As some of you already know, recently I was challenged by James Wellbeloved, a pet food company based in rural Somerset, to take part in their ‘Reconnect with Nature’ campaign. Being a massive advocate for a life in the great outdoors and originally hailing from Yorkshire, I thought ‘what better excuse than to jump in the car and head North’.
We currently live in Bristol but whenever I head back home to West Yorkshire, we always take Oliver (our Labrador) with us and use it as an excuse to rediscover some of the amazing walks the Pennine hills have to offer.
On this occasion, we decided to go back to a favourite old haunt of mine – Hardcastle Crags, a beautiful National Trust woodland valley above Hebden Bridge with a river feeding the mill pond to the central highlight, Gibson Mill. More importantly for Oliver, there is an abundance of dog friendly trails to discover through the woods!
Oliver has quite a chequered history. He came into our lives when I was working in equine practice. At the time, I had a vet student shadowing me and her Labrador had given birth to a beautiful litter of puppies that had all sold except one. This one puppy had suffered an unprovoked attack at the mercy of an adult Labrador. This Labrador fractured Oliver's skull and in the process caused his eye to prolapse. He was only 6 weeks old, at 11 weeks old we went to visit and decided this one eyed puppy was the one for us!
Two hectic years on and Oliver was more of a handful than we could ever imagine. What started out as the cutest ball of fluff had grown into an over excitable, bouncing ball of energy. As with most Labradors, he eventually calmed down around two years old but a lot of this, I believe, was due to us changing his diet.
We started out on a normal, good quality dog food but I wasn’t happy with the results. Raw food diets were becoming increasingly popular but with recipes based on rumour and speculation rather than nutritionally balanced facts (this was six years ago), I was sceptical. However, I was keen to explore the other popular idea of grain elimination.
It made total sense in my mind. Before we switched Oliver to a grain free diet he was prone to energy spikes and crashes and awful sloppy stools. As a vet, I performed every test under the sun to try and work out why he was suffering with constant diarrhoea, and after ruling out all medical reasoning, I performed a diet trial. By eliminating grain, his energy levels became more stable, his training and concentration improved and for the first time in nearly two years he was passing solid, properly formed stools.
At this point, I should point out that grain is nothing to be scared of! A recent article in the Veterinary Times concluded that 'the prevalence of cereal based dietary allergies is low' and 'confirmed gluten sensitivity is very rare'.
Dogs, contrary to popular perception, do not share a digestive tract that mimics that of the wolf, and are not obligate carnivores. And in fact, the vast proportion of domesticated dogs are perfectly capable of digesting grain - and in the majority of cases, will thrive.
However, it is recognised that 'some specific diseases can be associated with the presence of grains...causing gastrointestinal or dermatological signs' (Veterinary Times, Vol 47, No 37) and it is in these dogs, with veterinary guidance, that I may suggest a diet trial.
Turning 8 this year, I chose to transition Oliver over to James Wellbeloved Grain Free Lamb Senior last month. I like the fact that this food is a single protein source (if it says ‘lamb’ on the label it is 100 per cent lamb protein in the food) and with the addition of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin and Vitamin E it is nutritionally balanced to support Oliver as he gets older.
Importantly, from my point of view as Oliver’s own personal pooper-scooper, his stools have remained firm and easy to pick up (and his coat is lovely and glossy)!
We have always had dogs in the family growing up, but Oliver is the first dog I would be able to call my own. As with all loving dog owners, I feel a huge weight of responsibility to make sure I give him everything he needs for a happy life.
And in the meantime, we are already planning our next adventure into the great outdoors.
Are you an avid dog walker? Do you know of any secret hidden treasures I should take Oliver to explore? Tag me in your posts and use #ReconnectWithNature and #JamesPotteryVet.