Feeding Matters – more!

You are what you eat – so the saying goes - and this is as true for your dog as it is for you.  We are well educated today about the benefits of a ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ diet for our daily and long term health and well-being; evidence abounds about the many illnesses that are caused, and/or irritated, by an improper diet or food imbalance.   It is no different for your Spinone!    An incorrect diet may, at best, cause minimal, short term problems or, at worst, have longer term and more serious consequences.   A healthy diet keeps the whole body working in harmony.

As I have researched this topic it has become increasingly obvious that ‘feeding’ could fill an entire issue of the newsletter (possibly two) and there is a whole issue to be filled on dietary ingredients alone!   For this issue, however, it was agreed to look at some of the problems caused and/or irritated by diet.    (NB - It is not a definitive list nor is it a certainty that if your dog has one or more of these symptoms it is food induced, but it is a strong possibility so, for the health and happiness of your Spinone, investigate!)  

Here goes!

**        Has your Spinone itchy skin and ears; irritated/full anal glands; thick, smelly urine; bad breath and tooth tartar; a dry, dull coat; over waxy, irritated ears; discharge from eyes, ears; an unpleasant body odour?

**        Does your Spinone have occasional or persistent diarrhoea; mucous in his/her stools; occasional or frequent vomiting (maybe even making him/herself sick); lack of appetite; persistent flatulence?

**        Is your Spinone always moulting; licking or biting his/her feet; hyperactive; lethargic; irritable; overweight; underweight but eating everything he/she is given and more?

**        There is substantial evidence to suggest that an incorrect diet will increase the chance of our Spinoni developing diseases such as arthritis; epilepsy; diabetes; eczema; hormonal imbalance; skeletal growth problems; inefficient function of the liver, kidneys, bowel, heart; and certain cancers.  

In dogs, skin disorders and digestive problems (through to the elimination of waste products) are most often caused by incorrect diet.   Many of the above symptoms may be the result of the dog’s body trying to eliminate toxins (poisons) that are the result of a diet excessive in ingredients the dog cannot digest/absorb; a diet that contains an ingredient to which it is allergic/intolerant; or just caused by excessive feeding!     

To your dog every meal is the first and last, as it would be in the wild.   Left to his/her own devises it would hunt and scavenge to survive, eating a wide variety of food that came along – but most importantly it would be natural.   The animals and birds they would kill would be eaten in total (save for the fur and feather), supplemented by wild fruit and vegetables, eggs and fish (unless you’re our Lucy who won’t go in water!).   Not an additive, colourant or other chemical in sight – and these should be avoided at all costs.

Many dog food producers use cereals and grains as a major ingredient and these may be difficult to digest or act as an irritant.   Wheat and flaked cereals, either uncooked or partly cooked, are less digestible than rice (brown rice in particular), and soya and vegetable proteins are less digestible than animal proteins.   There is a school of thought that a food high in fibre is beneficial – maybe prompted by the fashion some years ago for the human high fibre diet – but it can cause problems because of the inability to be digested fully and the resulting unnecessarily large faeces.   For the first few years of our older dog’s life she suffered with her anal glands, requiring regular emptying, and it was even suggested she should have them removed.   A change of food, to one less fibrous, did the trick and she hasn’t had anal gland problems since!

A wide number of producers build their foods around chicken or lamb – said to be the least sensitive to our dog’s digestive system – but some dogs will be allergic to these and so it’s worth trying alternatives such as venison, rabbit or fish.  

Skin problems are very distressing for a dog and owner and can be one of the most difficult to diagnose – the cause can be an adverse reaction to one single or a combination of dietary ingredients and finding the culprit/s can take months.   As with some digestive intolerances, it may be worth trying an ‘elimination’ diet, starting with one food and slowing introducing others, one at a time, until the trigger to the problem is found.  But, with skin allergies, it must also be kept in mind they can be caused by other factors, so consider these too – fleas, house dust mites, wool or synthetic covers on dog bedding, household furnishings, detergents and, one of the most common, your carpet!   There is indisputable evidence that dogs and carpet should not meet!

