Pure Bred Dogs, Genetic Diversity and Diet

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Indian Pariah Dog, via Wikipedia

We were considering bringing a pup into our lives, so I dug deeper into breeds and genetics. In the process, I learned a few things. There is some real damage we humans have done through selective breeding. And to understand how it’s important to understand how we got here.

Dogs are the oldest animal species we first tamed, and later domesticated. They are descendants of wolves. The process may have happened twice and maybe as old as 40,000 years.

In some ways, it was a marriage of convenience. We liked to have guards, and wolves liked an easier meal. So who domesticated who may very well be a philosophical question. Regardless, tamer pups were bred with each other leading to easier to handle animals. We understand the process since it’s been repeated recently with foxes.

In the fourth selected generation, there appeared pups that responded to human by dog-like tail wagging. The offspring of the next selected generations displayed more and more dog-like behavior. In the sixth generation, there appeared pups that eagerly sought contacts with human, not only wagging, also whining, whimpering, and licking in a dog-like manner. Such foxes were assigned to the elite of domestication.

We have no idea how long it took early humans to get to domestic dogs. However, we under-estimate the observational power of our early ancestors. Moreover, the benefit of having a hunting companion, that could alarm, is obvious.

Dogs, like latter domestic animals, were a matter of survival, not companionship. We ignore this at our peril. For most of human history small, cute, loud dogs were not preferred. A small adorable Pomeranian would not be able to face things like large rats. And let’s ignore the issues with a long coat. Those dogs came much later, and are a product of our changing needs.

Terriers and other good hunting breeds were part of the protection racket between the two species. And many of them served the same role as the earliest domestic dogs, to flush outpray. They had a useful role in human settlements. And in some cases, they were joined by our latter domestic friend, the cat. Others were bred to help with managing cows and sheep.

Some dogs were bred for food, not unlike cows and fowl. This is the case with the Mexican hairless dog, the Xoloitzcuintli, Xolo for short. Pre-Columbian civilizations bred it partly as cattle and a guide to the underworld than just strictly a companion. Partly because early Americans did not have either cows or pigs, for that matter chickens. However, another breed of Mexican dog was bred as a pet, we believe. There are other origin theories for the breed, but the Conquistadors saw local populations take care of small dogs as pets. This we believe, would be the predecessor to the Chihuahua.

And as we all know, the dog is still a delicacy in Asia. This sends Western dog lovers into all kinds of negative reactions. There are rescues that specialize in taking dogs out of Thailand, for example. Never mind we have dogs at American shelters waiting, and never getting, dog parents.

In the process of selective breeding, just like the fox experiment, parents were selected for specific behavior, coat and bone structure characteristics. These repeated over time. And while at it, we have created a problem. Genetic diversity with purebred dogs is not what it should be. Add backyard breeders and puppy mills to the mix, and some breeds are in real trouble. Why? They are far more prone to medical issues, due to bad genetics. And while responsible breeders do test for genetic issues, certain breeds, like almost any Spaniel…are sickly at best.

Others, such as the German Shepherd, are prone to serious hip issues, in my view partly due to the breed standard. I am positive this played a role in many police departments switching from this intelligent dog to Belgian Malinois. while these dogs are also prone to orthopedic issues, and this is a problem across multiple breeds, there are less. There is an added cost in the medical care of a dog with the need for orthopedic surgery.

Does this mean your pooch will get these problems? It’s possible, so buy pet insurance. It is a good idea, in case Fido develops an expensive medical problem.

Then there are the toy and companion varieties. These little dogs tend to have issues with trick knees, as well as collapsing windpipes. Then there are liver shunts, meaning blood is not flowing in the liver, and removing toxins. It can be surgically repaired, but do not think of even breeding that dog. The rest of these issues can be serious, and in some cases will require surgery.

Granted, due to this selective breeding dogs will have more predictable personalities than cats. We have mucked up with cats for a lot less time. If you are wondering about pet parrots…I will say it now, you are dealing with a wild animal. Why the relationship with one is so special. It is not on our terms, and that is one of the hardest things for people to understand. Parrots are wonderful friends, but it is hardly a relationship with a domestic animal. At best, you are dealing with a tame, albeit very intelligent, being.

Overpopulation

There are way too many dogs and cats out there. We know this, and the humane society now recommends that animals should be spayed or neutered.

Pet “overpopulation” encompasses two primary factors: (1) allowing cats and dogs to reproduce with little chance to find homes for the offspring and (2) pets being relinquished by owners who can no longer keep their animals, or who no longer want them.

Every year, millions of cats and dogs are euthanized in our nation’s animal shelters because there are more pets than there are responsible homes for them. Until this issue is resolved, American Humane believes that all cats and dogs adopted from public or private animal care and control facilities should be spayed or neutered (i.e., sterilized). Such sterilization includes prepubertal spaying and neutering of kittens and puppies. American Humane supports the passage of laws and regulations mandating that all cats and dogs adopted from public or private animal care and control facilities be sterilized. It is less certain that community-wide mandatory spay/neuter laws are effective in addressing pet overpopulation. More information needs to be gathered on the benefit of prior legislative initiatives to determine long-term benefits.

