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”.

Can dogs eat raspberries? Fruits that contain xylitol and toxic to dogs / Canine nutrition tips / Cocker spaniel nutrition and diet

Can my dog eat… raspberries?

We need to have a quick chat about raspberries before the berry season is most definitely over making such a conversation utterly out of place.

Raspberries are such a curious little berry. Each is like a burst of sun kissed summer sweetness. They are also incredibly healthy providing plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C, beta-carotene essential for eye health, plus vitamins E to protect DNA and RNA, and keep the skin and bones strong, and K for proper blood clotting. The berries are also a source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium, and several cancer-fighting antioxidants including lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin.


The answer is YES and NO…

It may come as a surprise, but raspberries are one of the fruits that contain naturally-occuring xylitol. The “natural occurrence” isn’t such a big deal because xylitol you’d use as a sugar substitute is also a natural product derived from the bark of birch trees (or corn), so it can be expected to occur in other plants, too.

The difference between the raspberries and the birch bark product you may find in your home is in its concentration. In other words, raspberries do contain xylitol and are one of the fruits that have the most of it (1 cup of raspberries contains 50mg of xylitol) but a dog would need to eat a lot to build the toxic levels (50-100mg per 1 kilo of body weight can be fatal).

So if your spaniel loves raspberries, eating a couple will not harm him.

Can dogs eat garlic? Is garlic toxic or safe for dogs? Scientific evidence of garlic for dog's health, canine diet, nutrition, worming / (C) Perfect cocker spaniel, breed and puppy guide book, puppy tips, canine nutritionist, dog diet, cocker spaniel grooming / Natalia Ashton

Can my dog eat… garlic?

You are walking down the street in the evening or just about to approach an Italian restaurant and suddenly there is a delicious aroma hitting your nostrils and making your hungry instantly. When somebody cooks with garlic, the rest of the world is there to dream of roasted chicken, lamb, pasta, pizza or garlic bread… Because nobody can resist it. And hardly any kitchen can be complete without a few fat bulbs, bursting with goodness beneath the delicate tissue-paper like skin…

Garlic is so good for us, not only because it’s full of vitamins and minerals, but because this humble allium vegetable is a mighty source of sulphur compounds known to be beneficial for our hearts, the immune, digestive and endocrine systems, supporting detoxification and reducing inflammation.


The short answer is NO….

Especially if they are English cocker spaniels.

Even though you might have heard otherwise, garlic is toxic to dogs. It is true that it was used by the breeders back in the 19th and early 20th century, but purely due to the fact that conventional and reliable worming medicine did not exist at the time. As the years went by, the very same breeders not only documented the side-effects of the garlic, but also recommended replacing the natural remedies with veterinary products due to their reliability and lasting results.

Why is garlic unsuitable for dogs?

The vegetable contains sodium 2-propenyl thiosulfate, which is toxic for the canines because their bodies cannot digest it efficiently. The build-up of the substance leads to formation of Heinz bodies, or clumps of haemoglobin, causing the rupture of red blood cells, oxygen deficiency and life-threatening haemolytic anaemia (IMHA).

The dogs may develop the condition after eating a large quantity of garlic as a single dose or consuming small quantities on a regular basis over a period of time.  In most cases IMHA will seem to appear suddenly and be fatal.

Why is garlic still used for dogs?

The advocates of garlic recommend it as a natural worming treatment or simply because “it’s beneficial and safe”. The latter is accompanied by a study of beagles that were given garlic extract for 12 weeks and didn’t develop Heinz bodies.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that…

The group of scientists who conducted the research were employed by the manufacturer of the garlic extract used in experiments.

The researched themselves concluded that garlic quantity must be monitored to avoid harm.

The garlic extract provided sulphur-containing amino acids S-allylcysteine (SAC) and S-1-propenylcysteine (S1PC). It was not mentioned if the extract contained sodium 2-propenyl thiosulfate.

The typical lifespan of red blood cells is between 100 and 120 days, so 12 weeks weren’t long enough to fully examine the body’s reaction to the substance.

Beagles are not genetically predisposed to the condition and we do not know enough information of their age, gender or health status at the time of the study.

The statement on garlic safety also contradicts independent studies and records spanning 30 years, discussed in interviews, books, scientific articles (1, 2, 3), veterinary manuals and journals (4, 5, 6, 7, 8) lists of poisonous substances  for dogs (9, 10) and included in FEDIAF guidelines and  top 10 animal toxins by ASPCA.

Why some dogs don’t develop Heinz bodies or haemolytic anaemia?

It can be related to genetics, breed predisposition (and cockers are among the breeds predisposed to the disease), hereditary defects, dog’s health, medical history, gender, age, and nutritional status (for example, selenium deficiency can increase the risk).

What about the worming effects of garlic?

There were no English language based clinical studies to support the use of garlic as an effective anti-worming medicine for dogs. Only two limited clinical trials conducted in 1969 and 2011 and described in Veterinary Evidence paper partially focused on the use of garlic alongside other herbs and plants such as pumpkin seeds. The quantities of the garlic were not included. There was no information about dogs except the number of dogs used and the names of parasites they had. The studies did show that garlic temporarily reduce the eggs and larvae, but only in specific species of worms. It did not seem to have effect of adult worms or certain species of worms. The questionable efficiency also meant that dogs would have to receive garlic at least every 2 days because the parasite levels returned to pre-treatment volume within 48 hours once the garlic was discontinued.  This means that all dogs remained at risk of either suffering from worms or potentially building up thiosulphate levels and developing haemolytic anaemia.

Interestingly, one of the known pioneers of using garlic as a worming treatment for dogs does not even have a veterinary degree or any form of academic education in canine or small animal nutrition.

The bottom line is to leave the garlic out of your dog’s diet, especially if the dog is a cocker spaniel. It really is not worth the risk.


Photo credit: image by StockSnap from Pixabay