hidden toxic ingredients in all natural dog food / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) English cocker spaniel breed and puppy guide, dog blog, canine nutritionist, dog nutrition tips, grooming advice, puppy advice

Natural dog food | Love at first sight that needs a second look

“My dog eats all natural diet because it’s the best”… Pretty common to hear and seems very obvious statement to use too, right? Now stop and think. Cyanide is natural too… But would you eat or feed your dog a diet if it was laced with cyanide? I doubt it. Yet the substance could be a part of an all natural diet by definition. Let the drama unfold…

What does the “natural diet” actually mean? According to AAFCO guidelines, “a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to psysical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced or subjected to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic, expect in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”

In other words, any dog food labeled as “all natural” should not contain anything synthetic apart from certain vitamins, minerals, and added amino acids.

Natural dog food is most definitely a better choice than anything made with synthetic colourings, artificial flavourings and E numbers (note – not all E numbers are necessarily bad, but many aren’t good for living beings and those are the ones I mean when saying “E numbers”) and something I would feed my pups. However, I am a person of “buts” and my “but” for the all natural dog food is what it is made of.

It is very easy to assume that choosing a natural dog food will be beneficial for your pooch. Most people would trust the manufacturers for doing all the hard work of prepping, testing and getting “the best of this” and “the best of that” awards. Because most people are normal and don’t manically check every word on a label like I do.

And this is where the problems start. Suddenly a dog on “all natural” diet develops an odd diarrhoea or tummy aches. He may start to itch. Or simply look off colour. The caring parents take him to the vets who struggle to identify the exact cause of the symptoms and do their absolute best to help the dog recover. Sometimes it involves medication, a battalion of tests, and – as one of the last resorts – a change of diet.

Other pet parents skip the vet and seek advice online. Which usually leads to turning to a completely different type of diet because “it totally cured” other dogs’ symptoms, or natural aids to avoid “toxic drugs”

And yes, some dogs do feel better because ultimately their symptoms are either helped with by medicine or, and this is the bit that requires attention, the alternative food is free from an ingredient that caused the chaos and discomfort.

The biggest mistake that can happen at this point is that the pet parent will likely blame the chicken, beef or grains because he’s been told those were the worst offenders. As a result the dog is put on a grain-free diet or veterinary formula (as those are the easiest to digest and absorb), which he seems to be ok with… If he isn’t ok, another diet is introduced.

Any loving pup parent will do their absolute best to stick with “all natural” diet that may or may not send him to the point of bankruptcy because dogs rightly deserve the very best.

And yet very few people will pause during this entire gastronomic adventure to examine the full list of ingredients. It would be a very un-natural thing to do for an all-natural practically perfect formula, right?

But what if I asked you not only read the list in full, but check every single ingredient against the list of poisons and the database of toxic and harmful plants? I do it every time I come across new pet brand, formula or a novel ingredient, or see a dog who suffers from symptoms that came out of nowhere.

To give you a few examples here are a few ingredients that I casually found in some of the most popular dog foods made by reputable pet manufacturers… Are there anything you could find in a formula or treats you feed your spaniel right now?

Angelica plant contains araliin. It is toxic to dogs and causes skin irritation, excessive salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Avocados contain persin that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and damage to the heart.

Almonds (especially the bitter ones) are a source of cyanogenic glycosides or cyanide compounds that are toxic to dogs. They can also cause diarrhoea, vomiting, discomfort, bloating, gas, lack of appetite and lethargy and if the nuts (rather than low fat skins) are used, the excess fat can increase the risk of pancreatitis.

Saskatoon berries are another source of cyanogenic glycosides and can cause problems, especially when berries are used whole and contain seeds.

Any citrus fruit can irritate the gut and some can also be high in psoralens.

Chamomile contains bisabolol, chamazulene, anthemic and tannic acids that can lead to skin irritation and allergy-like symtpoms, vomiting and diarrhoea. Using chamomile long-term can increase the risk of internal bleeding.

