Tag Archives: feeding


Omega 3 – the super oil for brainy dogs

Omega 3 oils are the new trendy supplement in both the pet food and human market, but unlike many dietary fads, Omega 3 oils are a true ‘super supplement’.

Dogs are facultative carnivores and evolved from wolves (in fact they now share the same name, Canis lupus). Their wild ancestors would have thrived on a diet of wild game that had in turn lived on a diet of wild grasses. Omega 3 oils are made by grasses and algae and therefore, such grass fed animals are a rich source of the Omega 3 oil which dogs cannot manufacture on their own.

Fast-forward to today and sadly many of our farmed animals do not have access to pasture and therefore their own level of Omega 3 is limited.

What are Omega 3 oils?

Omega 3 oils are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid and come in many forms.  Of these forms, ALA, EPA and DHA are the most talked about. People can convert the form known as ALA to the healthful EPA and DHA but dogs are not as proficient at this process and ideally need to consume EPA and DHA directly for optimum health.

Why are they so important?

Omega 3 oils have a host of health benefits but of key importance is its role in reducing inflammation, maintaining a healthy skin and coat and aiding brain function.

Many dogs suffer from the pain and of arthritis and a study of omega 3 supplementation found that arthritic dogs were better able to weight bare (Roush et al. 2010).

Many dogs, particularly Labrador retrievers can suffer from the uncomfortable skin condition, atopic dermatitis.  Studies show that enriching the diet with omega 3 oil can be beneficial in managing this condition (Gueck et al. 2004).

Omega 3 oils are great for brain development and can give a puppy a head start in life – it has been shown that puppies with high DHA levels were more readily trainable than those with low levels.  We all want a well behaved dog and it seems supplementation can be a simple way to make those formative months more productive (Kelley et al. 2004).

I was lucky enough to get my hands on some Sea Treats cold pressed salmon oil which contains both Omega 3 and Omega 6. The ever enthusiastic Roxy was chosen as a taste tester.

While most would mix this oil in with their pet’s food, I opted to see if it was tasty enough to be eaten from a spoon.


I think this picture speaks for itself!


For more information about Sea Treats Cold pressed Salmon oil, please visit, www.seatreats.co.uk


Gueck T., Seidel A., Baumann D., Meister A. & Fuhrmann H. (2004). Alterations of mast cell mediator production and release by gamma-linolenic and docosahexaenoic acid. Veterinary dermatology, 15, 309-14.

Kelley R., Lepine A., Burr J., Shyan-Norwalt M. & Reinhart G. (2004). Effect of dietary fish oil on puppy trainability. In: Proceedings.

Roush J.K., Cross A.R., Renberg W.C., Dodd C.E., Sixby K.A., Fritsch D.A., Allen T.A., Jewell D.E., Richardson D.C., Leventhal P.S. & Hahn K.A. (2010). Evaluation of the effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on weight bearing in dogs with osteoarthritis. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 236, 67-73.


Hamster feeding

Feeding hamsters

Spike's World

Hamsters have a reputation for loving food as they fill their cheek pouches with gusto. However how much of this food do they actually eat?

Modern hamster mixes may appear to be appealing and you will often be pleased to see the food bowl empty in the morning but the truth of the matter will be lying in your hamster’s bed! Surprisingly, hamsters can be very fussy when it comes to food and will generally only eat the bits of the mix they find most appealing. As a rule, this will be the high fat peanuts and sunflower seeds.

It is all too easy not to notice the uneaten pellets that are lurking in your pet’s sleeping quarters when it comes to cleaning out time. Hamsters also have an unusual digestive system as they do not absorb vitamins as readily as other small pets.

In order to make as natural a wholesome a diet as possible for your hamster, a home made diet is best, however if you must use a commercial mix, choose one that is pellet free and lacking in highly coloured pieces; these are only appealing to our eyes!

