Feeding Matters                                                                    

Diet – according to the Collins English Dictionary – means 1. food that a person or animal regularly eats; and 2. specific allowance of food to control weight or for health reasons.   One of the Oxford English Dictionary definitions is ‘feed on special food as medical regimen or punishment’!

I hope no Spinone is fed anything as punishment, however, according to my veterinary practice, approaching 60% of dogs today are overweight and many of these are in the obese category!   That could be defined as punishment, as excess weight can impact on heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, joints and lifespan as well as making life significantly less fun because of the inability to exercise and enjoy an active lifestyle.  One owner brought her dog to their surgery for dietary advice and on being asked to talk through its daily intake, responded with “In the morning we have tea and toast, at elevenses we have coffee and biscuits, then we have lunch which could be fish or mince, then we have afternoon tea and cakes ……”.   Stop!   Yes, the “We” was the owner and dog!   The poor dog never saw a bowl of nutritious dog food and consequently was not only overweight but also malnourished.   Sometimes our love of our canine companions is severely misplaced.

While making the hopeful assumption that there isn’t an owner feeding their Spinone a human diet, it is also fair to say that not every Spinone will respond successfully to the same canine diet, as one food is not necessarily good for all.   I suggest that if you put twenty Spinone owners in a room, you are likely to get twenty different views on what, when and how to feed a puppy, adult and veteran Spinone.   That’s not wrong – it’s just based on their experiences.  However, there are some constants that should be observed to ensure happy and healthy dogs. 

First, think of the age of the Spinone you are feeding, as at different life-stages your dog will require a balanced diet in appropriate quantities.   As humans we don’t eat the same diet in the same quantity throughout our lives, nor should your Spinone. 

The newly acquired puppy – up to 16 weeks – needs optimum nutrition at this vital and vulnerable stage when it needs to develop its own immune system away from its natural mother and adjust to life with a new family.   Assuming it comes from a good healthy dam and has been weaned correctly, feeding a good quality ‘puppy’ food is the next step and should give the required balance of ingredients and nutrients.  The ‘brands’ available will recommend different feeding weights or quantities, as well as number of meals per day, so be sure to check the daily dietary guide and remember as your puppy grows to check that you are increasing the quantity appropriately.   Do not be tempted to offer wheat based products, breakfast cereals and milk products at this stage – yes, the puppy may eat it but it is not good for him/her!   Some dogs, just like humans, find wheat difficult to digest, so keep this in mind if you have a dog that appears to have a digestive tract problem, as wheat may be the cause or an added irritant.

As a large breed the Spinone will take a while to reach its full adult weight and it is not good practice to rush this weight gain, as puppies can be very efficient at converting food energy into body fat, and a fat puppy can quickly become a fat adult, causing health

problems in youth and later life.   Simplistically, you should always be able to see your puppy’s ribs under its soft, squidgy skin!  Equally, feeding too much ‘high performance’ food may lead to growth problems and bone abnormalities.  (Some of you may recall my article about Lottie who had osteochondritis as a youngster, and the surgeon’s belief that a contributory factor to this may have been my feeding her the equivalent of ‘rocket fuel’ rather than ‘diesel’).   So treat with respect foods that are high in fats and proteins.

Spinoni, as with most large breeds, have a tendency to think they need more food than is actually required!   So beware feeding ‘on demand’ just because of those appealing and pleading eyes.   And, if you are attending training classes at any stage in your dogs life and using ‘tit bits’ as rewards, remember the quantity of food consumed (if your dog is training successfully!) can be quite significant, so make deductions for this in the feeding regime.   Also, those of us who feed the odd dog biscuit as a bedtime treat should take account of this in the daily food tally.

As your young Spinone grows you may simply decide to transfer it to the adult equivalent of your puppy ‘brand’.    Alternatively, moving over to a different ‘brand’ or one you have heard recommended is also fine, but take care when changing your dogs diet at this or any age.  It should never be done instantly but slowly over five or more days, gradually adding quantities of the new food to reducing quantities of the old until the proportions change and switch fully to the new food.   

It is also better to feed little and often rather than in one big ‘lump’ once a day.   In the big chested breeds one bulky meal per day is believed to leave the dogs more prone to bloat, as well as the increased likelihood that food not needed for exercise will be stored as fat.   So as a minimum, feed twice daily

As your Spinone nears young adulthood, it is time to consider its activity level and the exercise routine it will be asked to perform on a regular basis.   Is your dog going to be a companion who has garden access and occasional walks?   Or is it going to field trail and go shooting in season or participate in agility or obedience classes.   Each of these brings a different exercise discipline which needs to be taken into account when choosing the type, frequency and quantity of feeding.   It is important to match the input of food with the output of energy.   And, please remember, the recommended time to feed is one-two hours before or after exercise, not to feed and then go straight out to work!!