Cinnamon is praised for being really good for dogs, however it can cause mouth irritation, breathing difficulties, digestive issues, vomiting, liver abnormalities and changes in heart rate. If cinnamon is replaced by cassia (fake cinnamon) it can be even more problematic. Cinnamon is not considered toxic because it is not fatal to dogs and an average dog would need to consume quite a bit to become unwell, but I am not convinced and don’t see anything that can give my dog liver issues or skin irritation as particularly safe either.

Garlic can cause formation of Heinz bodies and lead to fatal Haemolytic anaemia.

Glycerine also known as glycerol (which was originally used in the 1800s to make dynamite) can be found in dog treats and some food that are marketed as “natural and junk free”.  However it has been linked to bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, frequent urination and even symptoms of kidney failure. There isn’t enough research to support these claims, so all I can say at this point is that my dogs did react to chews made with glycerine, it is documented that glycerol has laxative effects, available studies say that “the long-term use cannot exclude side-effects” and “clinical correlations in puppies are unknown”, so I am cautious.

Lavender‘s active ingredients linlool and linalyl acetate can cause nausea and vomiting.

Leeks are a part of Allium family (same as garlic and onions) and may cause blood abnormalities and haemolytic anaemia.

Marjoram isn’t fatal to dogs, but it is toxic and leads to gut irritation, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Parsley seems innocent enough. It can be beneficial in small quantities and is a good source of vitamin C. However, the herb is a source of furanocoumarin, can cause problems in dogs with kidney problems and should never be given to pregnant bitches.

Spinach and kale are a source of oxalic acid and can increase the risk of kidney stones in dogs as well as reduce absorption of calcium from the diet.

Yucca is a source of saponins and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea because it irritates the gut. Chia and quinoa are also rich in saponin. Chia can also lead to intestianl blockages.

Now imagine what can happen when a pet food contains not one but several of the above ingredients? Even though some can be used in very small quantities, it does not make them less harmful. Remember that the toxic effects can build up over time and only appear when the problem is already quite serious.

So please, always check the tiny writing on your dog food label. It may take time to go through the whole list (I advocate basic foods, with a limited number of ingredients – it’s simple, it’s less likely to harm), but once you do you will learn, remember and avoid mistakes in the future. For your dog’s sake.

Also remember that all reputable ingredient supplies and pet food companies should be registered with PFMA. Is your dog food brand listed there? Worth a look.

If you want to be thorough it is worth checking any alerts and reports on food recalls too.

If you need more information, there are pages and pages covering dog nutrition and specific ingredients in my books, Perfect cocker spaniel and Beyond the Doughnut.

 

Photo credit: Pexels from Pixabay

Diet & nutrition advice for dogs \ Can dogs eat pumpkin \ benefits of pumpkin for dogs / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog / breed, puppy, grooming, nutrition advice for english cocker spaniels (C)

Can my dog eat… pumpkin?

Pumpkin season is one of the true joys of autumn. They are so adorable – and delicious, too.

CAN A DOG EAT PUMPKIN?

YES, absolutely!

This vegetable (though it’s actually a fruit) is a fantastic source of beta-carotene – a pigment, vitamin and antioxidant that gives pumpkin its orange colour. Beta-carotene takes care of the eye health and maintains resilient immune system. It also protects the body from free radical damage, which may reduce the risk of some cancers.

Pumpkin is also packed with B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and copper that are important for energy production and metabolism, healthy nervous system, and strong bones.

The fibre in pumpkin helps to maintain healthy digestion.

Pumpkin has also being praised for being a natural antibiotic, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent.

Studies also showed that including pumpkin in a diet could reduce formation of kidney stones, improve weight loss in obese dogs, protect heart and liver, and reduce dermatitis.

Always use food-grade fresh pumpkin – not the one left on a porch on a Halloween night. Always cook it before feeding to the dog and watch the quantities – 1-2 tsp per day is all a cocker needs.

 

Photo source: Matthias Böckel from Pixabay

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