A homemade diet for our hamsters is has the benefit of easily being amended to the individual. No two hamsters are alike and one may thrive on a commercial mix whilst its sibling slowly wastes away. A general mix for a hamster should consist of the following:

  • 30% rolled oats
  • 20% rolled barley
  • 10% rolled rye
  • 10% rolled what
  • 5% buckwheat
  • 5% millet
  • 5% sunflower seed
  • 5% pumpkin seed
  • 10% linseed and hemp seed mix
  • Organic dog kibble to be given twice a week.
  • Soft hay should be provided at ALL times.

It is essential that you monitor your hamster’s eating habits to ensure they are consuming everything. Do not be tempted to refill the bowl every day if your hamster has food remaining, instead, feed slightly less. If your hamster appears to be losing weight but is otherwise healthy, increase the seed content, on the other hand if your hamster becomes too chubby, decrease the seed content! Cooked egg can also be given from time to time but ensure any uneaten food is removed as this will easily spoil.

Hamsters should also be given fresh vegetables and fruit in small quantities on a daily basis. It is important for your hamster to be given a varied diet to ensure they do not become deficient in vitamins and


Feeding rabbits the natural way

Spike's World

Rabbits LOVE to eat, this is a fact; however as pet parents, we must ensure what we feed is the best for them. A rabbit is designed to eat grass first and foremost and this should be the basis of their diet in the form of hay or specially prepared dried grass, straw doesn’t have the nutritional value of hay.

Should I feed rabbit pellets or mix?

There is a baffling variety of dried foods available on the market for your rabbit, but some are certainly better than others. They can be separated into three groups, mixes, pellets and extruded foods. Many people are familiar with rabbit mix but not so familiar with its risks and downfalls. Rabbit mixes contain just that, a mix of different ingredients for the rabbit to choose. Although every rabbit is different, most will have a favourite ingredient and one they dislike; this can cause the problem of selective feeding.

Rabbit mix is only ‘complete’ (that is containing all of the required protein, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral levels) if all the ingredients are eaten at once. When a rabbit has the choice it will often pick and choose the bits it likes best whilst leaving bits it finds less tasty. We as rational human beings can understand we need to eat a balanced diet with some foods we prefer to eat more than others; a rabbit however simply does not understand this concept. Imagine giving a child a plate of chocolate and a plate of boiled cabbage and allowing it to choose which they would like for dinner; I’m sure you can imagine the outcome! Rabbits with their continually growing teeth, need to have the correct levels of calcium and phosphorous to prevent dental problems which makes the issue of diet even more important.

The high cereal content of these mixes can cause digestive upset in rabbits due to their high carbohydrate content. This carbohydrate can not only contribute to obesity but can upset the delicate level of bacteria in the rabbit’s gut, causing it a host of troubles, as can having too much protein. Remember, rabbits were designed to eat grass which is generally low in nutrients.

Rabbit mixes also sometimes contain whole seeds such as grain or locust beans which, when swallowed whole, have caused death in some rabbits. The exit of the stomach is smaller than the entrance, these seeds can therefore be swallowed whole with ease but then get stuck resulting in a blockage and eventual death as the hard seed is unable to be digested or leave the stomach via the intestines.

Pellets were originally designed for laboratory and meat rabbits and do provide a more balanced diet than the mixes. However unless they are specifically for pet rabbits, they often contain far too much protein and fat and can act rather like rocket fuel for rabbits! Rabbits fed entirely on an unbalanced pellet risk being obese with all its associated health problems. Obese rabbits are unable to clean themselves properly and can quickly become caked in droppings. This is especially dangerous in hot weather as flies will lay their eggs on the soiled fur. Within hours these eggs can hatch and the resulting maggots will start eating your pet alive!

Extruded foods are a relatively new arrival on the rabbit food market and in my opinion, are the best option to supplement your rabbit’s diet. They are extruded, meaning they are rather like a rabbit biscuit. Being designed for pet rabbits means they have been made with your pet’s longevity in mind, having a suitable ratio of nutrients. Don’t be put off by the fact that they appear boring. Rabbits are grazing animals by nature and do not have the same need for a variety of different ingredients as do other small pets. Extruded foods are as a rule, loved by most rabbits.

