Is feeding one meal a day going to reduce the risk of age-related illness in dogs? Looking into the November 2021 study, how many times should you feed a dog, adult and puppy, number of meals, quality of meals, stress and diet in dogs, feeding dogs depending on size and breed (C) Natalia Ashton / Perfect cocker spaniel blog / English cocker spaniels, puppy tips and advice, grooming, training, behaviour, diet / Qualified canine nutritionist and small animal pet nutrition coach UK

How often should I feed my dog?

Feeding a dog, especially, a cocker spaniel, should be easy and straight forward. You choose the ideal food like 12345, set times and see your gorgeous pup enjoy his meals. You think you’ve done everything right, and then comes a study suggesting that your dog should only eat once (which sounds a bit like a promo for another Bond film, really). Even though the study itself specifies that more research is needed, the media picks it up and spreads all over the internet telling people that they are literally crippling their beloved pooches.

What happens next?

Dog parents all over the world suddenly feel scared, confused and upset because who wouldn’t?

Luckily, we can talk about it here to clarify a few things and make life a little bit brighter for everyone, including pups who are probably holding onto their bowls right now panicking about losing the other precious meal they’ve loved so much.

So what did the study say?

The Dog Aging Project study published in November 2021 suggested that dogs fed once a day would be less likely to get diagnosed with age-related health issues. The study was based on three facts: dogs are from wolves and wolves don’t eat like dogs, intermittent fasting is good, and dog owners’ annual surveys gave positive response.

Now, let’s remind ourselves once again that thanks to evolution, changes in lifestyle and artificial breeding, dogs and wolves are not exactly the same. An average grey wolf lives between 6 and 8 years. Some may reach 17, but chances are slim because of the natural selection.

Intermittent fasting in laboratory animals may did them favours, but those animals are not living in the same environment or enjoy little pleasures of life as our pet dogs. It’s also worth to mention that most of the reference fasting studies were done on humans or rats. And true, we can do well with intermittent fasting done right. But even humans, when they do intermittent fasting, only follow 12-16 hour fasts, not 24! And, as humans, we do it at our own will and understanding of what is going on.

I don’t take owner’s surveys seriously at the best of times. Everything people think and feel about their dogs is biased and based on opinions, understanding, education and experience of each particular person. Even if we talk to 24000 of them, as the study did, it won’t rock my boat as a scientific fact.

I was also uneasy about two other factors. The study only used neutered dogs. And for me it does not make sense because their body functions have already been altered and thus any outcomes would only apply to other neutered dogs. And we know that neutering isn’t all fun and games. It does increase the risks of disease including several cancers. The other factor is that 56% of the dogs used in the study were mix breeds – in veterinary terms, they were mutts. Whilst I have no issues with loving all dogs, I would struggle to apply any study on mixed breeds dogs to changes any pure bred dogs would need to go through in order to live longer? Because… genetics… And among the breeds, many of them were large breeds that would feel comfortable with one meal a day, theoretically. Because… labradors and retrievers do love food.

How many times do we need to feed our dogs each day?

This will depend on several factors.

First of all, your dog’s age. Puppies need to be fed more frequently, 3-4 times a day, because it will allow their little bodies digest food comfortably (as their stomach is still growing), receive nutrients and calories (that are higher than required for an adult dog) how and when needed and, and as a result, help them grow at a steady rate. This alone will reduce the risk of obesity, bone disease and even some cancers in the future.

Most healthy adult dogs aged 12 months or over can eat twice a day with 8-12 hours in between. This will allow their stomach to digest the meal, keep the pup fill full and happy, then naturally empty and signal the brain the hunger “Must eat or look sad!” cue.

Breed is important.

Not only dogs would require different quantities of food per day, they will utilise what is given depending on their size! When a study looked into 69 clinical parameters in dogs of various breeds, 16 (including gut bacteria, specific proteins and antioxidants) were different between the large and small canines. Overloading the system by giving dogs one meal a day means that some of these dogs are even less likely to absorb the nutrients that could be vital for their long-term health.

Cockers are usually fed twice a day, but they are foodies and most of the dogs I know, including my own, would feel depressed, stressed or anxious if they suddenly lost a meal and had to go on empty for 24 (!!!) hours.

