the cuddles are practically excessive. Their bodies evolved, too, and are not unstoppable protein-churning machines. They have limits. Including the protein levels.

This means that the body will use amino acids from proteins to build and rebuild itself, support the immune system, heal etc. At the same time, a dog’s body would rather rely on carbohydrates and fats for energy than spend additional effort into converting amino acids to fuel itself. Any protein that has not been used or excreted in the urine as nitrogen (and that’s the bit that turns your grass yellow), will be stored as fat leading to – you guessed it – excess weight! High protein diet can also cause an imbalance of nutrients and lead to disease.

More over, too much protein and lack of carbohydrates can affect the way your dog behaves: both his activity and ability to relax.

It is also worth to mention that while the sources of protein are important, it is the amino acid profile of your dog’s food that is vital to his health. So the diet can be extremely high in protein because it’s made with pure chicken, yet lack specific amino acids and thus affect your puppy’s development or your adult dog’s wellbeing.

Myth 4: Commercial dog foods are full of road kill and odd animal parts

This is the concept that sells a lot of independent “natural” and “human grade” pet foods. In reality, all respected manufacturers must follow strict rules and only use products from the same animals that were reared for human consumption, so technically what your dog get is, in fact, human grade. People get prime cuts and parts – dogs eat by-products that we perceive as aesthetically “inappropriate”. These may include organ means such as hearts, tongues, diaphragm, liver, muscle, lungs etc. However, the use of exclusive of “any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably” are prohibited, so your dog will not be eating hairs and feathers disguised as something else or, as some sincerely believe, unlisted. In fact, you are more likely to find found feathers, pig bristles and (stay calm and keep on reading) human hair in some breads and other baked goods (look for E910, E920 or E921) than the food you feed your pets.

In comparison to prime cuts, the ugly by-products also provide more nutrients, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, as well as beneficial bacteria (when it comes to rumen) than any chicken breast or filet mignon.

Also to me it seems ironic that many dog owners do their best to stay away from commercial dog foods because they may have “odd animal parts” yet happily treat their dogs to bull penises and testicles.

Myth 5: Holistic dog food is the way to go

When it comes to dog food, “holistic” label means literally nothing. Unlike “natural” and “organic”, the term “holistic” is not regulated by any of the organisations (AAFCO, FEDIAF, USDA) that control the safety and quality of pet food.

It can mean that food is “natural”. However “natural” is a legal claim that can only be applied to plant, animal, micro-organism or mineral ingredients “to which nothing has been added and which have been subjected only to such physical processing as to make them suitable for food production and maintaining the natural composition”. In this case the word “natural” must be included on the label.

It can also mean that the food contains holistic, or therapeutic, herbs and ingredients, which would make me cautious on the spot because many of these may harm dogs, especially when eaten long-term or in incorrect quantities.

And when used on its own “holistic” is applied purely for marketing purposes because it sells better!

 

To conclude, I’d like to say that I don’t believe in “one food suit all” approach because I do see dogs (and humans) as unique living organisms. If the food you feed your cocker agrees with him and approved by your vet, it is age-appropriate, complete, balanced, free from toxic ingredients and is manufactured by a trusted company, use it. But since your dog’s health depends on your choices, be vigilant when it comes to selecting the food in the first place – and do learn about canine nutrition from reputable sources that base their advice on scientific research, not tips they got from a random dog walker or unqualified “professional from the internet”.

Style outfit ideas for dog walking in fashion / Spring edition / Camel outfit ideas / Cashmere jumper, leather trousers, puff jacket, suede leather bag / Perfect cocker spaniel / pet blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Fashion guide to walking your dog in style | Autumn edition

Fashion is virtual. That’s official. But we can take a few style notes from the best of the best, dress up and keep the style alive. I thought of one of my favourite Hedi Slimane’s Celine collections as the starting point of this look. For any woman who wants to look beautiful and feel free. It’s a little bit of Parisian in London and a little bit of London girl in Paris… You choose the mood. I provide the clothes.

Outfit idea for walking dog in style inspired by Parisian style and london fashion, Celine & Hedi Slimane / Created with best finds from high street, vintage and designer / Cardigan, jeans, converse, classic white shirt / Perfect cocker spaniel blog for the love of English cocker spaniels, tips for cocker spaniels, breed, puppy, grooming guide (C) Natalia Ashton

Shop: Shirt | Jeans | Scarf | Trainers | Cardigan | Bag | Sunglasses | Perfume | Book

 

Image credit: Karen Arnold from Pixabay

Are English cocker spaniel aggressive? Research and science-supported evidence of cocker spaniel behaviour / Rage syndrome / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog, breed & puppy guide (C) Natalia Ashton

Can English cocker spaniels be aggressive? Let’s talk about biting, growling & the rage syndrome

Can an English cocker spaniel be aggressive? Of course! But does it mean that a sweet puppy you just picked up is going to viciously attack you at every given opportunity? Not at all.

