GOdogs Project Investigates the Genetics of Canine Obesity

The scientists at the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories are looking for a few good—and chubby—dogs!  Their GOdogs Project is conducting cutting-edge genetic research on why certain dog breeds tend to become overweight (Labrador Retrievers, we’re talking to you!).  They also hope that this research will shed light on the genetics of human obesity.

If you own a Labrador and live near the Cambridge University Veterinary School in the UK, your dog can become an important part of this ongoing study.  The researchers also welcome input from the owners of other types of dogs.  Owners of all dog breeds can answer a questionnaire about their dog’s eating habits, and if you have a Retriever, Pug, or Bulldog, the Project is looking for DNA samples from your pup.  Click HERE to learn more about participating in the study.

The GOdogs website has lots of great information about obesity in dogs.  Did you know that between 34 and 59% of dogs can be classified as overweight?  Obesity causes significant health problems in our pets, including:

  • Joint disease
  • Heart and lung problems
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Incontinence
  • Cancer
  • Shorter lifespan

Why are so many dogs overweight?  The Project points to the modern lifestyle of pampered pets as a prime cause.  Your dog’s body stores fat as an energy reserve to draw on in times when food is scarce.  Today’s dogs aren’t running around and hunting, so a sedentary lifestyle combined with lots of food that’s high in fat and calories can lead to obesity.

The fact that some dog breeds are prone to obesity suggests that genetics play a role in this, particularly when it comes to appetite and hunger.  Previous studies on obesity in humans and other animals have shown that certain genes affect a part of the brain that controls hunger called the hypothalamus.

What about the link between genetics and obesity in dogs?  The GOdogs Project has been collecting canine eating behavior and genetic data since 2013.  In 2016 they published their first findings about a genetic cause for obesity in Labradors.  One particular gene called POMC has been found to be associated with obesity in Labradors (and flatcoated retrievers).  A quarter of UK Labs have this gene and these dogs were found to be around 4 lbs. heavier than Labs without the gene.  POMC plays a role in regulating feelings of hunger and fullness.

Whether your dog has a genetic predisposition to being overweight or not, there are practical steps you can take to manage your dog’s weight.  Check out these strategies for monitoring your dog’s weight, regulating food intake, minimizing your dog’s feelings of hunger, and making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, all courtesy of the folks at GOdogs.

 

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FACE Looks to the Future with Strategic Planning Retreat

FACE Foundation Board at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

The FACE Foundation Board recently returned from a strategic planning retreat, hosted by the Best Friends Animal Society at their Sanctuary, which is in beautiful Kanab, Utah.  Best Friends operates the largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals in the U.S.  Best Friends was founded thirty years ago by a small group of dedicated animal advocates who united together in the mission to save abused and abandoned companion animals, and end the euthanasia of these animals in our nation’s shelters.  They serve as a testament to what can be accomplished when people work together for a greater cause, and are a great inspiration to the members of the FACE team.

FACE Board President Cini Gannon Robb getting kisses from a furry friend.

This strategic planning retreat was completely underwritten by the Board so no FACE funds were used.  These sessions are generally held every 3-5 years, so there are always plenty of important topics to discuss.  They revisited FACE’s mission and vision, and friends of FACE can expect to see a fine-tuning of our vision statement soon.  The Board also discussed a revamping of our marketing and fundraising strategies.

FACE Board Member Dr. John Hart with a Best Friends pup.

Other exciting news to come out of the strategic planning retreat?  We plan to revisit our granting process to put more trust in our valued veterinary partners when it comes to determining how FACE grants will be distributed to pet owners facing financial hardship due to emergency and critical care veterinary services.

FACE Executive Director Brooke Haggerty and a fuzzy little friend.

We also are very interested in finding ways to help cases that might not be “immediately life-threatening” but the animals’ quality of life would be drastically and negatively impacted without veterinary care.  This would potentially broaden our criteria for determining what kinds of cases we can help…with the ultimate goal of saving more lives!  At FACE, we remain united in the belief that no beloved family pet should be euthanized because of lack of funds to pay for critical veterinary care.  Thanks to all of our friends and supporters, we are working hard to make this goal a reality.

FACE Board hard at work!

 

Apps Help People Reunite With Lost Pets

Few things are more distressing to pet owners than losing a dog, cat, or other beloved pet.  Unfortunately, pets go missing all the time, and the statistics show that un-microchipped animals that get brought to shelters only have around a 20% chance of being reunited with their families.

The internet has made it much easier to share information about lost and found pets than ever before.  Besides social media, which can be a great lost pet resource, more and more people are also turning to lost pet apps.  Here are a few of the most popular ones to check out:

Fur Alert:  The Fur Alert app is promoted as a kind of Amber Alert for missing pets.  Before your pet ever goes missing, you can download the app and create a profile for your pet.  If your pet does get lost, you can activate a missing pet report that will send an alert to other users in your vicinity.  You can also be a hero and help other people find their lost pets with the app.

