Feeding & Dietary Guidelines

Introduction:

The majority of dogs are normal, healthy, non working, non breeding animals. These are by far the easiest to feed as they have the least demanding nutrient requirements and, for the most part, their problems can mostly be related to over-feeding rather than nutritional deficiencies. What we feed our dogs not only affects them directly, it can also play a role in the health, welfare and longevity of future generations. Although nutrition can’t, in itself, alter the genes a dog is born with, it can change the way some of those genes are expressed, by switching them ‘on’ or ‘off’. Regardless of what kind of diet is chosen (e.g. dry kibble/raw/tinned etc.), it is absolutely vital for owners to understand and meet the nutritional needs of their dogs, which can vary depending on many factors including size, age, activity levels and, of course, during pregnancy.

Dogs have developed as omnivores, meaning that they eat a wide range of different types of food ingredients to fulfil their nutritional requirements. They have teeth that are adapted to tear and shear, as well as flatter teeth that can crush plant material. The dog's intestine is also relatively long - about 6 times the length of the body - to allow fermentation of more fibrous plants. Meats, cereals and vegetables can all be used relatively easily by the dog's digestive system.

Both puppies and adults will thrive on all types of diet from complete (dry) foods, canned foods with or without biscuit, the BARF diet, raw meat and biscuit or home-made mixtures of fresh foods. The nutritional needs of dogs can vary through life depending on how active they are and their life stage. What type of food best suits your ESS is probably first going to be determined by the diet recommended to you by the breeder. You may wish, or find you need, to alter this as the puppy grows into adulthood. If this is the case, the choices open to you are enormous, so it should not prove difficult for you to choose which one you think is best for your ESS.

Puppies:

Puppies require large amounts of food in relation to their bodyweight, although do remember that their stomachs have a very limited capacity. As a guide, puppies need proportionally 2 -3 times as much food as an adult dog, because they need to supply energy for maintenance and activity, in addition to the materials needed for growth and bone development.

As a guide, an ESS up to 18 weeks old should be fed four meals a day at regular intervals. From 18 weeks up to 9 months, feed three meals a day at regular intervals. From 9 months to 18 months feed two meals a day at regular intervals. Over 18 months old only one meal per day is required, however, often it works best to continue to split the meals into two feeds, given morning and evening, as this can help to settle the dog better. You must decide what is best for your dog, depending on your own daily routine and the amount of exercise your dog is having, so that you can feed them accordingly.

Adults:

Adults should be fed a high quality, well balanced nutritional diet, appropriate to their specific needs. For example, English Springers that are working gundogs will have higher energy needs than less active dogs of similar size, sex and age. Dogs living outside (in kennels) especially in winter will require more food to maintain body weight than in other seasons.

Breeding Bitches:

Careful consideration and understanding should be given to the feeding of breeding bitches before, during and after mating, increasing food intake and quality of food particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy and during lactation (feeding puppies).

Stud Dogs:

Stud dogs too need to be kept in the peak of health and fitness and maintenance of a good diet is also important for them.

Older Dogs:

The older dog, as it perhaps becomes less active, also needs to have adjustments made to its diet, especially should there be health issues that arise because of its age. For the older and sometimes sick dog, the guideline are the same as for puppies and adults - provide a specially formulated diet which is tasty, digestible and which has appropriate nutrient content.

Some older dogs can suffer temporary loss of appetite, making it more likely for them to lose weight because of inadequate energy intake. This may require the addition of supplements of extra vitamins and minerals. You should speak to your Vet about this.

Specific Illnesses:

Specific illnesses in dogs too require special dietary treatment. For instance, the diabetic dog will require consistent energy and carbohydrate intake; dogs with kidney problems, a protein diet containing high quality protein; and dogs with heart problems, a low salt diet. All of these, of course, are likely to be needed in conjunction with other treatment(s), and Vets will often prescribe special proprietary diets, together with specific medication.