Let me put it simply.

Any dog, absolutely any dog, cocker or not, can react. Just like any living being, you and me included. We have our off-days and moments when something or somebody scares, frustrates or annoys us. Do we just “smile and wave”? No, we don’t. Which makes us pretty similar to dogs. Yet, dogs are still kinder, I’d say. They bite without breaking hearts. Humans, on the other hand, can come up with all sorts of cruel outcomes.

So let’s focus on our dogs and English cockers today and discuss the subject of sudden and no so sudden aggression these dogs can exhibit.

First of all, the forever hot topic that I simply must include in this post – the Rage Syndrome.

Cockers are said to be one of the breeds know to have a tendency for this trait. In short, the affected dog is said to suddenly become aggressive towards his owners, bite hard without warning, often have a chance in facial expression and eyes, and then stop as if falling out of some uncontrollable state. It has never really been scientifically proven, but solids (reds and golden cockers, in particular) were said to suffer from it.

There were a few studies that looked at aggression in English cocker spaniels, however.

The one from 1996 was conducted by the Kennel Club and involved two thousand ECS owners chosen at random. The 1008 responded (and 932 were found to be suitable) by completing a questionnaire that included information about age, gender, neuter status, and coat colour. The owners were also asked to use a 1-5 scale to indicate whether or not their dogs ever showed aggression towards various stimuli including…

… aggression towards other dogs (1)

… aggression towards strangers approaching the dog (2)

… aggression towards visitors (3)

… aggression towards people approaching the owner when out and about (4)

… aggression towards children in the household (5)

… aggression towards other dogs in the household (6)

… aggression towards owner showing attention to other person or animal (7)

… aggression towards the owner or family member (8)

… aggression when disciplined (9)

… aggression when reached for or handled (10)

… aggression in restricted spaces (11)

… aggression at meal times / defending food (12)

… aggression without apparent reason (13)

The results of the researched showed that…

… solid cockers showed aggression in 2-13 situations and red/golden spaniels were more likely to be aggressive in situations 1, 4, 5, 7-13 compared to black cockers;

… males were more likely to react when with other dogs, towards their owner, when disciplined and when reached for or handled;

… females were more likely to become aggressive towards other dogs in the household, and neutered females were more likely to become aggressive towards children in the household;

While “the rage syndrome” was one of the main reasons for the research, the study could not determine whether or not it truly existed or was just a combination of genetic and neuroendocrine factors. It did however highlight two very important points:

… “neutering was not found to be useful as a preventative measure for aggression”

..and…

… aggression was always a result of a stimulus.

Even though the paper did not describe nor specify any conditions the dogs were raised and housed, whether or not they were socialised and trained, if they were free or lead- or barrier -constrained when meeting strangers or other dogs, and how the children approached these dogs or what kind of “discipline” was used, it made it absolutely clear – none of these English cocker spaniels acted out of nothing

To explain my scepticism towards the missing information situation by situation from 1 to 12, I need to mention that dogs naturally

… (1) may feel growly towards other dogs, especially when the other dog approaches in a certain manner, the cocker is restrained and have no means of avoiding the situation, or the cocker is suffering from fear-related reactivity;

… (2) do not enjoy being approached by strangers, especially when strangers start reaching out trying to touch the dog – it is the dog who should be allowed to approach a stranger if and when he is comfortable to do so, not the other way around;

… (3) see visitors as intruders unless this habit is eliminated through positive training during puppy socialisation weeks;

… (4) suspicious of strangers approaching the dog’s owner unless the dogs are properly socialised or counter-conditioned out of the “habit”;

… (5) do not attack children unless provoked through acts of affection (which can be annoying and frustrating for the dog unless he is fully awake and prepared for it), high pitches noises, fast movement and running (dogs see these as an invitation to chase and catch), actions that dogs simply wouldn’t tolerate (think how many parents would insist of taking a photo of the dog next to a child or a child hugging the dog or, worse, sitting or lying on top of the dog) – several studies (1, 2, 3) ) concluded that young children, especially boys, were likely to be bitten by dogs, but none of them had details on the causes of the bites as those were never discussed with the families;