And what can happen to a stressed dog?

First of all, he will be so anxious about the next meal, he is likely to inhale it. This can lead to bloating and be life-threatening.

In fact, when a study looked into causes of bloat (or gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome), the one-meal-per-day, fearfulness and stress were three of the highest risks.

If your dog has psychological issues such as separation anxiety, reducing the number of meals can cause release of stress hormone and make them feel worse as they lose their “comfort food”. Currently, about 20% of dogs are known to suffer from SA, 20-25% are fearful towards strangers (read – possibly have a build-up of stress hormones in their little bodies on a permanent basis) and as many as 50% may have noise sensitivity (again, read – stressed out regularly). Imagine if all these pups lost one thing that makes them feel good?

Even if, hypothetically, a one-meal-a-day diet could reduce the risks of some age-related diseases (which to me could be fixed and prevented with many other and much less dramatic diet and life-style changes and alternations such as, for example, not feeding dogs high protein or grain-free diets or avoiding so called “superfoods” known to cause kidney stones, or measuring dog food to prevent obesity – one of the major factors in age-related health conditions and cancers in dogs that the study did not even look into), it will cause great stress. Stress, in its turn, will lead to an absolute havoc within the body and affect every single system, from changes in hormones and digestive enzymes, blood sugar control and vitamin and mineral balance, to the bones and muscles, the nerves and brain, blood pressure and heart. Which does not immediately screams “healthy dog” to me.

What should you do about your dog’s meals?

If you have a puppy, stick with 3-4 meals a day until he is 6 months. Then, in case of cockers, try with two meals but if your puppy struggles, go for three. It is more important to watch the quantity of food per day rather than number of meals required to eat this food.

Do not feed your dog, especially a puppy, “free style” better known as ad libitum, by leaving a bowl of food for the entire day and allowing the cocker to help himself whenever he feels like it.

Set meal times are important for digestion, elimination and overall satiety. In other words, a fed cocker is a happy cocker who knows when to eat, sleep, poop, play and repeat.

If your dog has been diagnosed with any health conditions or has to take medication, you will always need to consult your vet about feeding times.

Remember that any health-related advice you’d even need should always come from your vet. This alone will keep your dog healthier for longer.

Photo credit: image by StockSnap from Pixabay

dog dry pet food, kibble, benefits of kibble and dry dog food, types of kibble, does kibble cause cancer and illness in dogs, pet food recalls , nutrition advice for dogs, English cocker spaniel blog and tips on grooming, diet, training and puppy care (C) Natalia Ashton

On kibble, cancer & all the nonsense in between

“I thought you were a better dog mum…” somebody told me the other day after I mentioned kibble as a part of my boys’ diet. Agreeably, my parenting skills may be subjective for all parents are unique. On the other hand, my knowledge of food and it’s properties for human and dog health does come with diplomas, certificates and tax return forms confirming that I studied and practised in the field of human and pet nutrition for almost 20 years now.

And yes, my dogs do eat kibble. It has been on a menu since they were conceived. And it will remain on the menu because they’ll tell me off if it’s gone.

They love it. They look fabulous on it (in fact, it was their good looks that made “the better dog parent” ask me about their food). And they are healthy and active. That’s good enough to me.

I admit, I spent a lot of time choosing their food. It’s never complicated and far from fancy, but everything that goes into their mouth comes from the brands I trust and is made with ingredients that don’t put me into a freezing state of anxiety.

Today I wanted to talk to you about it because I often feel that many pup parents also experience anxiety, fear and borderline paranoia when it comes to choosing food for their spaniels, especially if the puppy eats kibble. 

How did kibble as such come about?

For centuries domestic dogs ate the same cooked meals and foods as their families. In 1860 James Spratt introduced the first commercially-made dog biscuits made from beef blood, wheat and vegetables. The “Meet Fibrine Dog Cake” was expensive but proved to be so popular among British gentleman and their sporting dogs that the company became the largest pet food manufacturer in the world.

It was the matter of convenience and dogs obviously enjoyed what they were given even though the original recipe wasn’t perfect. When it comes to the English cockers, many were fed a mixture of dry biscuits and cooked food with the most prominent breeders singing praises to a pressure cooker as “one of the greatest inventions”. Later on many moved onto commercial dog food.

