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

Reasons why dog like to dig so much / Canine behaviour explained / Perfect cocker spaniel, dog blog and book guide to English cockers and puppy guide, grooming, diet, nutrition, training / (C) Natalia Ashton

Seven reasons why spaniels like to dig so much

Once in a while we get to share our lives with a dog who loves to dig. In fact, most of them do. It’s just some seem to be obsessed while others tend to grow out of the habit after escaping adolescence.

So why do they do it? Why some pups treat our garden as their play ground while others act in the manner of the obsessed treasure hunters?

Here are a few reasons to explain their behaviour – and help you solve the puzzle if your cocker is particularly keen on remodelling the lawn and flower beds like they are going out of fashion.

Fun

Puppies will dig because it’s fun and as a part of their learning and exploring development. You can desensitise them by using the area for playing, training and other activities that take the pup’s mind away from excessive digging. Puppy-proofing the garden can also help.

Prey drive

Cocker may leave the proper hunting for terriers, but they do love and can sniff out and hear any form of life crawling in the grass or soil. And some dogs will do their best to find out exactly what those creatures are by digging them out. Desensitising the pooch, using the area to play “find food” and scatter feeding (by throwing kibble on the grass for your dog to find), and reducing the unwanted guests whenever possible are the best solutions.

Boredom

Dogs may dig when they are either tired and frustrated or don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation during a day. Re-think and plan your routine. Giving your dog enough time to run and explore, adding a few training sessions and using food puzzle toys and interactive games should help.

Phobias

Dogs who suffer with fears (for example, a fear of loud noises, thunderstorm or fireworks) or severe separation anxiety may try to dig their way out of the confined area.

If this is the case, find out the reasons for your dog’s fears and work out a plan to support him. You can find some tips on separation anxiety and helping a dog get through the fireworks season on the blog, but consulting a behaviourist can be extremely useful.

Hot weather

Have you noticed how much cooler the soil or sand inside a hole is? This is precisely the reason why a dog may dig a cosy nest on a hot day. It’s their version of a cool mat! Avoid the problem by providing plenty of shady spots, cool mats and damp towels for your dog to use instead of digging holes.

The bone collector

Some dogs may dig a hole to hide items that are either particularly precious to them or to save something for a rainy day. The least destructive, this habit can be stopped by supervising your dog, distracting him with toys or cues, or keeping him out of the garden while he is playing with chews or toys he’s likely to turn into… let’s call them… preserves.

Nature calls

Pregnant bitches may dig to create a safe nest and the boys may dig spots near fences if they can smell a female in heat. The most effective way is to keep your dog under supervision when at home, and on a lead during walks.

Help them with kindness and love, and avoid any deterrents (chemical, electrical or noise-producing) that may stop the dog from digging, but only as a result of fear. Trust me, hugs and fun are much more effective!

 

Photo credit: ktphotography from Pixabay

How to stop puppy mouthing and biting / tips and training for English cocker spaniel puppy / dog blog / puppy training / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) Natalia Ashton

Q&A | Ouch, it hurts! Or how to stop puppy biting

Do you remember the day you brought your puppy home? It’s always so sweet, isn’t it? The cuddly, silky, chunky, adorable puppy napping in his basket and carefully yet curiously sniffing his new home… But give him a few days and the little beastie is here to transform the “aww” moments into the “ouch!” ones more often then we’d ever imagined or wished for….

Puppy biting is one of the realities every dog parent has to deal with. It is a part of puppyhood. We cannot avoid it. Instead we have to face it, make it bearable and use as a starting learning point for our own benefit long-term. We also need to prevent the worst outcome that most people describe as aggression. On very positive side, it’s worth mentioning that cocker spaniels are one of the gun dog breeds that were used to flush and bring prey without killing it. As a result, these dogs are more likely to have a “soft bite” because of their genetic background, so your chances of achieving success are much higher than, say, for a parent of a terrier.

First of all, it’s important to establish the difference between puppy mouthing and puppy biting.

All puppies mouth as a part of their play with mum, siblings and anyone else who comes their way. Mouthing helps them to find their position within the family and explore the environment as a part of their learning process.

The best thing you can do is anticipate and avoid any situation when the hard mouthing or biting can happen. You need to understand your pup’s body language and pay a lot of attention to his behaviour 24/7, but once you get an idea – you will always know the how, when, what and why.

