For the last couple of generations, we have begun to accept the fact that most mutts (mixed breed dogs) are generally healthier than purebred dogs. This is verifiably the truth. Unfortunately, for many years, there was a belief in the breeding community that breeding within the breed (pure bred dogs) would maintain desirable breed characteristics and overall maintain a good quality of health. Not so much.
Purebred breeding throughout history was not just limited to dogs, cats, horses and other critters. History tells us that people did the same. The monarch society throughout Europe, where the monarch elitists insisted on breeding within their kind is a great example. Many sociological historians refer to type of society as a “hereditary rule” society where people born into this society rule by decree from a higher power and rules throughout their life. Some of them even went so far as to practice line-breeding. Most of you remember the movie, Deliverance. Never mind that example.
It is true that purebred animals maintain many of their fine traits, but breeding purebreds also maintains the “not so healthy” genes as well. This is not hard to see in many purebred dogs we see today. German Shepard dogs have always had enormous genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy. Springer Spaniels have their own disorder referred to as Springer Rage Syndrome. Schnauzers have Schnauzer comedone syndrome and many others. Heck, even King Charles Spaniels, a favorite among the monarch society has horrible potential for a particular type of heart disease that is rare in other breeds.
In stepped in the cattle business. Years ago there were basically types (genus-species) of cattle that were bred; Bos Taurus and Bos Indigo. The BT group were the Herefords and Angus type breeds found in Europe and the BI were the Brahman type cattle found in India. Both were great breeds with great qualities.
When the cattle market began to expand beyond the borders of their geographical regions there was a need for a new breed of cow, one that could put on the weight of the European breeds while withstanding the heat that was a characteristic of the Indian cattle. They decided to try something new. They bred the two types of cattle together to form the first mixed breed cattle. It was a great success which provided a cow that would meet their needs.
The geneticists who did the work coined the term “hybrid vigor.” This meant that they got the best of both worlds. Not only did they obtain their goal of a new type of cow, but they soon became aware that these mixed breed cows were much healthier overall. It appeared that when they mixed the two breeds, those nasty breed problems diminished. The defective genes sort of went into the background. Not 100%, but enough to make an enormous change in overall health.
The “hybrid vigor” that happened in cattle is exactly what happens with mixed dogs and cats. They tend to lose the bad genetic traits and maintain the good genetic traits.
For years we have had mixed breed pets and purebred pets and we still do. Now, we have an enormous rise in the “Boutique breeds” like the Labradoodles, Golden Doodles, Peekapoos. Cockapoos and many more. These new “breeds” are not purebreds, but mixed breeds that offer hybrid vigor and overall they are healthier than the two purebred dogs that were mated to create the “new breed dog.” A mutt is a mutt by any other name.
This type of thinking makes me enormously happy. People buy their boutique breed dog, pay big bucks, feel proud of their new pet, while unknowingly have obtained a healthier pet with lower breed predisposition for problems. Again, this does not completely eliminate breed specific problems, but it certainly diminishes the potential.
For many, many years, the medical profession linked genetic predisposition as the main influence on individual health. Everything from cancer to ingrown toenails were blamed on genetic predisposition. That was, until the Genome Study was done a while back. Medical researchers wanted to focus on genes, using new technology, in hopes of discovering the genetic link to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so on.
Twelve years later and thousands of dollars, they came up with one absolute fact. Genes actually had very little to do with disease. What? They identified genes, counted genes, compared genes and other than discovering how similar genetically we were to the great apes, that was about all.
If genetics is not the major factor for health issues, what is? The environment. It appears that the environment that the individual lives in is by far the most important factor regarding health. This includes diet, comfort, stress, toxicities and many more factors.
These finding led to the establishment of what is referred to as the science of Epigenetics; factors outside of the genetic influence that affect the health of the cells of the body. Much research is now being done to study the effects on environmental factors and the cells that make up the body. Dr. Bruce Lipton, cell biologist, at Stanford Medical School, led the way in epigenetic studies. He even showed that they could remove the genetics of a cell and it would continue to function normally. Wow.
One study that pretty much summed it up was the study that focused on the genetic potential for diabetes in families. Most of us know people who have diabetes that say that they have the disease in their family genes. Yes, this means that they are genetically predisposed, but the question arose as to “Why don’t all the children in the family get the disease instead of only a small percentage of them?”
They expanded their research to include families that had adopted children into their family. Guess what they found? The adopted children had the same elevated rate of diabetes as naturally born children in families with high incidence of diabetes. These children had absolutely no genetic relationship with the family, yet, many of them became diabetic. Why? They lived in the same environment with the same epigenetic factors, like diet, exercise, stress, etc.
So, what does this have to do with pet health care? It is the same. Whether you have a purebred dog, a boutique breed dog or a mutt, the primary factors associated with their health potential is not genetics. It is the environmental factors. Genetic potential no longer trumps all other factors.
We now turn our attention on the epigenetic factors to reduce the genetic predisposition for diseases in certain breeds. Anyone who has had Golden Retrievers can relate to genetic predisposition for cancer. But, the potential for the disease can greatly be reduced when the external factors are addressed and focused on as a means of prevention. Diet, toxins, immune stressors like over-vaccination and environmental stress have been determined to have enormous influence on pet health. Far beyond the role of the pet’s genetics.