What are the benefits of kibble?

A good quality complete formula provides all nutrients a dog needs to be fit and healthy. It takes away any guess work for all pup parents because one really does need to be a trained small animal nutritionist to create a balanced home-made diet on a daily basis.

It is an affordable option. You can buy good quality dry food without spending a fortune. This helps many dog families to feed a dog well on a certain budget.

Dry food keeps well and makes a useful backup in many situations whether you are at home, unwell and cannot go to the shops, or travel and need to have a supply of food that won’t go off.

Some formulas may have a positive effect on plaque control (1, 2, 3, 4)

Veterinary foods can literally save your dog’s life, help with severe allergies and dermatological conditions, and the easiest and scientifically-backed option during recovery, chronic illness or while a pooch is trying to lose weight.

Can kibble really kill our dogs?

Kibble does not kill dogs. In fact, any kibble from a PFMA-registered manufacturer will always be a better option than a typical home-made or raw diet that are practically never balanced and may even contain heavy metals above any reasonable limits. There have been studies and reports on cockers who survived DCM after their diet was swapped from home-made food to commercial kibble, and other case studies of puppies suffering from malnutrition and bone abnormalities after eating raw-based diets.

It is true that kibble may contain aflatoxins because these substances are present around in abundance. They may be found in grains due to poor storage, changes in moisture and temperatures, or when crops survive extreme weather conditions or insect damage. However, any responsible pet food manufacturer abides to a set of very strict rules and practices including pet food safety and regular testing of their ingredients before they leave the supplier or upon delivery of each batch. The storage practices are also regulated.

Pet food companies get their supplies of grains from the same sources as human food companies, so if you believe that your dog’s kibble may contain mycotoxins and thus be harmful, you must also admit to yourself that any rice, oats or barley you cook for your family is also a source of danger.

It is true that there were food recalls of several brands due to aflatoxin poisoning in dogs. They happened in the US, 12 episodes were documented between 1975 and 2006, the ingredient in question was corn, not rice, wheat or barley, on two occasions the harm was caused by too much vitamin D3 or synthetic antioxidants. For the 2006 case it was established that the manufacturer “did not adhere to its own stringent guidelines for aflatoxin testing of 12 shipments… The final food product was shipped to… retailers in 23 states and at least 29 countries.”

These cases are rare, very rare and so far seemed to occur in the States and Australia, not the UK or Europe, and always – due to malpractices and carelessness. Your dog is more likely to catch bacteria from a raw food or suffer from malnutrition if he eats home-made diet than get poisoning from commercial kibble.

The 2007 melamine poisoning that was an absolute tragedy for many families also happened in the US because the company used ingredients containing melamine.

And in 2018, 2019 and 2021 several brands of dog food had to be recalled because they contained too much vitamin D. If it makes you feel any better, it is more likely that food recalls would involve human food, especially in its natural, raw state, than pet food. And it’s worth to mention that raw pet food also gets recalled too, though manufacturers do not always make it known to general public and the updates end up on food safety news website only. There were 51 samples of raw food (three quarters of all tested) that failed safety tests in the EU due to bacterial contamination in 2019, was a raw food recall in the UK and 67 (yes, 67!) cases in the US in 2020 and 2021.

So it’s not all black and white and all we can do is to choose manufacturers we trust among the ones registered with PFMA and keep on living. No company wants to recall their food or intentionally cause harm to our dogs. Yes, ALL companies are interested in making profits because it’s the nature of any successful business. But any successful business also exists because of their happy customers, so they will always do their absolute best to keep things safe. My dogs eat food made by British company who use a mixture of regular and organic ingredients that they farm (except the rice) making it fully traceable, use no preservatives or synthetic additives and BPA-free packaging.

Does kibble cause cancer?

I would not let you go unless we talked about the big C vs big K (for kibble) question. Canine cancer is a complex subject. It goes far beyond the subject of nutrition even though nutrition does play a very important role. The frustrating part is that dry food got the blame for everything because of some studies that got taken out of content and re-told in ways that suited the story tellers and their personal objectives and believes – not the unbiased views of knowledge or science. If you look closely, the tales often originate on blogs and websites of people who may look for somebody to blame or use it as a marketing strategy to divert people attention from “killer kibble” to their own brand of food or product.

