Nutrition for English Springer Spaniels – Feeding your ESS Properly

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to English Springer Spaniels" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk - DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk - DVM

Springers seem to fall into one of two categories when it comes to food: picky, delicate eaters or ravenous, greedy dogs. Regardless of how your Springer eats, nutrition plays an important role in his health. A healthy diet will lead to a healthy dog. But there is so much choice in the pet store. This chapter will teach you all about nutrition and what to look out for in a quality food.

Importance of Nutrition

Health and nutrition are closely intertwined. To ensure your dog is healthy, he must eat, and successfully absorb carbohydrates, fat, proteins, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. If any part of the digestive system is not functioning well, it will affect the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. Diets can aid in improving the health of these dogs, as the quantities of each nutrient can be adjusted to ensure they are receiving the correct amounts to allow the body to function optimally.

English springer spaniel eating
Photo Courtesy – Billy McKechnie

Diets also affect the body in the opposite way. If a poor-quality diet has the wrong quantities of nutrients, then it will have a negative impact on health. For example, if a puppy is fed a diet with too little calcium and phosphorus, his bones will not grow appropriately, or if an elderly dog is fed a diet high in sodium, it will cause the kidneys to work harder than they need to. Therefore, it is imperative that you feed your Springer a quality, balanced diet, appropriate for his age and energy levels. Springers are naturally energetic, and therefore most will benefit from a slightly higher calorie diet than a normal dog food. This is especially the case if you own a working Springer.

Springer Spaniels also benefit from diets which are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are found in oily foods such as fish and seeds. They are excellent at maintaining the luscious coat of your Springer, as well as keeping his very active joints well lubricated. If you have an older Springer with arthritis, which will be discussed further in Chapter 18, omega fatty acids will also reduce the inflammation in his sore joints.

Commercial Food

When you first bring home your new Springer Spaniel puppy, it is best to initially continue the food the breeder has been giving, as long as it is a commercial puppy food. The stress of moving home can upset the sensitive stomach of a puppy, and changing the food to a new rich diet is likely to upset it even further. Therefore, to avoid causing diarrhea, allow your puppy to settle for a week, then slowly change over to your new food, over the course of a couple of weeks.

English springer spaniel dog food
Photo Courtesy – Billy McKechnie

Choosing a new food for your dog can seem daunting. The pet store, vet clinic, supermarket, and internet, between them, offer you hundreds of options. You must first decide whether you wish your Springer to eat dry or wet food, or a mixture of both. Dry food provides concentrated ingredients, so you will need less volume, compared to wet food, to provide your dog with the same number of calories. Dry food also helps to keep teeth healthy, as when your dog bites through the kibble, it will provide friction against the teeth. This means less tartar will build up in the mouth.

Wet food, however, will have fewer starchy filler ingredients, which means it is closer to the natural food a dog would have eaten in the wild. It also means it will not swell in the stomach, like dry food. Swelling food can be a problem as it can make your Springer feel like he needs the toilet urgently. Wet food is also significantly more palatable, so for Springers who are picky, wet food might be the answer.

After deciding whether to feed dry food, wet food, or a mixture, you must choose the life-stage. Puppies should always be fed a puppy or junior food. These foods are higher in protein, calcium, and phosphorus, which are important for growing bodies. When your puppy reaches full size, which is usually between 9 and 18 months, he can slowly be moved onto an adult food over the course of a couple of weeks. Adult food can have several forms: normal, active, sensitive, breed specific, etc. Springers are usually best suited to either normal or active diets, depending on your dog’s energy levels. For later in life, there are diet options which are for specific ailments, such as kidney disease or liver disease, as well as senior foods, which will be discussed further in Chapter 18.

If you are not sure about which food to choose, you can ask your local pet store consultant, vet, or veterinary nurse. All these people will have had training about the diets they sell and are useful sources of information. Rest assured though, whatever food you choose, if it is on the shelf, it must have met AAFCO standards.

BARF and Homemade Diets

Bones and raw food (BARF) and homemade diets are becoming increasingly popular in the canine world, especially amongst working dog homes. The idea behind them is that you know exactly what you are feeding your dog and can source it locally and know that it is non-GMO. Also, the food can be made up of quality ingredients and not full of bulking ingredients. The difference between BARF and homemade diets is that BARF diets contain raw meat and uncooked bones, while homemade diets consist of cooked meats and no bones.

The benefit of BARF diets in particular is that they are very similar to what dogs would have eaten in the wild. BARF and homemade diets both come with considerable risks though. Most owners do not consult a veterinary nutritionist when first deciding the recipes for their dogs. As a result, the recipes are often imbalanced, which can lead to stunted growth, weak bones and bladder stones. In addition, BARF diets bring with them considerable health and safety risks. Raw food can contain organisms such as Salmonella and E.coli, which can cause major illnesses in vulnerable people. Therefore, if you have elderly people or children in your house, you should advise them not to touch your dog if he is on a BARF diet because bacteria may be transferred to the coat via the dog’s saliva when he grooms himself. The raw bones are also a concern in a barf diet. In theory, they should be able to be digested by the stomach acid; however, unfortunately this is frequently not the case, and therefore your dog may be at higher risk for perforations or blockages from these bones.