Also, and ok this should be a secondary consideration, what is going to be convenient?   For instance, do you travel with your dogs regularly, as we do?    Feeding a predominantly raw diet in a hotel, friends house or holiday cottage, may not be very practical or pleasant!   So would a ‘complete’ food be balanced for your dog and easier for you to deal with?    The raw diet suits many dogs and is currently increasing in popularity particularly, as many believe, it is more akin to the dogs native upbringing.   Be cautious, however, unless you can guarantee the source of your meats and check that any bones are not too brittle.   It is often hard to ensure with a raw diet that you are giving the full cocktail of nutrients so you may want to consider providing some supplements and/or raw vegetables.   The latter may be best digested as a puree or juiced to a liquid.  

The ‘complete’ or ‘dried’ meal is good for teeth and gums but if your dog finds it more palatable you can moisten these foods with warm water or a ‘gravy’.   There is a myriad of choice in this category and you will need to look at the contents as well as the nutritional breakdown to decide which you believe will best suit your Spinone, and as many a Spinone owner will testify, it has taken trial and error to find the right one for their dogs. 

As with the above, ‘tinned meats’ with or without ‘mixers’ suit some dogs and not others.   Certainly it seems, from an unscientific poll undertaken for this article, owners tell me that dogs seem to take to tinned foods more readily and the increased moisture/water content is probably more palatable.   Again, if this is your preference, do read the ingredients and nutritional information before you decide which ’brand’ is worth feeding and which is better left on the shelf.

In the book of the breed - The Italian Spinone by Carolyn Fry - Carolyn reminds us that “the Spinone in his native land is known as the companion of peasants rather than kings and so will have evolved on a diet of low protein and high carbohydrate”.   It is feasible, therefore, that an adult diet that reflects this is the most likely to be tolerated by today’s Spinone.   The food that I have offered my dogs for nearly three years states, in its guide to natural health care, “The best food to promote healthy digestive function should be high in complex carbohydrates with moderate levels of protein and fat.   This is best achieved by a diet based on cooked whole, unrefined cereal grains, with a fairly low meat and fat content.”   This would seem sound advice to keep in mind as you make your selection from the varieties on offer.

As your dog ages, consider how its work levels are slowing down and so reduce what you feed appropriately.   Food can, as in older humans, become a very important part of the older dogs day, so it may be appropriate to go back to a puppy routine, feeding four or more times in small quantities to aid digestion and enabling the food to be worked off fully.   Continue any supplements you may have been giving throughout life to ensure healthy bones, heart, digestion and a good coat.   If you can only add a few ‘extras’ the vital ones are omega fish oils, antioxidants and glucosamine/chondroitin.  

And, please be sure you do not feed anything that has colour-enhanced ingredients.   Bright reds, greens and yellows are not natural and so are a sure sign of added e-numbers!   These e’s your dog does not need.   As in children, e-numbers given to dogs can cause behavioural problems, skin allergies, intestinal irritation, lethargy or hyper-activity.  Apply the same ‘healthy eating’ check list to what you feed your dog as you do (or should do!) for yourself – that is, is it as natural as it can be, with no added colourants and preservatives, and is it unlikely to cause irritations internally or externally?   If it’s a yes, then you know you are doing the best you can.

If your dog is prone to weight gain and being a bit podgy, it is better to feed it consistently on a ‘light’ dog food rather than for a period on ‘normal’ food followed by a period on a ‘diet’ food.    Switching back and forth is a bit like ‘yoyo’ dieting in humans – so choose healthy eating for life, rather than binge and slim!!   If you do have an overweight dog, take advice before putting it on a drastic slimming regime!   And if you have a seriously overweight dog that cannot exercise at all, or very little, ask your vet to recommend a canine hydrotherapy facility where initial exercise can be taken without weight pressure until normal walking can be resumed.         

Equally concerning can be the dog that appears to be constantly underweight in spite of a seemingly balanced, nutritious and healthy feeding pattern.  Have you checked for the possible food intolerances?   Is wheat a mainstay of the diet?   Rice is far more easily digested.   Have you tried changing from a diet based around, say chicken, and introducing one based on lamb or venison?   Interestingly, chicken is considered to be one of the most easily tolerated foods but may be the cause of your dogs runny tummy and loss of weight.    

If you are nursing a temporary upset stomach then poached chicken with rice is the most frequently offered, though scrambled eggs are also recommended (personally, the latter is the last thing I would want if feeling unwell but your Spinone would probably be delighted!).

Finally, the total no-no?  Chocolate!   This is poison to a dog and, my advice, is not to be tempted by the ‘dog chocs’ either.   They can be mistaken by others as human chocolates that can then be given innocently but potentially lethally.   And seriously what dog in the wild would have foraged for chocolate?!   I understand that grapes (which my older dog loves, but no longer is given) are also a ‘no go’.

It was not the aim here to recommend any individual dog food, brand or food combining, more to reinforce some healthy principles.   There is a wealth of information and experience out there, so discuss feeding with other Spinone owners, as well as making use of the good food providers that give in-depth nutritional advice.   In the next newsletter it is planned to look at some of the health problems that may be caused and/or irritated by certain foods – if you have any examples you would like to share, for the benefit of other members, please contact the ISCGB via me, Gillie Gomarsall, on 01284 735222 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

For immediate health and dietary advice, please telephone Elaine Kirkham, Health Sub-Committee Co-ordinator, on 0121 444 5478.