English cocker spaniel puppy eating dog food (C) Perfect cocker spaniel / English cocker spaniel blog, book, puppy tips, advice, grooming tips, nutrition, canine nutritionist / Natalia Ashton

Does less poop really mean better health?

Today I wanted to have a quick chat about a study that recently came out from the university of Illinois because I found it, how should I put it… disappointing? Especially when it was reviewed to reach a wider audience – you and me, in other words.

The study that included beagles fed with fresh food was run by a few people with PhDs, which to any layman would most definitely look like a sure sign of quality and confidence. The beagles got some fresh food made with a few ingredients and naturally produced less poop compared to a group fed kibble.

The scientists then concluded that fresh diet is better for dogs, but did it in a way that could easily mislead any normal non-science’y dog parent and, as a result, potentially put their dog’s health at risk.

Granted, I don’t have a PhD, but I do know nutrition. That is why I need to explain a few study statements and my concerns.

First of all, “producing less excrements” isn’t really a new thing. It’s just another trend that was mimicked on countries like Japan where high urban population and clear lack of space meant that dogs foods had to be adjusted to result in less poops. It had nothing to do with dog’s health, but obvious need for yet another space-saving know-how.

Secondly, the diets included “two fresh diets made using only USDA-certified human-grade ingredients” The ingredients were listed yet it wasn’t clear who created the diet, whether or not it was nutritionally balanced or how it would affect the dog long-term (the feeding regime only took 4 weeks, which isn’t enough to see any abnormalities or deficiencies should they happen, especially in healthy dogs previously fed a balanced complete diet)

The researches tested the dogs before the trial and after the trial and noted that blood test results did not change. Which means that the dogs were good to go on their original food.

The worrying part is that I can easily picture a health-conscious pup parent cooking up a feast using the list of ingredients mentioned in the study review thinking that it’s the best thing for his dog because “a guy with PhD said so”. And if one can’t trust google, one can surely trust a guy with PhD, right?

Also “human grade” fresh food doesn’t actually mean that kibble would not be made with “human grade” ingredients. In fact, there are strict rules to ensure that our dogs don’t end up eating road kill or any animal that died of natural causes or old age. The dogs would eat the same cows and chickens as their human family, but different, less palatable (in human view) parts of them (think hearts and organ meats, not hooves or feathers).

Then the study went into a human diet (really?) to say that people would be more satisfied with fresh food than processed food and as a result, would lose weight and be healthier.

The only problem is that processed human food is not the same as a good quality kibble. Ask any board-certified nutritionist – and they will confirm this. Letting people assume that kibble is nothing more than a dog version of a human junk from a famous food chain is not just wrong, it is harmful.

Now… the trendy microbiota…. because they simply had to mention gut bacteria as some of the levels changed. Not for better, not for worse. They just changed. But the study folks assumed it would be better because their previous studies said so. Which is so not PhD…

But if we do talk about microbiome and good bacteria, we need to jump straight to the beginning of this study and the rice and broccoli vs “horrible” kibble and carbs comparison.

Yes, kibble often results in more poop. But is it really a bad thing? Nope. Not. At. All. A good quality complete and balance kibble will contain good quality carbohydrates and fibre that will add bulk to the faeces. But it is vital to remember that besides the bulk, good carbs and fibre can play an important role in keeping your dogs healthy…

How?

Well, the fibre itself will work like a brush to rid the gut from toxins and bacteria.

The soluble fibre will feed the good bacteria.

The good bacteria will take care of your dog’s digestive health, immunity, vitamin levels, reduce risk of allergies and possibly cancers.

The insoluble fibre will also look after the anal glands.

And carbohydrates and fibre will supply vitamins and minerals that your dog may not always get from other foods.

Plus, good carbs will keep the dog fuller for longer and may help him maintain healthy weight or even loose some.

On the other hand, an unbalanced fresh diet may cause deficiencies and affect digestive health due to lack of fibre. The reduction of carbohydrates and fibre also means that they are either replaced with another form of bulking ingredients that dogs may not always be able to digest so well or without side-effects (think bloating). Alternatively, less fibre and carbohydrates often mean higher fat content, which can increase the risk of weight gain, pancreatitis and any disease caused by excess weight.

And upon checking on some foods used in the study as “better alternatives” I noticed ingredients such as garlic (think, Heinz bodies and risk of fatal haemolytic anaemia), potatoes (nightshades and risk of arthritis, plus potential link to DCM), spinach (think oxalates and risk of kidney stones), and pea fibres (potential bloating and increased risk of DCM) to name a few.

It absolutely pains me to say negative things about a study because I really love science and this is a bit like a car crush…

 

Image credit: cocker spaniel puppy by Switlana Synonenko via 123rf.com

study shows effects of different types of music on dogs / music to help anxious dogs relax / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) Dog blog about English cocker spaniels, dog behaviour, diet, nutrition, health, puppy tips (C) Natalia Ashton

The sound of music. Study shows, our pooches have their preferences too.

