Tag Archives: genetics


Crufts horror at deformed animals, unless we intend to eat them

Today’s post is kindly sponsored by Mekuti – Life in balance




It’s Crufts time again; the time to celebrate the wonder of dogs and to recoil at the horror of the ruining of some breeds by unscrupulous breeders.

The pivotal documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed thrust the Kennel Club into the limelight and resulted in both the BBC and RSPCA distancing themselves from the show.

While this public stoning of the Kennel Club helped raised awareness of this issue, the footage from the 2016 show indicates little progress, particularly with some specific breeds.

A friend was shocked to hear I was watching Crufts as she was so upset at the way in which animals had been bred, saying she would never buy a pedigree animal, it got me wondering about the similarity between the animals bred for food that the majority have no concern about, and these dogs that have received national sympathy.

Much like this time last year, the best if breed German Shepherd has shocked a nation of dog lovers, and rightly so.

The roached back of these dogs is shocking and we should be ashamed to have turned a once athletic dog into this deformed creature. With its ataxic gait, it is clear that walking is not easy for these poor souls, however, lets compare a German shepherd to a modern broiler chicken.

A show German shepherd showing the dog placing weight on its hocks

Now contrast the German shepherd with these modern broiler hens.

Both have been selectively bred by mankind for a wanted trait. With the dog, the ‘ideal’ dog is one that fits a specific guideline, with the chicken, the ideal chicken is one that grows big and fast – so big and fast that its skeleton cannot grow quick enough and it often collapses under its own weight.

So I ask you, why is the dog suffering unacceptable but the broiler chicken an example of good modern breeding?

The next example, is the modern dairy cow. An animal that we have bred to produce up to 6000 liters of milk every year. In order to produce this volume of milk, farmers have bred cows to have larger and larger udders. So large in fact that they can strain their own udder ligaments under the excessive weight of milk and may need to wear an artificial udder support.

Is this more acceptable than the cavalier king Charles spaniel with a brain too large for its own skull or the Neapolitan mastiff with skin so profuse it can’t see?

Do farm animals not matter?

I firmly applaud those standing up for the insanity of trait exaggeration at crufts, but firmly believe our efforts must be shared to all animal that we have inflicted our horrific breeding practices on, not just the fluffy ones we share our living rooms with.


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.