Dogs and Humans Share Similar Gut Microbiomes

The human microbiome (the many microorganisms that live in and on our body) is a popular topic in science news these days.  Researchers are especially interested in how the microbes that live in our intestines impact our health and well-being.

Our pets have microbiomes too, and a recent study of the canine gut microbiome has found that humans and dogs share many similarities.  Dogs are more like humans in the gut microbiome than either pigs or mice.

Why are we so similar?  The study authors suspect that it has a lot to do with similarities in our diets.

The researchers randomly assigned two different diets to a group of dogs.  One was high protein/low carbohydrate and the other was a lower protein/higher carb diet.

The genes of the dogs’ gut microbes were sequenced using poop samples.  They were then compared to the genes of the gut microbes of humans and other animals.

The researchers found that we share more similarities with dogs than with pigs or mice.  They also found that dogs on the high protein/low carb diet experienced more changes in the gut microbiome than dogs on the higher carb diet.  This was especially true for overweight dogs.

Humans show similar gut microbiome changes when our diets are altered as well.  The researchers note that both dogs and humans with healthy body weights have more stable gut microbiomes, while obesity can lead to less stable gut microbiomes and an increased sensitivity to dietary changes.

 

 

New Study Examines the Health of Labrador Retrievers

The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States for many years.  We love this kind, gentle, and loving dog…but like any purebred dog, the Lab does have some inherited health issues that all owners should know about.

A recent study of Labs in the UK took a look at the most common health and well-being issues of this popular dog.  What are the key findings?

61.6% of all Labs in the study had at least one known health disorder.  Here are the most common:

  • Otitis externa (ear canal inflammation and infection)
  • Obesity (particularly among neutered males)
  • Degenerative joint disease (hip and elbow dysplasia)

Interestingly, some of the conditions were found to be more closely associated with coat color than others.  For example, chocolate colored Labs were more likely to have both otitis externa and a skin condition called pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots).

The average lifespan of all Labs is around 12 years, but chocolate Labs had shorter lifespans.  The two most common causes of death in Labs are musculoskeletal disorders and cancer.

The researchers suspect that the link between chocolate color and illness/mortality might be due to an increased number of genetic diseases contained in a more limited gene pool.

If you’re interested in a Labrador Retriever as your next pet, be sure to work only with a reputable breeder (or rescue organization) who health tests their dogs for inherited health problems.

For more information on health testing, check out the website of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.

 

The 6 Cat Life Stages

The American Association of Feline Practitioners has outlined the 6 distinct cat life stages, and what cat owners can do to provide the best care for their cats at each stage of life, from kittenhood to geriatrics.

Here’s a quick overview, and be sure to visit the AAFP website for the full details, and for lots of other useful cat care information as well!

Kitten (0-6 months):  This is the easiest stage to introduce your kitten to children and other pets.  It’s also the best time to establish a regular routine for nail trimming and tooth and coat brushing.  Teach your kitten to become comfortable with the carrier and rides in the car.

Junior (6 months-2 years):  Cats become sexually mature as young as 6 months of age, so be sure to have your cat spayed or neutered by this stage to avoid unwanted litters and improve your cat’s behavior.

Prime (3-6 years):  While cats are often at their healthiest at this stage, it’s still important to bring your cat to the veterinarian for regular wellness checkups and preventive care like dental cleanings.

Mature (7-10 years):  Some cats become more sedentary and less playful at this stage.  Be sure to keep your cat at a healthy weight to avoid the health problems associated with feline obesity, a common problem in older cats.

Senior (11-14 years):  Cats at this stage are roughly equivalent to human seniors in the 70+ age range.  Consider increasing vet visits to once every 6 months at this stage of your cat’s life.

Geriatric (15 years and over):  While the average cat lifespan is around 15 years, many cats can live well beyond their teens and into their 20s.  Monitor your older cat for health and behavior changes and talk to your vet about managing chronic health issues.

 

How Vets Talk to Clients About Feline Obesity

Obesity is a very common health problem in pets.  Is your dog or cat overweight…and if so, has your veterinarian had a serious discussion with you about the health risks associated with obesity in pets?  A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science examined how a group of vets in Ontario, Canada talked to clients about their overweight cats.

The findings show that many veterinarians tend to avoid potentially uncomfortable conversations about the less than ideal feeding practices of clients who have overweight cats, and they also often do not have serious discussions about weight management.  Vets are more likely to skirt around the issue to avoid insulting clients.  Their strategies include the use of humor, and addressing the pet directly (i.e. “You sure love your food, don’t you Fluffy?”).

The article notes that many owners of obese pets try to “normalize” their pet’s weight and minimize the seriousness of the problem.  This can be especially true for cats, as they tend to see the vet less frequently than dogs, so there are fewer opportunities for discussions between a vet and owner about feline obesity.

The researchers examined nearly 300 videos of vet-client interactions involving feline patients.  The results show that only a small percentage of the vets had any discussions about the causes and prevention of obesity.  In fact, most of the conversations were generated by a handful of the vets who were more likely to bring up the issue.

What were some of the communication problems identified?  When talking about specific kinds of cat food, the vets were more likely to mention specific brands’ quality and nutritional content, and the clients tended to focus on shapes and colors.  They often could not name the brands they used and said things like the food was “from the natural pet store.”

If clients seemed resistant to talking about feeding habits, the vets often resorted to humor when addressing a cat’s weight.  Talking to the pet as a way of communicating with the client was a common strategy.  This “patient-directed speech” would often take the form of a compliment on the cat’s appearance (nice fur, for example) and then joking conversations with the animal (“You’re not missing many meals, are you?”).

What can be done to improve vet-client communication about pet obesity?  The authors recognize that addressing pet obesity with clients can be a sensitive issue for vets.  However, they stress that there is “a need for a dynamic and individualized response to obesity management in veterinary medicine.”  Pet owners can be resistant to measures like reducing food intake and eliminating treats, but vets need to be more proactive in exploring their clients’ attitudes, asking questions, and providing clear explanations and plans in order to improve communication about pet obesity management and prevention.

And of course, we pet owners should talk honestly and openly with our vets about how we are feeding our dogs and cats, especially if they are overweight.  Awareness about the risks of pet obesity and what we as owners can do about it is important.  Here’s a great website to learn more about pets and weight:  petobesityprevention.org

 

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.