Whichever food you choose to use it is important to remember to give your pet free access to hay at all times, I really cannot stress this point enough. Hay provides fibre, both of a digestible and indigestible form, this in turn helps to keep the gut running smoothly, preventing hair balls, feeding the ‘good’ bacteria in the ceacum (the rabbit version of our appendix), preventing blockages and helping to keep the teeth in trim. I really believe that rabbits should have a diet containing 90-95% hay!

Extruded foods or pellets do make up an important part of the diet and should not be left out, as a rule of thumb, feed ¼ cup of food per 2 kilograms of your rabbit’s weight. As with all animals, metabolism can vary from one rabbit to another, if your rabbit appears to be losing or gaining weight, vary the ration of this food accordingly, and NEVER ration hay.

Lastly, hay provides mental stimulation. Much of a wild rabbit’s waking hours would be spent grazing, to obtain sufficient nutrients. An average pet rabbit will eat its daily ration of commercial food in a few minutes. A hay based diet gives your rabbit something to keep it occupied as nature intended, grazing, helping to prevent boredom and its associated behavioural problems.

Feeding young rabbits

Young rabbits, up to 7 months of age, need free access to your chosen pellet or extruded food AS WELL as hay as they require the extra nutrients to fuel their growth.

Feeding adolescent rabbits (from 7 months to 1 year old)

From 7 months onward, it is now time to reduce the number of pellets or extruded food you feed your rabbit, whilst continuing to give unlimited access to good quality hay. The amount you feed will depend on your rabbit’s size and breed, ideally feed twice a day. As a guide give around ¼ cup of food per kilogram in weight divided between two meals.

Feeding adult rabbits (1 year onwards)

Adult rabbits must be fed a primarily hay and grass based diet with a small amount of extruded food or pellets daily. Feed ¼ cup of food per 2 kilograms of your rabbit’s weight. As with all animals, metabolism can vary from one rabbit to another, if your rabbit appears to be losing or gaining weight, vary the ration of this food accordingly, and NEVER ration hay.

 Old rabbits (6 years onwards)

Some older rabbits may need to be fed a larger amount of extruded food or pellet than they were when they were younger. If necessary, give free access to as much as they would like, just like when they were babies. If your rabbit is losing weight then it must be checked by a vet.

Vegetables and other tasty treats

We love to spoil our pets, rabbits with their doleful eyes have an ability to melt our hearts, and you can’t help but want to make them happy! On visiting any pet shop you are bombarded with a huge variety of different treats for your rabbit with bright packaging telling you how good they are for your pet. Sadly as a rule, they are far from healthy, being more like junk food than a healthy snack, with some being potentially dangerous!

The brightly coloured processed cereal treats or the fruit, nut or popcorn sticks (often held together with sugar and honey) contain high levels of sugar, starch and fat and very little fibre.

As mentioned earlier, the rabbit’s delicate digestion relies on bacteria to digest food. Near the end of the intestines is an extra part known as the ceacum, this is similar to our appendix but much, much larger and full of bacteria. These bacteria help to break down the fibre in the grasses eaten. When a rabbit eats a food high in starch and sugar, these enter the caecum and cause chaos. The sugar and starch quickly ferment giving food to the bacteria at an extremely high level. The bacteria multiply and release gasses causing the rabbit to bloat and its intestines to stop moving. Once a rabbit’s intestines have stopped moving they can prove very difficult to get going again. Sadly, many rabbits die of this condition (known as gastrointestinal stasis)

Rabbits also appear to have difficulty in metabolising fat often suffering from a condition known as fatty liver disease, this is far more common in rabbits fed a diet rich in seeds.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a fan of processed rabbit treats and believe there’s nothing better than a piece of fruit or veg. Fruit should be rationed due to its high level of fructose (a type of sugar) but many types of veg can be given as a healthy treat. The occasional raisin will be welcomed and be extremely useful in training as a reward. I had a fantastic house rabbit that would almost do back flips for a raisin!

