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

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”.

If you would like to learn more about breed-specific nutrition for the English cockers, you will find it in my book, Perfect cocker spaniel.

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.