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.

 

Scientists Create a Dog Breed “Family Tree”

At first glance, a new visual representation of the canine family tree looks more like a pinwheel than a maple, but the researchers who recently mapped out a genetic history of over 160 dog breeds (published in the journal Cell Reports) have provided us with fascinating new insights into the evolution of dog breeds and how they are related to each other…and human history.

Click image to enlarge.

A study was conducted on the genetic data of 1,346 dogs representing 161 different breeds from all over the world.  The researchers discovered that while many breeds are interconnected, there are also some interesting outliers that have few connections with other breeds.  The connections between breeds can happen by chance, with human migrants who bring their dogs with them to other parts of the world, or through direct human intervention via cross-breeding.

As an example, the researchers highlight genetic variation among three breeds in the study (the Tibetan Mastiff, Saluki, and Cane Corso).  DNA collected from populations of these dogs in the US was quite different than DNA collected from the breeds in their countries of origin.  For example, American Cane Corso dogs show much more evidence of intermixing with other breeds (Mastiffs and Rottweilers) than those in their country of origin, Italy.

What are some other interesting findings of the study?

The researchers were able to confirm historical accounts of our creation of bull terrier breeds (for the purpose of dog fighting) through genetics.  All bull and terrier crosses can be mapped to the terriers of Ireland during the years 1860-1870, according to the study.

Speculation that the domestication of dogs first occurred in Central and East Asia is confirmed by genetic testing that identifies Asian spitz-type dogs as among the very earliest breeds.

Dogs traveled from Asia to the Americas 10,000 years ago with the first human migrants.  But the original New World dogs, like the distinctive Xoloitzcuintle, eventually encountered the dogs brought to the Americas by later European migrants and extensively interbred with them, especially herding breeds.

The authors point to two breed types—sighthounds and livestock guardian dogs—as examples of how breeds can develop in different geographic regions (the UK and the Mediterranean in this case) and share similar characteristics but not the same genetic material.  So a trait like speed or large size can be developed in isolation, but the resulting dog can be similar to unrelated dogs from other areas.

Interested in learning more?  You can read the full text and see more illustrations HERE.

 

Cat Genome Project Reveals Clues to Domestication

Birman

A study of the feline genome is providing new insights into how and why cats became domesticated. Compared to dogs, cat domestication is a relatively recent occurrence (30,000 years for dogs vs. 9,000 for cats), but researchers can still find signs of domestication in their DNA.

The lure of treats

Key findings from the cat genome project show that domestication created changes in genes related to memory, fear and reward-seeking. Reward-seeking is particularly important in the domestication process. The promise of a food reward enticed cats to hang around human settlements. Shy, solitary wild cats became more approachable and calm.

Pretty kitty

Analysis of the genes of purebred cats reveals that cats were bred primarily for hair color, texture and pattern, as well as facial features and docility. Researchers point to the Birman (pictured above) as an example. Humans selectively bred Birmans for their white paws. All Birmans have the genetic signature for this trait, and researchers believe this happened in a relatively short period of time.

Designed for hunting

Cats are strict carnivores, and researchers have found specific fat-metabolizing genes that help them digest fatty meats. These genes are not present in humans or animals that eat a more varied diet. Cats have evolved into expert hunters, as reflected by genes for superior hearing and night vision. Interestingly, their sense of smell is more sensitive to the chemical scents of other cats than it is to prey animals.

Click HERE for more information on the cat genome study.

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