Canine nutrigenomics is the study of how diet interacts with a dog's genes and influences their health. This emerging field examines the interaction between a dog's genetic makeup, its environment, and its diet to help us understand how nutrition affects the body on both a short-term and long-term basis.
In this post, we'll take a closer look at the cutting-edge field of canine nutrigenomics and explain how it can benefit your dog's health. We'll also explore why dogs are becoming an important model for studying diseases in humans that are related to gene regulation.
The Basics of Nutrigenomics
An animal's potential is determined by their genetic makeup. However, diet and environment, within a given genetic set-up, can also have an impact on health, performance, and longevity.
Genes affect a cell's functionality. Gene expression is the process through which DNA instructions are transferred into functional products – namely, proteins. Within a cell, segments of DNA are translated into messenger RNA to make specific proteins.
These proteins dictate what the cells do and help them function properly. Changes in the mRNA can occur due to diet which may cause physiological changes in animals that eat differently. Similar changes may also happen with diseased or sick animals, or over time with aging animals.
Nutrigenomics is based on 2 components:
- Nutrigenetics: the response to diet (nutrients) based on an animal's genetics. The genetic background of an animal can affect how it processes nutrients.
- Nutrigenomics: impact of diet (nutrients) on gene expression. Gene expression dictates what the cell does or how it functions.
In the next section of this post, we’ll explain how the science of canine nutrigenomics can be applied to help your dog live a longer and healthier life.
How Can Nutrigenomics Improve Your Dog’s Health?
So, how can canine nutrigenomics improve your dog's overall health? Put simply, nutrigenomics allows for optimized diets that contain the nutrients an individual animal needs to modify their gene expression. Consider this example:
A dog's genetics creates a predisposition for allergies. But the animal never develops any allergy symptoms because it eats primarily meat-based diets with no trigger food proteins.
The same genetic makeup, if changed to include an allergenic protein from dairy in the diet, may lead to allergic reactions. The study of nutrigenomics can help us understand how certain foods affect gene expression and why some individuals react differently than others.
In the above example, nutrigenomics allows us to modify the dog's diet to suppress the genes responsible for allergic response. According to an article from PetMD, scientists are also using nutrigenomics to combat the problem of obesity in pets. This was achieved by determining the difference in gene expression between obese and lean pets, mainly related to differences in metabolism.
Armed with this information, the scientists were able to formulate a special diet that altered metabolism in the obese pets. Jennifer Coates, DVM explains:
"[The scientists] found a synergistic combination of ingredients that help change the unhealthy metabolism of the obese pet to work more like the healthy metabolism of lean animals by changing the gene expression of the obese pets to look more like the gene expression of a lean pet."
Canine Nutrigenomics and Human Disease
An understanding of canine nutrigenomics can also improve treatment for human disease by providing insights into the physiological changes that occur in both animals and humans as they age, become sick, or recover from an illness.
Medical science has greatly advanced the treatment and care of companion animals, including diet and nutrition. As a result, our pets are living longer but also suffering from medical conditions that are typically associated with humans.
In congruence with human medicine, animals are used as models for genetic and nutritional diseases. Dogs have been known to be models for osteoarthritis, various types of cancer, heart disease, and chronic metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes. Nutrigenomics will likely play an important role in managing these diseases, since there is a genetic component.
The Importance of Functional Foods
Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM is the author of Canine Nutrigenomics - The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. In an article for Animal Wellness Magazine, she explains how functional foods can influence gene expression:
"Certain dietary constituents such as vitamins A and D, zinc and fatty acids can directly influence gene expression, whereas others such as dietary fiber can have an indirect effect through changes in hormonal signaling, mechanical stimuli, or metabolites produced from the microbial flora in the bowel."
Examples of functional foods that are currently added to pet food include nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which benefit joint health. Many pet foods also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may help protect against heart disease and cancer.
Virgin coconut oil is a functional food that boosts an animal's metabolism and helps them maintain a healthy weight. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in the body, supporting brain function, digestive health, immune system functioning, and cell health.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how genetics and nutrition interact. This cutting-edge science has vast potential to positively impact our canine companions. As further understanding of nutrigenomics emerges, it should be possible to formulate diets not only for preventative measures, but also for more complex diseases such as diabetes, cancer, aging, behavioral changes, and heart disease. These diets will be tailored to the individual animal and contain functional foods and key nutrients that modify gene expression and improve overall health and wellbeing.