Pet Food Labels

All pet food labels must follow set guidelines, if they comply with AAFCO standards. The first thing to look at on a pet food label is the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity. Therefore, if chicken is first on the list, this will be the main ingredient. A quality food should have a meat-based protein as the first ingredient. However, it is worth noting that ground-up dried meat, known as meal, contains 300% more protein than its fresh counterpart per gram, and therefore can be much further down the list in weight, yet contribute the same, if not more, protein than the ingredient at the top of the list.

English springer spaniel trainingThere are many potential ingredients in dog food. Meats make up the majority of the protein content, and can be derived from chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, fish, venison, and duck. These proteins can be pure meat or meat-derivatives, but the label must state the source. Some meats are more allergenic than others, and therefore if your Springer suffers with itchy skin, venison and duck are better than common meats, such as chicken or beef.

Fish proteins are excellent sources of omega-3 and omega-6, which, as discussed earlier, contribute to healthy joints, skin, and coat.

In addition to meat ingredients, there are usually many different types of grains, vegetables, and sometimes fruits. Grains can make some dogs gassy, and anecdotally, can cause skin reactions. Therefore, they may not be suited to all dogs; however, if your dog does not react to grains, they can be excellent sources of dietary fiber to keep your dog regular. Vegetables and fruits are ingredients which contribute most of the minerals and vitamins to the diet. You will most commonly see potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, and carrots listed on the ingredients list. These are all excellent sources of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as magnesium, potassium, and iron. In combination, this will help keep the eyes and brain healthy, keep the heart beating in a regular rhythm, boost the immune system, improve the production of red blood cells, and aid in nerve conduction.

Also on the label is the “Guaranteed Analysis.” This details the percentage of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, fiber, ash, and moisture in the diet. These details are per gram of ready-to-eat food, and therefore cannot be directly compared without first doing some calculations.

For example, if a wet food is 75% wet, then it means the dry content is 25%. If the protein level is then 5%, this can be converted by dividing by the dry matter percentage: 5/0.25 = 20% protein on a dry matter basis. Then if a similar dry food, which you wanted to compare, had a moisture content of 10% and a dry content of 90%, with a protein level of 20%, the calculation would be as follows: 20/0.9 = 22.2% protein on a dry matter basis.

In conjunction with the ingredients, once you have adjusted the guaranteed analysis, it is a great tool to analyze the food.

Weight Monitoring

If you are struggling to keep your Springer at an appropriate weight, you should seek the advice of your veterinarian or veterinary nurse. They will be able to advise what would be the most appropriate weight of your dog. Often, it is as simple as feeding the recommended requirements on the packaging for the target weight, rather than the actual weight of your dog, which will help adjust his weight. However, if this does not work, you can increase or decrease the food intake by 10%, and gradually assess his weight change on a monthly basis.

The best way to monitor weight, though, is not through figures, but instead, body condition scores. An ideal body condition score is 4 to 5, and the range goes from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese). The scores are standardized for anybody to use, and are easy and repeatable from dog to dog. Springers will require hands-on assessing, as their luscious long fur may obscure the outline of the ribs, waist, and abdominal tuck. These are the descriptions of the following scores:

BCS 1 = Emaciated. Ribs, lumbar vertebral projections, and bony prominences around the pelvis are clearly visible. There is severe loss of muscle and no body fat.

BCS 3 = Underweight. Ribs can be felt with ease and might be visible. Not much fat present. The abdomen tucks up at the flank and a waist can be seen from the top. Some bony projections can be seen. Easy to see top of lumbar vertebrae.

BCS 5 = Ideal. Minimal fat over the ribs and can easily feel them. Waist and ribs are visible when standing above the dog. Tucked abdomen when viewed from the side.

BCS 7 = Overweight. Fat present over ribs and need some pressure to feel them. Fat deposits over rump and around tail base. Cannot easily view waist. Abdominal tuck present but slight.

BCS 9 = Obese. Lots of fat around the base of tail, spine and chest. Abdomen may bulge behind the ribs. No waist or abdominal tuck. Fat deposits on neck and limbs.

For many Springer Spaniel owners, weight can become a constant battle. You may have a picky eater with boundless energy, and putting on weight seems impossible. Alternatively, you may have a Springer who will eat the bowl that the food is put in, if given the chance, and keeping the weight off is a constant challenge. However, with the advice of your veterinarian or veterinary nurse, you will certainly be able to find a quality food which will help you with your battles, and ensure your Springer is as healthy as can be.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to English Springer Spaniels" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk - DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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