First of all, the kibble is directly and conveniently compared to human junk food because this is a kind of association many could easily understand – not because the two are alike. Any junk food or many processed foods you’d get in certain food chains really are garbage however you look at them. They are completely unbalanced nutritionally, made with a few ingredients that have once been natural (do you get a piece of mind being assured that a milk shake does contain milk? because it has to be specified to be believed?) and then enhanced with sugar, preservatives, additives, colorants and flavour enhancers before being dipped in hydrogenated fats. Naturally, nobody, absolutely nobody, would remain healthy if they regularly ate these “foods”.

On the other hand, good quality kibble is made with ingredients and animal parts that came from the same factory as human foods. The only difference is that the dogs are given parts most humans would  find unappetising (unless some junk food chain mashes them into a pulp and uses this mince to create objects that resemble chicken breast or real burgers). Pet food companies that follow strict standards will never use road kill, dead animals or put hairs, hooves, horns and other inedible parts into their products. This is against the law. On the other hand, bird feathers and human hair can be legally used in some flours and breads made for human consumption, and beaver anal and urine secretion may end up as a natural flavouring in your strawberry ice-cream. 

The temperatures used to make extruded kibble were initially around or over 200C. These days many companies produce kibble at temperatures of 120-180C. Some go even below 120C. A few use cold pressed method. Yes, using any form of heat can reduce certain nutrients, but it can also destroy harmful bacteria and anti-nutrients that can affect dog’s health. Also, if you just think about it, every time you cook anything in the oven for your own dinner, the temperatures would be around 165-200C, but it won’t necessarily mean that all those meals will lead to fatal disease, just like eating raw diet 100% would not necessarily turn you into a picture of health or give you a supermodel physique.

The carbohydrates in kibble are not necessarily the cause of cancer either. Yes, sugar, particularly refined sugar, may be responsible for inflammation and cell mutations. On the other hand wholegrains, starchy vegetables and fruits contain various forms of sugars, but they also contain fiber that helps to reduce the risk of digestive issues, and vitamins and minerals that work as antioxidants protecting the body and keeping it strong and potentially cancer-free. And I just have to mention that barbecuing your favourite steak or cooking any meat to achieve that tempting brown crust also causes production of acrylamides as well as other carcinogen (especially true for the BBQ)

You might have also heard of acrylamides as one of the reasons to avoid kibble because these substances are formed in many foods as as a result of cooking at high temperatures, which is known as Maillard reaction. So far all is true. It is also true that acrylamide in its various forms is concidered to be a potential carcinogen for humans because it caused tumours in rats that were given experimental oral doses of acrylamides as a part of a study. However, according to science, we cannot really be fully compared to rodents because humans aren’t rats, one has to be extensively exposed to acrylamide to be at risk through either industrial exposure or smoking, and there was no exact link between breast cancer and acrylamides in US women. When studies looked into dietary sources of acrylamide, the outcomes were inconclusive for several reasons: the amount of acrylamide varied greatly between foods, many “healthy foods” contained acrylamides yet were fantastic sources of nutrients and cancer-fighting antioxidants, and Maillard reaction could include production of other substances, not just acrylamide. It has also been established that boiling and cooking on a hob at lower temperatures did not produce acrylamide. But over-baking, frying, deep-frying and microwaving did. Additionally, the list of worst foods included crisps, chips (half of the total exposure!) and bread – all of them are sources of either white potatoes or refined flours, not vegetables of wholegrains!

When it comes to pet foods, a small study did find acrylamide in certain brands of pet food. The selected formulas of kibble were based on derivatives and unnamed grains and thus can only be viewed as an example and not the indefinite proof. However, even this small research mentioned that the amount of acrylamides were “relatively moderate compared to human food” and several other studies demonstrated that acrylamide can be metabolised and detoxified.