If the puppy is mouthing during a play, looking relaxed and happy, you can stroke him and immediately redirect his attention to a toy without making much fuss or encouraging a play to get puppy overexcited.

A chew or stuffed toy is a good choice because puppy can bite and lick it, which can help him relax and relieve possible teething discomfort. If your puppy is relatively calm, you can throw a ball for him to fetch – it will take his attention away from your hand, make him feel really good about learning a new command (so praise him when he brings the toy back) and relieve any possible teething discomfort by sinking his needle-sharp teeth into the trophy. Some puppies do well with soft toys or even old towers and t-shirt tied into oversized knots (big enough to be interesting and “bite’able”, but not too big or small because it needs to suit your puppy’s mouth)

If you sense a slightest tension in your pup’s body language, the puppy gets overexcited or the mouthing becomes painful, you have three options:

… hold the puppy firmly but gently, then carefully remove your hand out of his mouth with a “disappointing cue” such as “ops” or “uh-oh”. Personally, I don’t like the use of “no” because it’s a bit meaningless, and many of us end up using it way too often and pointlessly (from the dog’s point of view);

… you need to stop interacting with the pup, stand/sit still and avoid temptation to react, talk to or cuddle him;

… or you can do what his mum and other pups would – make a high pitch sound meaning that it hurts – and slowly and calmly walk away. It is important not to run away from the puppy or keep on screaming and run away in a manner of windmill with all your body parts moving and flopping around (which is what little kids often do) ┬ábecause it will simply look like an irresistible game of chase, catch and bite!

You can also use the mouthing moment to let your dog know that it’s ok if your fingers are in or around his mouth. It will teach him that you can use fingers to examine his muzzle, inside and outside of his mouth, or clean teeth. It can be done as a part of a play when the puppy is in your lap, calm and content, and tries to have your finger in his mouth as a part of chill out time. It is up to you to decide when this “game” starts and ends.

Teaching your puppy the rules of mouthing and how to be gentle needs to begin from the day he first shows this behaviour. The longer you leave it, the worst it will become and the more difficult it will be to re-shape and stop. If you don’t act, the mouthing can signal the pup that it is totally ok to bite and eventually lead to serious consequences.

But puppies do bite, I hear you say. And yes, they do. The mouthing can become harder or turn into biting for several reasons.

Some puppies can use nipping and biting to seek attention or out of frustration because they aren’t getting what they want here and now. You need to stop this straight away and only react to the puppy if/when he stops, sits quietly and remains in a sitting position for a few seconds (you can build up from 5 to 30 seconds slowly). If he impolitely insists on rough play and biting because you are not paying attention or delivering treats and toys in a timely manner suggested by his royal highness – walk away calmly without saying a word.

Most puppies turn into little sharks during teething times because they really want to get those milk teeth out and because their gums really hurt. Giving him chew toys (I always choose rubber over nylon), soft unstuffed or extra strong toys, rope toys (make sure they are made of natural un-dyed cotton, ideally organic and always supervise!), suede toys, knotted towels and t-shirts in plentiful amounts can help a lot. Many puppies love destroying cardboard boxes, too. Stock up on toys like a kleptomaniac – and rotate them every few days to keep the pup interested. Don’t forget, once the puppy teeth are out, the grown-up set and gums still take time to settle, so don’t expect your junior to act as a responsible adult – he isn’t quite there yet. So toys and more toys, plus careful training are your allies.

A lot of puppies can also become nippy and aggressive when they are either overexcited or tired (puppies cry – puppies bite). I’ve written about it before, so Zoomies are so last year is the post for you.

Biting can also be your pup’s answer to fear or any moment or situation that makes him feel uncomfortable. Use socialisation, training and create calm environment to show him that life is generally pretty good, especially when you are a little cocker.

It is also important to remember to be gentle with the pup because he is very fragile and can be easily injured, not to shout him, or lock him in a spare room or crate as a way to punish him, work as a family involving everyone who ever plays with the little one, and most definitely teach your children the do’s and don’t’s of handling a young dog.

This stage will be over before you even realise. It just takes a little dedication and lots of patience to get through.

If you are looking for more information about English cockers and finding and raising a puppy, you may like my book Perfect cocker spaniel, which has a month by month puppy plan nestled nicely among the tips about breed, health, grooming, first aid, diet and training.

 

Image credit: cocker spaniel puppy by Switlana Symonenko (C) 123rf.com