Health and Diet

HEALTH

Field-bred ESS tend to be a fairly hardy little dog in general. We find corn (in dry food) can cause itching in some ESS so avoid it when selecting brands of dog food. Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.

 

Genetics 101

Just like us, puppies inherit one set of genes from the dam and one set from the sire for most traits. Although this is probably an oversimplistic view, the pattern of inheritance can be further classifed as "simple" or "complex".

Complex traits do not follow readily predictable modes of inheritance. For example, hip dysplasia is believed to arise from variation within multiple genes and their interaction with behavioural and environmental factors.

On the other hand, simple recessive traits are easier to predict. Let's look at coat colour in English Springer Spaniels where "liver" is recessive and "black" is dominant. Remembering that the pup generally has two copies of the gene (one from each parent), a black coloured puppy only needs ONE copy of the black gene (let's call it 'B') whilst a liver coloured puppy must have TWO copies of the liver gene (let's call it 'b'). Em is liver in colour, so we can identify her coat colour trait as "bb". The sire of our first litter was Banjo, a black and white dog - we know from genetic testing that his coat colour trait is "Bb" - which means that, although the black gene dominates he also carries liver and can pass it onto his offspring. Let's see how that works in practice:

Em (bb) mated with Banjo (Bb)

Em can only pass on the 'b' or liver gene to her offspring.

Banjo has a 50% chance of passing on either the 'B' or black gene OR the 'b' or liver gene.

We can use what's known as the Punnet Square to give us a visual representation of what simple or Mendelian genetics look like:

X B b
b Bb bb
b Bb bb

 

So! We can predict that 50% of the offspring will be Bb or black and the other 50% will be bb or liver. However, the numbers may not add up so neatly within one litter and it may take a number of offspring. We actually had exactly that breakdown and can be 100% confident that the two black and white puppies are carrying liver without further genetic testing.

 

Genetic Testing

Geneticists have identified three diseases common to ESS that we can track in our own dogs using genetic testing:

  1. Cone-Rod Dystrophy 1 Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA),
  2. Fucosidosis, and 
  3. Phosphofructokinase (PFK) Deficiency. 

They have a simple recesssive mode of inheritance (just like the colour example above) and it's a great thing to be able to exclude these from our lines and not produce affected puppies. On occasion, we might choose to use a dog in our breeding program that is a carrier provided the dog he or she was mated to was clear - this way we don't exclude a really good dog but still ensure that no puppies are born that will be affected by the condition. As both Em and Banjo are clear for all three conditions, their pups are "clear by parentage".

 

Hips and Elbows

Start by reading this article: The Ten Most Important Things To Know About Hip Dysplasia

Hip and elbow testing is thought to be a little "hit and miss". By this we mean that parents with excellent hip and elbow scores can produce pups with hip dysplasia and parents with poor hip and elbow scores can produce perfectly healthy offspring. And of course diet, weight, exercise and environment play a critical role. However, as breeders we do have at least our bitches scored (ANKC Canine Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Scheme) before they are bred from and certainly would not breed from a dog with joint problems in their pedigree. You can read more about hip scoring here. Em's hip score was 2:4 (well below the breed average) and her elbow score was 0:0. We are more than happy to show our puppy buyers all test results in more detail. Currently we do not use the PennHIP scheme on recommendation from a specialist who cited lack of data in our breed but it is something we may well consider in the future as it has a strong scientific foundation.

 

Eye Testing

Before we breed our bitches we have an annual eye examination done by Animal Eye Care to check for both congenital (present at birth) and non-congenital (appears later in life) eye conditions. We are pleased to say that Em's eye exam (9th December 2014) was "normal". We are more than happy to show our puppy buyers all test results in more detail.

 

Health Guarantees

Do we guarantee the health of our puppies for life? In short, no. As breeders we do everything within our power to breed healthy, happy and well socialised dogs. We health test where possible and explore the pedigrees of our dogs to detect any issues. But nature is not always predictable. In fact it can be very cruel. We have friends with Type I diabetes, musculoskeletal issues, cancer, allergies, auto-immune diseases and even rare neurological disorders. Just like us, dogs are not magically exempt from having health issues at some point in their life. We can reduce the chances by health testing and researching but we can not eliminate risk. Nor can anyone else. What we can guarantee, however, is that our pups will leave us in the best of health and that we will support our puppy buyers through any concerns or issues that arise.

One of our puppies, for example, had a mild case of "entropian", which was corrected (at our expense) by the wonderful team at Animal Eye Care before he went to his new home. It may have even corrected on it's own but it would have been an irritating condition for the pup and the best age to fix it is during the rapid growth phase. The opthalmic specialist assured us that it was extremely unlikely to be inherited as the skin around the eye wasn't loose at all, just a very slight rolling in of the lower lashes. Just in case, we won't allow that puppy - as lovely as he is - to be bred from.

 

Vaccinations

We follow the Australian Veterinary Association's vaccination protocol and have our dogs vaccinated every 3 years with C3 (Parvovirus, Distemper and Hepatitis) and every 12 months for the kennel cough component. Some of our puppy buyers prefer to titre test. Our puppies recieve their first "C3" vaccination at the age of 6 weeks and need to be followed up at 12 weeks, 16 weeks and then 12 months.