… (6) take time to accept other dogs in their household, especially when one dog is older than the other or they are of the same gender, so unless the owner knows how to introduce and manage these dogs, they can end up fighting;

… (7) feel insecure (especially at young age) when the owner shows affection towards other animals or dogs, however cockers can be jealous at times and react;

… (8) avoid getting into any situation when they’d attact the owner, so there are a lot of reasons that may push the dog over the threshold – and these were not mentioned here; according to another study, cockers often showed “impulse aggression towards owners”, which can often be a result of spoiling the dog and allowing him to do anything he pleases instead of teaching him respectful behaviour (with Deference protocol as a reference source); a 2017 study highlighted that “spayed/neutered dogs were more aggressive towards owner”; and one more study showed that “nurture also influenced whether or not a dog was aggressive; the variance due to the sire heritability of aggression was only 0.2 (20%) whereas that due to the dam was 0.46 (46%) indicating a maternal-environmental effect”;

… (9) will not growl when disciplined unless the type of “discipline” involves a form of punishment, the dog learnt to associate the “discipline” with unpleasant outcomes or the dog is reactive as a result of fear or stress brough up by “discipline” methods, incorrect training, lack of socialisation, owner’s own emotional state, improper diet, pain, discomfort etc.;

… (10) do not like being “reached for” – it is the unwritten rule that you do not approach a dog, but let the dog approach you; additionally, dogs who are reactive, fearful, in pain, or startled when approached (say, they are losing hearing or were asleep when approached) are likely to snap, too;

… (11) like to have enough room for moving around (that’s why dogs find it extremely odd and stressful to walk at heel down a busy crowded street); a form of enclosure, barrier or anything that prevents their ability to escape danger should it be necessary, raises the dog’s stress levels and likely to lead to reactivity and “aggressive behaviour”;

… (12) do not share food or treats they are currently enjoying; they can be trained to know that there’s no harm at having your hand in their bowl during dinner, but unless a dog is coached properly from the very beginning, he will snap trying to protect his “treasure”.

But as long as it’s getting (for which I apologise – and would be happy to buy you a coffee should we ever meet to browse the blog together), this story is not going to be complete without a few further studies.

A fabulous 1997 study published in VetRecord by British Veterinary Association analysed behaviour of 285 owners of purebred English cockers to reveal that “the owners of high aggression dogs were significantly more likely to be tense, emotionally less stable, shy and undisciplined than owners of low aggression dogs” and owners of “low” aggression dogs were older and had strong bond with their cockers (Podberscek & Serpell, 1997), which we can now explain even more when combined with recent research about dogs mimicking their owners stress hormone levels and another peer-reviewed study that discussed impulsive aggression, “a trait more common in ECSs” and low levels of serotonin in dogs that exhibited such a behaviour.

Two more pieces of research that worth a mention is a 2010 study that looked into brain structure and development of aggressive and non-aggressive dogs (the cockers fell into the non-aggressive group) and another study from 2010 that looked into several genes found in ECSs to see if there is a link between canine aggression and dopamine- and serotonin-related genes defined previously. They discovered that four of the genes of the aggressive dogs had distorted haplotypes when compared to non-aggressive dogs.

And since I’ve already mentioned that neutered dogs were not essentially well-behaved following their surgery, look into the studies on neutering showing undesirable behavioural changes, increased aggression towards other dogs in castrated dogs, and owner-directed aggression in neutered springer spaniels.

Additionally, diet and environment play a vital role in developing of behaviour, too, and should not be overlooked. In fact, I think that, after genetics, diet is the most vital element since the body develops from and depends on the nutrients, so the deficiency or excess of some can make a huge impact on the behaviour.

How can you ensure that your cocker spaniel is not the aggressive type? Well, in reality, you cannot have an insurance for that… Instead you can…

… get a puppy from the KC-assured breeder;

… see puppy parents;

… see the way a puppy behaves;

…  feed your spaniel a balanced complete diet;

… socialise and train your dog;

… protect your young puppy from excessive exposure to emotional and physical stimuli, positive or negative, and allow him plenty of rest;

… teach young children how to handle a puppy correctly;

… don’t neuter your dog to “fix” his behaviour;

… train using positive methods, not devices or punishment;

… be calm no matter what or as much as possible;

… love your dog unconditionally.

 

Image credit: Katrin B. from Pixabay