|Patricia Trotter reminds us that "absence of disease does not always indicate the presence of optimum health."
One of the saddest byproducts of modern times is the compromised environment in which we all live. And dogs — both purebred and mixed-breeds — are not any more immune to it than their masters. Exactly how much impact pesticides, plastics, parasite medications, vaccinations, hormones, and other assorted toxic materials in the environment have on the well-being of our animals is difficult to determine.
Are dogs suffering more diseases termed hereditary today than ever before due to a more dangerous environment? My half-century of breeding, studying, investigating, and trying my best to remain open-minded have long led me to consider this possibility.
Is genetic trash in the gene pool more frequently expressed today than in the past? If so, why?
Fingers are pointed at us by those who would like to eliminate the hobby breeding of purebreds because they mistakenly think our breeding practices are at fault. Such thinking is too simplistic, as well as the biased message of hate mongers.
At a time when parent clubs and individual breeders are working harder than ever to remove genetic diseases from the gene pool, we are increasingly accused of negligence in this area.
But what if a large percentage of our collective problems have as much to do with conditions in the environment enabling the expression of “junk” genes that were always present but held in check by optimum environmental circumstances? Certainly cancer has been identified as a disease that is multifactorial, with environmental influences part of the package. How much are unavoidable conditions of surroundings, available feeds, and other influences determining whether given individuals are affected by various negative health traits or not?
Although autism, a disabling neural disease that starts in early childhood, is considered a disease with a strong genetic basis, the medical world has accepted that toxic materials in the environment may be contributing causes. Such diseases are sometimes considered rare combinations of genetic variations or even mutations. It is reported that mutations can be environmentally sparked. Most genetic expression is caused by genetic combinations rather than one singular gene, yet each gene is a small piece of the puzzle that when put together allows a particular trait or condition to be expressed.
In a Thoroughbred Times
article on gene-expression therapy, Kenneth L. Marcella, DVM, addresses this school of scientific inquiry focusing on laminitis. Laminitis is an inflammatory disease that attacks the feet of horses and renders their feet so painful they are unable to walk. The great Secretariat was humanely euthanized while in otherwise excellent health at 19 because even the world’s best equine veterinarians were unable to help him.
A Holistic Approach
Inflammation is the cause of such diseases as arthritis and fibromyalgia — but it very well could be the cause of most disease. Marcella’s article addresses the potential for science to discover how to isolate and control genetic behavior, switching genes on and off for the good of the order. His report addresses the development of a natural supplement aimed at improving cellular function of the animal, allowing the body to heal itself or even prevent disease. The supplement is a phytoalexin, the defense mechanism used by plants to protect themselves.
Called resveratrol, the supplement utilizes grapes, seeds, and nuts as its source and is the element in red wine thought to provide health benefits to those who drink it in moderation. It would seem that plants are the source of much that is healthy food in our environment. Wolves and other doglike animals go for the partly digested plant contents in the stomachs of the herbivores they kill as soon as they are done with the liver. The liver provides vitamin A and the vitamin B complex, while stomach contents provide various enzymes and plant materials.
In the 1980s, I rescued a 6-year-old Norwegian Elkhound eaten up with sebaceous cysts that were infected and inhabited by maggots. This dog was near death, depressed, and bone thin. Immediate veterinary attention, coupled with a highly supplemented nutritious diet, resulted in his speedy return to good health and the eventual completion of his championship title. Throughout the years, our feeding schedule has included various supplements to strengthen the immune system and the dogs’ overall health. This is especially true when dealing with brood bitches, whose well-being is so essential to the program. Although it cannot be proven, it appears that hip dysplasia and other diseases associated with heredity can be reduced to some extent by a concentrated holistic approach.
We live in a world of increasing medical expertise on the one hand, and increasing holistic activity on the other. The medical community expands its ability to treat disease all the time, while the holistic group attempts to prevent it. Obviously, in a perfect world there would be a meeting of the two to increase the well-being of all.
Dedicated, responsible dog breeders must continue to improve the environment of each individual while monitoring hereditary problems to produce the optimum for the animals in their breeding programs. Raw diets, supplements, and the best of foods produce healthier animals when they are the product of healthy gene pools. Substituting natural products for toxic ones also helps.
Dog breeders must remain constantly alert to the dangers that can compromise the well-being of their animals. Keep in mind that absence of disease does not always indicate the presence of optimum health.
(Originally published in the July 2010 AKC Gazette
Patricia Trotter is an AKC judge approved for more than 80 breeds and Best in Show. She is the founder of the famed Vin-Melca line of Norwegian Elkhounds.