It is important to note that kale and spinach should be fed a maximum of once or twice a week as they contain high levels of oxalates, which can accumulate in your rabbit’s system.

Rabbits assimilate calcium in a different fashion to people. We tend to only absorb the calcium we need from our diet, whereas a rabbit will absorb most of the calcium it consumes and then excrete the excess in its urine. A diet too high in calcium can cause kidney and bladder stones. Cabbage, kale, broccoli, watercress, chard and endive are all high in calcium and therefore should be fed in moderation.

Grass may also be given or your rabbit and they will enjoy some time in a secure run so that they may graze. Be sure that any grass you provide is free from contamination, whether with chemicals or the urine or droppings of other animals. If grass is picked and given to your pet it must not be left to wilt as fermentation can quickly set in, partially fermented grass is very bad for your pet; for this reason, never give lawn mower cuttings.


Nutrigenomics – your pets really are what they eat

Spike's World

If you’ve seen my previous post ‘Socialisation for the genes’ you will know I’m fascinated by the field of epigenetics.  For a few years now I have been wondering how we can use our new knowledge of epigenetic processes to help our pets live longer, healthier lives.  I was therefore extremely pleased to get my hands on a copy of Dr Jean Dodds and Diana Laverdure’s new book, ‘Canine nutrigenomics – the new science of feeding your dog for optimum health’ published by the fab Dogwise Publishing.


Nutrigenomics is an emerging field which looks at the way an organism’s diet effects the genes it expresses.  We used to think an animal was born with a set of instructions from its parents and that these instructions were set in stone. However, we now know that exactly which of these genetic instructions are followed is dependent on many factors.   Much like a light switch, genes can be either switched on or off. All animals and people are born with a huge number of ‘genetic lights’ but not all of these are switched on.  The diet and life experiences we offer our pets can profoundly affect the combination of genetic lights that become switched on and can either promote health or disease.

As human beings we are all aware that we should be eating a wholesome, minimally processed, varied diet to ensure our own health, yet for decades we have been told that it is perfectly acceptable to feed a single brand of highly processed kibble to our pets for them to remain in good health. In fact we have been told that changing brands should be avoided at all costs and that we should NEVER feed any human food, as it will cause digestive problems. To me it seems totally counterintuitive that the advice we follow for our own health and wellbeing is poles apart from the way we are told to feed our animal companions.

‘Canine nutrigenomics’ offers advice on how to create a functional diet for your pets based on nutrigenomic principles and suggests a range of ingredients and ‘superfoods’ that can help a host of health conditions.

Spirulina, a form of blue-green algae can have a range of health benefits for our animal companions

Of these conditions, canine allergies are covered in great detail. Having had firsthand experience of canine atopic dermatitis, it is great to hear this terrible condition being discussed from a functional perspective rather than simply applying a medical ‘sticking plaster’ to mask the symptoms.

After reading this book, it’s pretty clear that our knowledge has surpassed the age of mindlessly scooping processed kibble into our pets’ bowls and while the convenience was great when we knew no better, the time has come to feed our pets’ genes as well as their stomachs.


Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Socialisation for the genes

Today’s post is kindly sponsored by Spike’s World – food and accessories that are out of this world!

The domestic dog is arguably one of the most genetically diverse species on the planet, in fact the World Canine Organisation recognises over 300 individual breeds. Thousands of years of artificially selecting and breeding only the individuals most suited to the needs of humanity, rapidly produced a multitude of breeds with a body plan and temperament for every aspect of human society.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Whilst in the main our requirement for dogs as working companions has lessened (assistance dogs aside), our obsession with pedigree and improving canine genetics is still just as prevalent as ever. The recent controversy and media coverage surrounding a spate of television documentaries highlighting the potential genetic difficulties inherent in the breeding of pedigree dogs demonstrates the emotive nature of canine genetics.

Even for those not involved in the dog-showing scene, purchasing a new puppy often involves a great deal of research into the family history of the new arrival to ensure its ancestors were as healthy as possible. It is well documented that many of the most common conditions found in our canine companions, such as hip dysplasia and allergies can have a genetic basis.