Back to diet! 

And here are just a few suggestions, from a list that could be much, much longer!

Don’t be tempted (by those pleading eyes) to feed leftovers from your table or add ‘extras’ to your dogs normal food as they probably contain too much sugar, salt, fat or seasoning and may affect the skin, digestion or behaviour.   For example, look at the affect too much sugar can have on a child!   A food high in protein may also cause your dog to be over-boisterous therefore, if your Spinone is not working his/her socks off on a daily basis, a low protein diet may suit him/her better.    

Don’t overdo the supplements, unless specific additions are recommended by your vet, as these can upset the balance of nutrients provided in a ‘complete’ dog food and may cause problems rather than prevent them.  Too much calcium, for example, can reduce the benefits of other vitamins and minerals and, to be honest, if a good quality food is being given additional calcium should not be needed.   Putting hot water on some ‘complete’ foods will kill the vitamins and minerals it contains, so use warm water only.

Don’t feed your dog with food that is too hot or too cold, it needs to be warm/room temperature, and make sure the contents of the bowl can be chewed.  A runny ‘soup’ or ‘slosh’ is to be avoided as these can cause digestive problems.    And do avoid those sachets of meat that dogs think are so tempting – they are the equivalent of us living on a diet of ready meals! Yuk.  (Thankfully, I don’t think they make sachets big enough for a Spinone!)

Don’t let your dog bolt his food (how? I hear you cry) as it causes digestive problems and possibly mood swings due to the sudden increase in blood sugar.   Rather than fill a bowl with your dogs food, place the food round the garden (yes, seriously) to replicate how he/she would eat in the wild.   It will take your dog longer to search and eat, slow digestion and also be much more stimulating.  If you cannot bring yourself to scatter your dog’s meals, try feeding at least one meal a day from a toy such as a Kong, as this will slow him/her down while keeping him/her occupied and stimulated for some time.

And, (a bit of a hobby horse of mine) don’t be convinced that the food offered through your veterinary surgery is somehow superior – the manufacturers of these ‘brands’ make a marketing decision to offer their food via this route, as they see the outlets as an endorsement of their product.   (I have a friend who chose one of these ‘science based’ foods for their young Spinone resulting in a few distressing months of diarrhoea, until the cause was realised).  Of course, if your dog has a very specific illness your vet should be able to provide or recommend a suitable product or feeding regime that is tailored to aid the impaired organ or function.   Otherwise you need to take a ‘holistic’ approach to feeding the whole Spinone.

So, taking it as read that a correct and balanced diet is what we seek for our Spinoni, achieving it is not that easy.  With the vast range of foods available, and each producer claiming theirs is the right one for our dogs, deciding what to feed is, in itself, daunting.   Legislation does not require animal food manufacturers to list every ingredient the bag or tin contains, so the contents can be altered without necessitating any change to the label, leaving us unaware of what we are actually feeding.   (How awkward is that if you need to adopt an ‘elimination’ diet to discover the cause of your dog’s intolerance or allergy?) Many foods only list 50-55% of the contents, leaving the other 45% in doubt!   Would you eat 45% of your food not knowing what it is?  Buy only the foods that list 100% of the contents, so you know exactly what ingredients you are feeding - this is a priority if you have a dog showing signs of allergy, food intolerance, poor digestion, behaviour swings.     If in doubt, call the manufacturer and ask them to tell you!   Most of them have a ‘help’ line and if they cannot be exact or their response is vague, ask yourself why? and maybe change producer.   Make use of those producers who offer a ‘nutritional help’ line as they should be able to give you very individual help relating to your dog/s.   (I have always found Burns to be very helpful and informative – their nutritional help line is 0800 083 6696 and they have a web site – www.burns-pet-nutrition.co.uk).

If you have an example of a diet related problem and the solution you found, to share for the benefit of other members and their dogs, 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.