Essential Nutrients:

There are 37 ‘essential' nutrients that dogs need in their food. Commercially prepared dog foods are formulated to provide all of these in the right amounts and proportions, and great care is taken to ensure that there are foods available that suit dogs of all shapes and sizes, whether they are small or large breeds, puppies or adults. Although many nutrients are needed in higher quantities, some nutrients may need to be adjusted in other ways. For example, large breed puppies are susceptible to bone problems, if too many calories and calcium are given during this growth phase. Therefore, dog owners should always be aware of the risks of adding supplements to a carefully formulated puppy food. For a very young puppy the food needs to be easy to chew and eat.

General Feeding:

English Springer Spaniels are rarely fussy eaters and really do not mind being fed the same food each day. Don't fall into the trap of indulging your ESS by offering choice cuts, scraps at the table and special treats as an alternative to their diet. This may well cause the dog to turn its nose up at ordinary food, making it fussy because it has worked out that there is a possibility of something better on offer.

Should you find that your ESS is reluctant to eat what you are giving (or goes ‘off' its food):

  • Make sure that the diet you are offering is complete, balanced, digestible and with a high nutrient density.

  • Feed little and often, dividing the total daily intake into 3 - 4 meals.

  • Temperature can have a marked effect on palatability, and warming the food (in a microwave) can sometimes help considerably.

  • Include a little more fat in the diet (providing it does not upset the digestive process), as in addition to being a rich source of energy, it helps to increase the flavour of the food.

  • Always remove food that is not eaten after 30 minutes as fresh food is likely to prove more enticing.

  • Make sure there are no visible clinical signs of an underlying health problem (persistent diarrhoea, sickness, depression, temperature, excess drinking or urination).

The amount you feed each mealtime is an individual calculation, but you should be guided by the manufacturer's instructions in relation to the age and activity levels of your ESS. You should aim for a dog to be well covered, but still retaining a shape (i.e. be able to feel its ribs and see its waistline). Please remember not to be over generous when feeding your ESS, as those appealing, pleading eyes might just tempt you to give more food than you should!

Obesity is the single most common nutritional problem in dogs in the developed world. The cause in most instances is simply eating more than is needed by the body, resulting in storage of the excess body fat tissue. However, not feeding your dog enough food is also detrimental to their wellbeing.

For further guidance on feeding your dog, visit the Kennel Club website.

RVC VetCompass Canine Obesity Study - English Springers are a high risk breed

A study (published in March 2021) from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) VetCompass programme has revealed the scale of the overweight epidemic in dogs in the UK, with 1 in 14 dogs recorded by their vets as overweight each year. The study also found that English Springer Spaniels were the fourth most at risk breed found to be especially prone to weight gain, after Pugs, Beagles and Golden Retrievers.

The study included 22,333 dogs whose health was followed for a year, using anonymised health records of veterinary surgeries. As well as showing that specific breeds were at differing risk, the study also highlighted that being neutered and middle-aged were additionally associated with increasing chances of dogs being overweight.

  • 7.1% of dogs under veterinary care were recorded as overweight in a single year.

  • Eight breeds showed increased risk of overweight status compared with crossbred dogs: Pug (x 3.12), Beagle (x 2.67), Golden Retriever (x 2.58), English Springer Spaniel (x 1.98), Border Terrier (x 1.72), Labrador Retriever (x 1.70), Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (x 1.50) and Cocker Spaniel (x 1.32).

  • Dogs aged 6 to 9 (years) had the highest risk of overweight status (x 2.99) compared with dogs under 3.

  • Neutered males had the highest risk (x 1.90) compared with entire females.

Obesity carries severe welfare risks for dogs. Obese dogs have shortened life spans, reduced quality of life and higher frequencies of some important conditions including arthritis, breathing problems, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. This new study provides a much needed evidence-base for vets and owners to identify and protect those dogs most at-risk. Understanding which dogs are most at risk allows targeted weight control programmes in high risk dogs to either prevent or treat obesity. Click on the link below to read the full study.