With all this knowledge and careful breeding, it might be thought that such issues would soon be confined to the past, however, research shows that our classic view of inheritance may not be as it seems, putting into question the way we breed our dogs.

Classically it was known that each parent in a breeding pair passed on its own ‘blueprint’ of genes to its offspring, so each puppy inherited half its genes from its mother and half from its father. Therefore, as long as each parent was healthy and free of behavioural issues, it was thought each puppy would all be born as a clean slate with the perfect set of genetic instructions that when nurtured with correct nutrition and socialisation, would produce equally perfect adults.

However, research has found that the blueprint of genes passed on to the next generation can be affected by the experiences (such as stress or diet) of the parents, both before and during pregnancy. Known as epigenetics (literally “on top of genetics”), the blueprint has genetic markers added to it which markedly effect the way any future offspring develop. These genetic markers can also be added to offspring as they develop in the womb, potentially moulding the young before they are even born.

The bitch may change the genetic switches of her unborn puppies whilst they are in the womb.

The bitch may change the genetic switches of her unborn puppies whilst they are in the womb.

This is not confined to animals, parents of a Swiss town who endured famine were found to produce children with a greater chance of developing diabetes in adulthood. More recently, children who were in the womb in the vicinity of the atrocities of 9/11 are now presenting with a host of terrible stress disorders, despite not even being born at the time.

These findings suggest relying on good genes and socialisation may not always be enough to ensure our dogs develop into well-rounded individuals. Potentially, the diet, everyday experiences, stresses and socialisation of a dog’s parents, grandparents and even great grandparents, may influence its health and temperament.

Such epigenetic changes to the genetic blueprint may explain the seemingly increasing prevalence of canine allergies; atopic dermatitis, for example, has become a massive problem in the Labrador retriever, despite careful selective breeding.

The link with stress may have implications for those breeders who choose to breed in a kennel environment and certainly for the rightly maligned puppy farm. A highly stressed bitch is likely to produce puppies with lower stress tolerance as adults, despite careful socialisation. The quality of the care the bitch provides her pups may affect their brain development; research with rats found that pups that did not receive regular licking from their mothers, were anxious and had ‘anxious brains’.

The prevention of stressful experiences in the pregnant mother may also prove a challenge for those who breed in a home environment; it is well documented that hormones related to stress rise when dogs are left alone and may be influenced by the interaction of other family members. Every dog owner has, at some point, witnessed his or her dog’s upset while watching a heated family discussion or argument.

Firework season may also present an issue for even the most well socialised canine, as today’s fireworks become progressively louder. If fearful experiences felt by the bitch during pregnancy can cause negative long-term changes in the puppies, it might be preferable not to breed during these months or for those looking for a new puppy to take into account exactly when their new arrival was in utero.

The move towards more biologically appropriate nutrition for our canine companions is certainly a move in the right direction, however, it is known the absence of particular nutrients, especially during pregnancy, can have a profound effect on the genetic markers the young receive. In effect, a dog’s health may not just be determined by the food it eats but by the food its mother ate too.  Can the legacy of a previously poor quality, allergen and preservative laden diet have already left its mark on our dogs’ health?

The lifestyle and upbringing of a puppy's grandparents may influence its behaviour and health. Should a puppy's family history become just as important as its family tree?

The lifestyle and upbringing of a puppy’s grandparents may influence its behaviour and health. Should a puppy’s family history become just as important as its family tree?

It is clear that changes to the genetic blueprint may occur with the experiences a dog has over its lifetime and that these experiences can be passed to the next generation. Whilst any thought of a genetic pill to wipe clean the legacy of the past is light years away, should we question the criteria we use when selecting a breeder or puppy? When asking to see the parents of a new puppy, should we in fact be asking to see their grandparents and great grandparents?  Should we be asking for records of the diet, birth date and home environment of not just the parents but also the preceding generations?

Only time will tell, but it is true to say that in light of new genetic research, the science of dog breeding may never be the same again.