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Most of us consider our dogs to be a part of our human family.  We introduce them as our 4-legged children, our babies or as our best friends.  Likewise, our dogs view their human housemates as their family.  The close relationships we build with our pets can greatly enhance our lives and can even help improve our physical and mental health.  Unfortunately, we humans are not always the best at returning the favor!  

Pet owners often make poor choices and decisions regarding their pet's care.  Many times we do not consider what is the right choice for the dog, but instead make our decisions based on what is convenient for us or based on what we would do for another human.   Many of these poor decisions are due to a tendency to project human characteristics and emotions onto our pets. 

As pet owners, we must remember that our dogs are NOT little, furry humans!   Dogs must (to some extent) be treated as dogs.  While pampering and providing your dog with all the luxuries and the best of food and care is fine, please keep in mind that your dog is not your own little "Mini Me".  The products and care you provide must be appropriate for a DOG.   Caring for your dog as if he was a small human can be disastrous to his health and well-being, especially when dealing with medications and in regard to feeding. 


Dogs have a physiology unique to their species and this means that certain human drugs are inappropriate for treating your dog.   While many human drugs are used on animals with excellent results, there are many other human medications that can be fatal to animals, even in small amounts.   An example of an over-the-counter human medication that you must never give to your dog is Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol).   This drug is extremely toxic to animals and often results in the death of the animal.   Many dog owners have had to watch in horror as their dog suffered and died from a dose of this medication.   So, remember, just because a drug is considered safe for humans, even infants, that does not mean it's safe for your dog. 

Another important point to mention about the use of human medications is that, even with human drugs that can safely be used on dogs, the correct dose of a medication for a dog is not always a simple matter of calculating the difference between the human and canine's weight.   Dogs will often need much less of a particular drug than a human.  Or they may need much more.  This dosage variation is often true with other medications as well, such as those that are made for other animals - pigs, cows, horses, etc.   An example of this is worm medications.  The cattle wormer Ivermectin is often used in dogs, but the effective canine dose is MUCH smaller than that used for cattle.   On the other hand, dogs need a higher dose than cattle or horses of a worming product called Safe-Guard.   So remember, if your dog has a problem and needs medication, it's vital that you check with your veterinarian for the correct medication AND dosage before you give your dog a drug from your own medicine cabinet, or one that was originally formulated for another species of animal.  

Keep in mind that the above warning applies to the use of eye drops and ointments too, especially those containing cortisone or other steroids.  Many eye products and treatments are routinely used for both human and veterinary patients, but in cases involving damage to the eye surface, it's critical that the correct product is used to treat the injury.   Products containing steroids can cause additional ulceration or even perforation of the eye if used to treat certain types of eye injuries.  So please don't treat your dog's sore or injured eye without having the dog examined by your veterinarian.


Another important area of canine care that is often incorrectly addressed with human products is skin and coat care.  Many dog owners treat their dog's skin and coat with products designed for humans.  This practice can seriously exacerbate existing skin problems and can even cause serious skin issues in previously healthy dogs.  Human shampoos and soaps are inappropriate for canine use due to the physiological differences between human and dog skin.  Cockers, in particularly those with full show coats (whether in full coat or clipped short), will benefit greatly from good quality bathing products.  This is due to the fact that their skin is constantly supporting the growth of a tremendous amount of hair.  If the skin of these heavily coated dogs becomes irritated, overly dry or if the dog should develop a skin infection, it can be difficult to get the skin and coat back to a healthy balance.  

Canine dental hygiene has become a more common owner concern over the last several years and this has lead to another area where owners sometimes use inappropriate human products on dogs.   Human toothpastes are not designed for use on dogs and should be avoided by owners that are brushing their dog's teeth.  Many human toothpastes contain a detergent base that should not be ingested and which could cause your dog to have an upset stomach (unless you can train your dog to spit!).   Additionally, most human toothpastes have ingredients that cause the product to foam-up.   Many dogs are not comfortable with this sensation and it causes them to lick and swallow even more of the inappropriate product.  To avoid these issues, owners should always use a toothpaste specifically produced for pets.  If you should run out of your pet's toothpaste, don't worry about missing a day or two (or even three or four!).  The most important aspect of your dog's dental care is the actual brushing.  So even if you don't have any pet toothpaste, just continue brushing with water and a soft brush.   This will still help eliminate plaque and tartar and is the best way to care for your dog’s teeth and gums.


Probably the greatest risk to your dog's health is how and what you feed him.   This one area is where you can make the greatest difference in helping your dog to live a long and healthy life.  The bottom line here is that you must feed your dog a quality, canine-appropriate diet AND you must carefully monitor his food intake (type and quantity) to maintain him in correct body condition.   Proper management of your dog's diet AND weight can add several YEARS to his life!    