I came across a curious study the other day and wanted to share it here. I have mentioned the effect of music on my pups in the past, so it was interesting to see some research into the subject.

The work was conducted in 2020 and examined several previous studied that involved dogs of various breeds and age groups placed in different environments.

The first interesting bit of the study for me was the possible difference between breeds and their physical characteristics suggesting that dogs with pointy ears might perceive any music sounds differently compared to dogs with floppy ears. Which, of course, makes sense, but not something I’d think of immediately.

The second discovery was about the type of music. Several studies showed that dogs preferred classical music to rock or pop music. The dogs exposed to the classical music began acting more calm, seemed more relaxed and less prone to barking, and their heart rate appeared reduced.

On the other hand, rock music increased excitement, became more vocal and showed increased in stress hormone levels.

Does it mean, we could use some soft classical music as another way to reduce anxiety and stress in our dogs? Absolutely. Just bear in mind that you may need to change your play list every 5-7 days to maintain the positive effects.

I guess it’s time for a drink and some Chopin now.

Signs how to tell if a dog is happy, sad or stressed / dog body language / English cocker spaniel blog / Perfect cocker spaniel (C) Beyond the Doughnut / tips, advice on spaniel grooming, nutrition, diet, care, puppy tips (C) Natalia Ashton

How to tell if your dog is happy or sad & ways of bringing joy into their lives

When we know that our dogs are happy, we feel happier too. Even though we don’t speak the same language, dogs have plenty of signs and ways to express their feelings to us. We just need to read them.

A happy dog has a soft dreamy gaze and relaxed eyelids, his lips are loose, the forehead is wrinkle-free, his body is completely relaxed, the ears are floppy and the tail is raised to the mid-level and wagging, often so much that their entire behind seems to be wiggling and dancing.

A happy dog will seek engagement with you by greeting you with great enthusiasm, initiating fun time, play bowing or bringing a toy.

They will also enjoy their walks and meal times. And blissfully snooze for hours often stretching out on their backs to take most of your sofa.

And what about a stressed dog? Surprisingly, one of the first signs is an exaggerated yawn. A stressed pooch will have tension in his body, try to avoid eye contact, have enlarged pupils, raised eyebrows or tension in his forehead and ears, which he is likely to keep pulled back or erected and pointy (depending on a breed and situation).

The tail of a stressed dog may look limp and low.

Other signs include lip licking (especially if the stress is caused by fear), drooling, tight mouth, tensed body that may start trembling (some dogs also like to “shake it off” to release any tension), inability to settle, scratching, panting, vocalisation and reactivity to any sign of movement or any sound however minor.

They may struggle to relax or fall asleep. The changes in stress hormone levels can alter dogs’ appetite and ability to digest and utilise nutrients – some dogs refuse their food completely, others may develop odd eating habits.

Stressed dogs may start to destroy the furniture or rip out carpets as their way to relieve stress through chewing, others may suddenly forget their house training habits and urinate or defecate at home instead.

How to keep your pooch happy?

Feed your dog a complete balanced diet, so his body gets all the nutrients it needs for the happy brain.

Stick to a schedule, especially if your dog is prone to anxiety.

Choose activities that suit your dog’s age to avoid overstimulation.

Have at least one walk a day and allow your pooch to run and exercise depending on his age and physical abilities.

Visit new places, especially if your dog is an adventurer and enjoys these activities.

Move to the country. According to the 2020 study published in Scientific Reports, urban dogs were more fearful and stressed than the dogs living in more natural areas

Let your dog sniff! Sniffing is such a wonderful stress relief for all dogs. It helps them to relax yet keeps the brain happily stimulated.

Use mental stimulation games – anything from sprinkling a handful of kibble in the grass for the dog to find to using puzzle toys to taking a few agility lessons. Dogs love to learn, so let them do it! Learning and exploring in a safe environment plus plenty of praise helps a dog to build his confidence and feel positive towards changing environments and situations. Remember to use positive reward-based methods of training – not punishment of any kind.

Let your pooch enjoy a safe chew or a stuffed toy – licking and chewing are really relaxing.

Don’t skip on annual vet checks and preventative treatments. A healthy pooch is a happy pooch!

Spent some quality time with your dog every day – playing, cuddling, walking – anything that makes both of you happy.

Give your dog a massage. Many canines enjoy these touches and find them extremely relaxing.

Play a few tunes that dogs find relaxing. A study published in January 2020 showed that classical music has a calming effect on dogs, particularly those in stressful environments

Learn your dog’s habits – not every dog likes to be touched by strangers, some would rather share their time with people than dogs, others would prefer to avoid certain pooches or places.

Stay happy. Several studies pointed out that dogs synchronise their stress hormone levels with the ones of their owners (also known as emotional contagion), especially if you suffer from the long-term stress.