Another study included three lab puppies that were fed burnt maize porridge by their breeder and died. Acrylamide was considered because the porridge was badly burnt and there were no bacterial or other infections found in pups through testing. However, the researchers only suggested acrylamide as a possible reason. It was also mentioned that the puppies have not been fully vaccinated and when they were operated on, the vets also found hard objects in their stomach, which turned out to be the undigested porridge, so it could also contribute to the tragic outcome.

Regardless of what you do, our exposure to acrylamide is unavoidable. We can potentially reduce the risk of over-exposure, but all living creatures will still end up with some of those molecules in their bodies for about 24 hours and then detoxify most of the substance provided the body, and the liver in particular, are healthy.

It is also incredibly important to remember that dogs are much closer to humans in their biology and reaction to disease than rodents, so chances are, dogs reaction to acrylamides will be similar to ours, not the ones of lab rats. When beagles were given very high doses of acrylamide in 1974, they developed neurological symptoms. A 1981 study on greyhounds reported that dogs suffered from nerve damage and difficulty swallowing after they were given pure acrylamide in a water solution. A 1984 study also showed that dogs absorbed the substance rapidly, but over 60% was later excreted naturally. In all three cases, however, the exposure was extensive and affected the nervous system, but did not cause cancer. 

Disease, neither human nor canine, is never limited to temperatures. Never. It is a combination of genetics, breed predisposition, health status, preventative and medical care, weight, lifestyle, emotions, choice of every product you’d have around your home (and choice of home and homewares too!), choice of tableware and cooking utensils, choice of ingredients and storage, activities and rest, places you visit and locations you avoid.

Saying that kibble is cancerous simply because it is processed at high temperatures is wrong and misleading. It instils fear, and fear leads to serious mistakes and can even puts you and your dog in a state of disease.

Cancer can happen to dogs and people who have been eating healthy food and living a healthy life and it may never happen to people or dogs who existed on very poor quality diet, smoked, drunk and moulded the sofa to replicate the shape of their derrier.

Dry dog is not evil and is definitely less problematic than anything you’d whisk yourself on a whim or feed your dog any commercial foods that are based on trends more than science. 

Use a trusted PFMA-registered manufacturer, consult a qualified nutritionist about creating a balance between your dog’s main diet and a few fresh and healthy treats, test your dogs vitals once a year if veterinary assessment alone does not give you a full peace of mind, use preventatives, groom well, stay active, create a dog-friendly home free from products and substances that can harm your cocker. 

Toxic ingredient substance in grapes that causes poisoning and kidney damage in dogs / grapes, raisins and sultanas toxic to dogs / nutrition for cocker spaniels / canine nutritionist UK / pet nutrition coach online / Perfect cocker spaniel: dog blog, book, spaniel grouping, puppy tips, diet information articles (C) Natalia Ashton

This substance in grapes may be the cause of poisoning – and found in your pantry too

Grapes are toxic to dogs. It’s the fact that most dog parents know about. The fruit is so dangerous for the pooches that eating grapes (19.6g per 1kg body weight), raisins or sultanas (2.8g per 1kg body weight) can damage the kidneys and be potentially fatal.

The exact mechanism of poisoning is still unknown and so far it has been linked to mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides, excessive amount of glucose in grapes, and even vitamin D.

And now there have been a breakthrough that may actually explain the cause of the problem.

According to a letter published in the April 2021 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the dogs may be reacting to tartaric acid also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate. The lightbulb moment happened when a dog ate some home-made play dough containing cream of tartar (a common pantry ingredient obtained as a byproduct of wine making and used as a baking ingredient) and developed symptoms similar to the ones caused by grapes.

The group of veterinarians who dealt with the poorly dog and  analysed the ingredients of his eaten “trophy”, reported the link to the JAVMA adding that grapes are one of the unique fruits (tamarind is the other one to think of) with high quantities of tartaric acid / potassium bitartrate – the substances that have been known to cause sensitivity reaction and poisoning in dogs in the past.

More research will be needed to confirm this theory. Until then, keep your dog away from grapes and remember to check dog treats and recipes for the cream of tartar because it is often used as a raising agent and flavour enhancer in dog biscuits. And if you love your Palvolva, you’d often use cream of tartar to achieve extra fluffy meringue and super voluminous whipped cream, so remember to never let your dog pinch those either.