Finding Rover:  The Finding Rover app uses facial recognition technology to help find lost pets.  You just take a picture of your dog, mark the eyes and nose, and they will keep your dog’s info on file in case he ever gets lost.  If your dog does go missing, Finding Rover will alert a large network of shelters, vets, fellow members, and other organizations to help you find your pet.

Paw Boost:  Paw Boost also helps users find lost pets via their app.  They have a variety of free tools that enable you to spread the word about your lost pet.  Notifications go out to shelters, vets, other members, and Facebook.  You can even use it to create a quality missing pet flyer to post around your community.

ASPCA Mobile App:  The ASPCA offers a free app that not only helps you find your lost pet by offering a personalized pet recovery kit and a digital flyer tool, they also let you store health record data on your pet and provide advice on how to keep animals safe before, during, and after a natural disaster.

PIP:  Similar to Finding Rover, the PIP app uses facial recognition technology to help people find missing dogs and cats.  The app analyzes photos of lost and found pets to find identifying features and make a match.  They also alert a network of shelters, vets, social media, and other users to help you find your missing pet.

 

If You Find Baby Wildlife: Important Tips

It’s very common to find baby wildlife this time of year.  While you may want to spring into action and “rescue” baby squirrels, rabbits, birds, etc. when you don’t see their mom around, wildlife experts will tell you that well-meaning “rescuers” are actually “kidnappers”—taking babies away when their mother is alive and well.

The best advice from the experts is wait and observe…as this neat infographic from Colorado’s Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center explains:

Here in California, the San Diego Humane Society’s Project Wildlife program has great information on its website about what to do if you find wild critters in your neighborhood that look like they might need rescuing, whether they’re babies, injured, or just made their way into your home.

As a general rule, when you see babies without mom nearby, don’t assume that they are orphans in need of rescuing.  Keep an eye on them if you are not 100% sure that mom is really gone.

Defenders of Wildlife has these great common-sense tips to keep in mind if you find wild babies in your yard:

  • Keep your distance if you want to take a photo, or better yet, skip the photo session!
  • Keep your cats and dogs inside to make sure that the babies stay safe. It’s also a good idea to make sure that children stay away from the babies.
  • It’s OK to place a baby bird back in its nest. If you don’t see the nest you can place it in a small container in the likely tree.  It’s a myth that the mom will reject the baby bird if you touch it.
  • Avoid pruning trees and shrubs during nesting season.
  • Sick or injured babies should only be cared for by specially-trained wildlife rehabilitators.

 

Thyroid Disease in Cats Linked to Chemical Found in Our Homes

One of the more perplexing feline health issues seen by veterinarians is the growing epidemic of hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormone) seen in cats in the past few decades…a condition rarely seen by vets as recently as the early 1970s.  A new article in the New York Times sheds some light on this veterinary mystery…and may cause cat owners to take a second look at the presence of a common chemical in our homes.

Hyperthyroidism in cats (also called feline wasting disease) causes serious symptoms like weight loss (combined with increased appetite), restlessness, poor coat quality, rapid heartrate, and increased thirst.  This had been a rare condition in cats, but over the past few decades, cats have been developing thyroid tumors, causing the thyroid gland to secrete large amounts of thyroid hormone into the body.

According to the article, several veterinarians began taking a closer look at feline patients with this wasting disease, starting in the late 70s and early 80s, and discovered that many of the cats had thyroid tumors and high levels of thyroid hormones.  These feline thyroid problems were rare until the late 70s.  The condition continued to grow and spread throughout the U.S. and to other countries into the 1990s.  Today, 10% of older cats will get hyperthyroidism.

An epidemiological study of cats with hyperthyroidism found some common risk factors that proved to be very important clues:  spending most of their time indoors, sleeping on carpets and our bedding materials, eating certain kinds of foods, and living in a home with a gas fireplace.  Researchers have narrowed their focus to one culprit:  a chemical substance that is commonly used as a flame retardant, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

Starting in the 1970s, this chemical was added to everyday household materials like carpeting, furniture upholstery, and even electronics.  Tiny particles of this substance migrate from the household item into the air…and bodies of our pets.  Cats seem to be especially sensitive to the fact that the structure of PBDEs mimic thyroid hormones and affect bodily functions.

This chemical has largely been removed from the manufacture of household items, although many people still have things containing it in their homes, and it also takes a very long time to degrade.  Feline behavior like sleeping on furniture and, more importantly, grooming, makes cats especially vulnerable to ingesting PBDEs.

As veterinarians continued to look into feline hyperthyroidism and PBDEs, they also found that there are high levels of PBDEs in certain canned cat foods, particularly fish-flavored food.  Cats exposed to high levels of PBDEs in their home environment are at increased risk of developing hyperthyroidism as they age.

The article notes that cats and other pets can often be seen as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to discovering how toxic substances in our environment can harm all living creatures, including us humans.  Pets that spend most of their time indoors, exposed to all of the toxins in the home environment, are especially good at telling us when something is wrong.  Testing reveals that virtually all humans have some PBDEs in the body.  Humans are also experiencing more cases of thyroid disease and thyroid cancer.

Want to learn more?  There is a Canary Database that actively tracks environment-related diseases in animals that may also affect humans.