Unfortunately, many owners make the mistake of feeding their dog as if the dog is another human family member.   This is not appropriate as, again, dogs are NOT humans!  Dogs do not have the same dietary needs or concerns as humans.  Dogs are carnivores.  They are cousins to the wolf.  They have dietary needs that CANNOT be meet with processed sugars, carbohydrates and grains.  Your dog needs a diet that consists of appropriate, quality ingredients for a carnivore.  Additionally, just as it is not ideal for humans to ingest unnecessary preservatives or chemical food additives, the diet you choose for your dog should not be loaded with these ingredients.   For further information on feeding and caring for your Cocker Spaniel, please click the following link to visit my "Care" page.

While I don't necessarily feel that my dogs need a whole or partial beef, deer or chicken carcass thrown to them two or three times a week, I do think that a correctly balanced and nutritionally complete raw or natural diet is preferable to many of the commercially manufactured dog foods that are available.  I don't personally have a problem with feeding a dog an entirely raw or natural diet, AS LONG AS the owner has put forth the effort to learn and correctly apply the knowledge necessary to ensure the natural diet is appropriate for maintaining the health of his/her dog.   For those that are interested in feeding their dog a natural diet, the following link can help provide you with appropriate information:  CockersNaturalDiet

Another canine feeding and weight-maintenance issue that needs to be addressed, is a tendency for owners to feed their dogs in ways that make the OWNER feel better.  This includes feeding a multitude of treats that "reward" the owner with shows of attention and affection.   Some owners may also fall into a pattern of feeding their dog extra portions or inappropriate foods as a substitute for their attention and/or as a way to relieve feelings of guilt resulting from having to leave the dog at home alone.  For the health and well-being of your dog, it's vitally important that you learn the proper type and amount of food (including treats!) that is appropriate for your dog.  Once you have done this, it's then critical that FOR THE LIFE of your dog, you consistently follow through with a proper feeding routine.  (A couple of items that all owners should know to avoid feeding their dog are onions and chocolate.  Feeding your dog onions can lead to anemia and ingestion of certain types of chocolate can be fatal.) 

Owners must also learn to properly manage their dog's weight.  If this means that Fluffy doesn't get an after-dinner treat of leftover french fries or a bowl of ice cream, then Fluffy will just have to learn to do without!  Or maybe Fluffy will need to learn to settle for a slice or two of a carrot or a couple of green beans.   Some veterinarians estimate that as many as 30% of the dogs they examine are overweight.  This is an alarming statistic as obesity in your dog can cause a number of serious health complications.  These problems can include an increased risk of surgical/anesthetic related complications, an increased risk of diabetes (which can also predispose a dog to infection, eye problems and a higher risk for surgical complications), a shortened lifespan, acute pancreatitis, an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, an increased risk of skin disease, poor immune function and reproductive and digestive problems.

On top of all of the problems listed above, obesity also puts considerable stress on a dog's internal organs, bones and joints.  A fat dog is more susceptible to injury when asked to participate in physical activity.  A fat dog will also have an increased risk of heart failure due to the heart having to work harder to pump blood to extra tissues.  A dog that has hip dysplasia or that is  prone to joint or bone problems will be more severely affected if they are overweight.  Excess weight can also contribute to weakening of the cruciate ligaments which stabilize the knee joint.  Continued stress on these joints, even after surgical repair, will continue to make them worse and will prevent the joints from ever being normal.  

If you hope to show or hunt or your dog, or to participate in other performance events with your dog, you must realize that your dog's performance and ability will be negatively impacted if the dog is overweight.  An overweight dog cannot be competitive in hunting or agility competitions as its breathing capacity would be diminished by extra fat putting pressure on the lungs and making breathing difficult.  Additionally, an overweight dog's performance would be further compromised due to a heavy dog having less heat tolerance than a thinner dog.  While this might not be  a huge issue in the far North, a too-heavy dog in warmer climates would be at risk for heat-related complications if asked to participate in outdoor activities that require physical exertion.

There is no excuse for an owner allowing their dog to become seriously obese.  YOU are in charge of your dog's feeding and health.  You must take this responsibility seriously and make a commitment to do what is right for your dog.  This does not mean doing what is most convenient or what makes YOU feel better.  NOR does it mean doing what makes your dog feel better in the short-term.  It DOES mean that you will do whatever is necessary to keep your dog fit, trim and healthy.  This will include feeding an appropriate, nutritionally balanced diet, limiting treats to healthy choices and appropriate amounts in relation to the over-all diet, and ensuring your dog receives adequate and appropriate exercise for it's health and physical condition. Please remember, the fact that Fluffy has sad eyes or begs at the table is not an excuse for engaging in behavior that could ultimately harm or kill the dog! 

Your dog will not hate you for cutting out his McDonald's Happy Meals and bacon and egg breakfasts.  He may be unhappy about the loss of all those extra treats and fatty foods for a while, but he will get over it shortly if you refuse to give in to his theatrical "I'm dying of starvation" routine!  Few dogs are able to carry a grudge for any sustained amount of time, so stay strong and do what is best for the dog.  I promise, he will be much happier and healthier once he is a lean, mean, ball-playing machine!


If you have any questions or would like more information about our Cocker Spaniels,
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Copyright © Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 10, 2006