 

Worming

Our own dogs are treated with Sentinel Spectrum approximately monthly which covers intestinal worms, heart worm and fleas. Our bitches are wormed before they whelp and puppies are wormed approximately every 2 weeks from birth until they go to their new home aged 8-10 weeks. It's always important to consult with your veterinarian and maintain a worming program suited to your puppy and their environment.

 

Microchipping

Our puppies are microchipped at 7 weeks of age, separately from the vaccination as we like to ensure they are not overwhelmed with too many negative experiences in one vet visit. Our vet is excellent and the puppies barely register the needle with the temptation of cat food in front of them!

IMG_5266_zpsae9pzagq

 

DIET

We feed our dogs and puppies Artemis (for the appropriate growth stage) because it’s a super premium food, made with high quality ingredients, our dogs do very well on it and it does not contain corn, which can cause scratching and general irritation in some dogs. It’s not the cheapest food on the market because it contains high quality ingredients and no “fillers” – this means our dogs are satisfied eating less food than a cheaper product and produce less stools. We often mix in some good quality yoghurt or, on occasion, sardines or raw eggs from our very own chickens.

How much food your dog needs is very much an individual thing - Em, as the saying goes "lives on the smell of an oily rag" and only needs 1 to 1.5 cups per day despite the extreme amount of exercise she does. Her daughter, Ginny, on the other hand is currently eating 3 cups a day plus a lot of training treats and she's extremely lean.  

We feed whole (frozen) chicken frames to our adult dogs instead of a meal once or twice a week. Occasionally they might get a lamb neck or turkey wing or even a kangaroo tail. Deer antlers and veggie pig ears are also popular in our house  - the genuine pig ears seem to be too high in fat for our Dally. These can all be great chewing for pups too. We never feed cooked bones of any description. Our dogs also love whole raw carrots to munch on. We rarely feed “weight bearing bones” such as beef marrowbones as they can wear down the teeth – they are only an occasional treat.

At night our dogs get a small biscuit treat to go to their bed/crate with – funnily enough they are always very keen to get to bed!

 

Puppies

Our puppies are weaned onto a raw diet (skinned chicken Maryland pieces to promote chewing, minced chicken frames and beef forequarter mince with a taste of green tripe, sardines, lamb heart, egg, yoghurt and cheese) and are then transitioned to Artemis Medium/Large Puppy dry food and whole chicken necks, wings and frames. We introduce a variety of foods to our puppies to reduce fussiness and food aversions.

Appropriate nutrition during the first 12 months (particularly 4-8 month period) is critical for growing strong, healthy puppies and minimising musculoskeletal issues. Too much meat or too much bone can upset the calcium to phosphorous ratio. Getting the correct balance of calcium to phosphorus ratio, protein levels, vitamin and mineral balance requires a lot of reading, research and organisation if you intend to feed raw. Thus we recommend puppy owners feed 80-90% of the diet as a quality dry food (e.g. Artemis Medium/Large Puppy dry food as provided) supplemented with ¼ - ½ chicken frames (fat removed) or a couple of chicken wings for chewing (perfect for those sharp puppy teeth!) plus healthy training treats. Please do not feed whole chicken necks as our pups tend to swallow them! 

Obviously a puppy's nutritional requirements will increase during the growth phase and then reduce as he/she reaches mature height/weight but this will depend on activity. It's critical to monitor each pup's weight by assessing his/her Body Condition Score. Overweight puppies and adults are more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

You only get one chance to grow a puppy correctly!

 

Treats

Training with food treats, done correctly, is a very effective, precise way to train and reward (not bribe!) behaviours. We like to use soft, relatively low salt, low fat treats with no artificial colours or flavours – for example cheese, steamed chicken breast, chopped raw chicken necks or commercial dog rolls from the supermarket (e.g. “4 Legs”), diced raw lamb heart and even boiled egg - you only need tiny pieces for puppies. If we are having a Weber BBQ we throw on a couple of plain chicken thighs as the flavours they seem to absorb send my youngster wild. I never feed high salt products such as Schmackos and I only feed Australian made treats due to the frequency of overseas product recalls.

 

Food Enrichment

It’s important to remember that dogs are essentially scavengers so serving them 3 meals a day in a bowl doesn’t really satisfy their natural desire to forage. Some ideas to slow eating and provide environmental enrichment through food include:

  • Feeding raw meaty bones frozen (e.g. chicken frames)
  • Using some of their daily dry food for training
  • Stuffing appropriate food toys such as Kongs with some dry food and a little raw minced chicken frame
  • Scattering dry food on the lawn or in a clam shell filled with sand
  • Placing dry food inside a sealed cardboard box
  • Freezing dry food and chopped vegetables in a very dilute, low salt chicken stock filled ice-cream container. Great for Summer but definitely an outside treat!
  • If you are worried about over/under feeding measure out your pup’s daily ration into a container and then feed what’s left in a bowl at the end of the day. Don’t measure out food based on manufacturer recommendations – it’s nearly always too much. Refer to the Body Condition Score chart and adjust your pup’s ration as needed.

 

© Thornfield English Springer Spaniels 2018