News flash, genes don’t control all biology!

Sassy Genes

Acceptance of the role of environmental factors on health places a huge responsibility on the dog breeder AND owner because decisions they make can alter which genes are turned on or off and how healthy the dog will be.

What does this mean in practical terms for breeders and dog owners? It means that the breeder must be vigilant in how they manage their breeding stock and puppies and the dog owner must be equally vigilant in how they raise their dog! Slipshod, uninformed rearing approaches by either can result in an unhealthy dog.

Sassy GenesThe central dogma of biology that genes/DNA are the primary control mechanism for the cell via the creation of enzymes and hormones is no longer supported by evidence. It is not possible for DNA to act as the master control system for these processes.  We would need at least 120,000 genes to control all the body processes – humans have only 25,000. Genes do not even reflect the position on the evolutionary ladder, as the dog has 25,000 genes and the humble earthworm 24,000!

If genes don’t direct all biological function, what does? It appears that epigenetics plays an important role. Epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. Epigenetics shows that genes change according to environmental influences. In other words, genes are an effect rather than the cause!

Acceptance of the role of environmental factors on health places a huge responsibility on the dog breeder AND owner because decisions they make can alter which genes are turned on or off and how healthy the dog will be.

So, if epigenetics plays such an important role, can the breeder wash his or her hands of any responsibility for the health of the dogs they breed? No! Epigenetic effects don’t just apply to the current generation. It has been shown that rodents fed poor quality food produce offspring who are at higher risk for chronic disease! If food fed to past generations can affect the current generation of breeding stock, so can exposure to other environmental influences, such as cleaning products, pesticides, and medications (including vaccines), to name a few. In addition to environmental influences, there is a documented health risk associated with consistently breeding animals who are closely related. Breeders should be knowledgeable about these risks and consider the short- and long-term implications of their breeding decisions.

Genes don’t control biology! It takes more than good genes for good health. This point is dramatically demonstrated in this short video showing two mice from the same mother, but different litters. The two mice are genetically identical, have eaten the same diet since birth, and were raised in exactly the same environment. The only difference is the diet the mother ate during her pregnancy! Not only do these mice look different, but along with being obese, the yellow one is at higher risk of developing diabetes and cancer. In contrast, the brown mouse is leaner and less likely to develop these diseases. The same principles hold true for our dogs (and us too) – you are what you eat!  

What about the dog owner, what role does he play in the health of the dog? In my opinion, the role of the owner is nearly as big as the breeder. Nutrition is the foundation of good health, therefore feeding a less than optimal diet may weaken the dog’s constitution, as will over vaccination, over medicating, exposure to pesticides, and exposure to toxic cleaning products. Sound familiar – yes, these are the same environmental influences the breeder should control.

We often get calls when problems crop up in a dog. When an owner asks for help, our first step is to ask questions, often focusing on environmental influences. Here are a few examples.

  • Is the dog being fed a species appropriate diet? Diet is the most powerful medicine we have. If nutritional needs are not being met or toxins are inadvertently being fed in the commercial diet, a wide range of health problems can be seem.  In one dog, we addressed unexplained aggression merely by changing to a whole foods diet.
  • What kind of treats do you feed between meals? With the numerous pet food and dog treat recalls over the past several years, it is well-known that these items can be associated negative health outcomes.
  • Has the home or lawn recently been treated with pesticides or has the dog visited someone whose yard or home has been treated? We have had several reports of neurologic symptoms in dogs exposed to pesticides. In two, the dog became lame. In the first, lameness occurred after spraying the home for pesticides. The homeowner was very careful because she knew the risk of pesticides in her children. She had the basement treated while the children were at school, but allowed the dog to accompany the exterminator. In this case, the lameness resolved on its own within a few day. In the second case of lameness, the homeowner had her lawn treated with a product the yard service assured her was non-toxic. Her dog became so lame that he could barely navigate and was not responding to medication offered by her vet. The dog recovered after we suggested she discontinue her yard service. In a third case, the dog had a single epileptic seizure while playing in a recently treated yard. In yet another case, a wire fox terrier refused to walk on a treated lawn, but would gladly frolic on an untreated lawn.
  • What vaccine schedule is being followed? Over vaccination is becoming one of the biggest risks to the health of our dogs, this includes administering multiple vaccines at one time or to an animal who is not well. Vaccines have saved lives, but over vaccination can be harmful and has been associated with immunological and behavioral conditions. We have been contacted by a colleague who had two puppies in a litter become aggressive shortly after vaccine administration. Administration of a homeopathic antidote corrected the aggression.
  • Has the dog received any medications? Medications can be associated with a wide range of side effects.
  • Is the dog getting plenty of fresh air and exercise? Dogs need exercise and fresh air to maintain good physical and mental health.
  • Has something changed in the household? Divorce, children going away to school, loss of another pet, and job changes that affect the household routine can all affect your dog.
  • Has a veterinarian been consulted and done a physical exam and blood work? We always ask to see the results of laboratory tests and, in dogs with suspected thyroid disease, verify that the appropriate tests have been performed.

The breeder of your dog should be there to help you throughout your dog’s life. We encourage you to contact them with problems and questions. We also encourage you to be mindful of the need to control those environmental influences that can have a profound effect on the health and happiness of you and your dog.

 

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