American Humane encourages the veterinary profession to assist, whenever and however possible, in reducing the number of unwanted pets. This involvement includes supporting the neutering of cats and dogs adopted from public or private animal care and control facilities — thereby controlling the ongoing contribution of offspring to pet overpopulation. Veterinarians should continue to use their best judgment when recommending appropriate sterilization ages for individual cats and dogs owned by clients, especially those clients who are wellknown and likely to permit an unwanted pregnancy to occur prior to surgery. Short-term and long-term health risks for each animal should always be assessed. American Humane encourages research into the development and use of nonsurgical methods of sterilization.

We are at a crisis point. So if you are thinking of bringing one of these fur-kids into your home, by all means, adopt. Do your research. Some breed clubs will place adults with people as well. You must find which breed matches your lifestyle. Also, research what issues are normally present in the breed.

Some are worse with an obese dog, such as orthopedic issues and collapsing tracheas. A few are more common in small breeds, such as low sugar. Some breeds are especially bad about tolerating fat in their diets. Enjoy your friend, but avoid breeding.

My hope would be that responsible breeders could consider more mixed breeds and moving away from specific standards, to introduce more genetic diversity. And there is some evidence that these dogs tend to be healthier, but buyer beware. However, clubs are interested in the breed, not the long term health of the species in my view. Street dogs, like the Indian Pariah dog, will take care of that problem.

Diet

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obese dog, this one is from Addison disease, via Wikipedia

Like their human companions, obesity with pet dogs and cats has become a serious epidemic over the last thirty years. I have a confession to make. When I was growing up we had a poodle. Most likely he was a mix, and I am sure you have heard this before…he was the best dog ever. Blackie was a fit poodle, who liked to play and go out for walks. However, when he was fifteen, my brother tried to introduce him to Purina chow. It was the new-fangled thing then. And young vets in training were all agog about it.

Blackie ate home-prepared food all his life. He had rice, with meat, and some carrots, or other veggies. Table scraps were at times fed to him, or snuck to him by us kids. Though we never gave him bones. Mom made that crystal clear to all of us and was quite graphic about it. When we went to the park, at times he even got ice cream, he liked vanilla. However, he was not fat. He was not even a tad overweight.

To say that he was hardly impressed with that dog chow is not even a slight descriptor. He went on a food strike for two days, until his normal chow showed up in his dish. Incidentally, there were a few other things he loved. Carrots, sliced with lemon and powdered Chiles. He also went bonkers over Jicama. But that commercial stuff was smelly and hardly appetizing. Blackie was onto something vets are starting to tell their clients.

Strange to say but I believe we dog lovers will be going back to the future in properly feeding our canine friends. Going back to Nature by feeding meat-based foods and including what we term “table scraps” in dogs’ diets will surely be an improvement over some of the grain-based, cheap pet foods available today. Raw diets, frozen meat diets and home made diets are here today and will be even more popular in the future because dog owners will see the excellent results these more natural diets achieve.

And in this sense, it is going back to healthier food. And while you are at it, consider how processed foods are wrecking human health as well. Does this mean we should all cook for Fido? Or share from the table? Well, we should cook for ourselves. That is a good start. However, unlike Connie, the conure, onions, and garlic are bad for your pooch…so there are a few more food no-nos than with the conure. So it is not as easy as making meatballs for the dog. Connie ate a small bite.

You must also avoid raisins and grapes, and we all know about chocolate. However, carrots, a few other veggies, and apples are fine. And watch how much grains you feed them and what type. Apparently, quinoa is a better grain than rice, which is hardly surprising since it’s a complete source of protein. And they may like milk, but like parrots, they likely will have issues digesting the lactose. As always, ask your vet for guidance. This list is hardly comprehensive.

If you think you have an overweight friend, ask your vet. It is critical to get these issues under control. Diabetes is not fun in humans, but neither in your pet dog or cat. Oh, and as humans, crash diets are dangerous. In cats, they could be deadly. It is best to prevent obesity though. So try to start on the right foot, or is that paw, with your friend.

The other thing that has gone up in scary numbers among our dogs and cats is cancer. Like humans, there has to be a relationship with what we feed them. So, this is not clean eating for pets, whatever that means. We really have not fed them this way for most of human-canine history, or for that matter human-feline history. And if you must, read labels and look for higher quality food. Yes, it is more expensive.

Incidentally, if humans disappear, dogs will go back to the normal course of evolution. As breeds interbreed, all those breed standards we worked so hard to create to please ourselves will disappear. Breeds that preserved stronger hunting instincts, will likely contribute more to the survival of the species. But for the moment we are responsible for them. We domesticated them, or is it the other way around? But for the moment they depend on us for all, except for wild packs in many places around the world. Those wild packs will give you a good idea what a back to nature dog will likely look like.

When we are ready…someday, all this research will make me a better fur parent. Yes, I will cook dinner for this pooch and will adopt at the shelter. I am not interested in breeding a dog. And if this dog is a perfectly good street mutt with difficult to identify breed characteristics, I am fine with that. A piece of turkey or chicken from the table is perfectly fine. Even some apple.

I have a few pure breeds, and chiefly mixed-breeds, to keep my eye on. I have a list because one of the good things of this mucking with inbreeding…we have dogs (and cats) that are hypoallergenic. That is a good thing.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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