Man's best friend is at the forefront of a targeted approach to clinical nutrition.
Dogs and humans have a similar number of genes - about 23,000 - and most canine genes appear to have human equivalents and vice versa, according to Dr David Sargan, a senior lecturer in molecular pathology and molecular genetics at Cambridge University Centre for Veterinary Science.
Much of Sargan's research has focused on unravelling the link between the many genetic conditions we share with our canine companions.
Nutrition the key to arthritis cure?
His findings have been backed by current studies and the application of pioneering work in nutritional genomics (nutrigenomics), which explore the link between nutrition, genes and disease. Results indicate that personalised, focused nutrition could well be the healthy way forward for both man and pet.
Breakthrough research on the canine genome, using nutrition to influence the expression of key genes directly, is a case in point. Nutrigenomic technology (backed by clinical studies on 249 dogs, who were fed a specific canine pet food product formula for 450 cumulative days) moved science from lab to bag.
In as little as 21 days mobility improved in the canine case studies and arthritic pain was reduced.
Gene interaction the main focus
It's not only what you eat that affects your health; nor is it your genes: it is the way they interact. Studies suggest a continual interaction in which certain foods are capable of manipulating the genes with which we were born. Foods such as green tea and broccoli, for example, enhance the action of protective genes, while others suppress them.
"The nutrients in the pioneering canine joint diet literally block the genes that produce cartilage-destroying enzymes and thus protect the joints from further damage," explains Dr Guy Fyvie, veterinary consultant for Hill's Pet Nutrition. He describes the introduction of pet foods based on these findings as "an important and exciting step in further helping to explore the concept of nutritional therapy in the treatment of debilitating human and canine diseases."
His view is endorsed by Dr John Innes, professor of small animal surgery at the University of Liverpool's Department of Veterinary Clinical Science.
New approach to chronic conditions
To Innes, the application of nutrigenomics marks a new approach in the targeting and treatment of many chronic conditions in both humans and dogs. As he points out, given the short canine generation gaps and many offspring, genetics in dogs is much easier to study.
To date over 400 canine genetic diseases have been identified, which vary according to breed. Says Innes: "Nutrigenomics gives us great insight into understanding how and why certain canine breeds are predisposed to particular conditions and gives us one more tool in our ongoing quest to treat and prevent illness."
An estimated 20% of dogs suffer from canine osteoarthritis, considered to be the most common cause of chronic pain in adult dogs. The new canine joint diet, the first pet food clinically proven to change gene behaviour, was launched in South Africa in 2005 by Hill's Pet Nutrition.
The formula contains very high levels of the omega 3 fatty acid EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), which interacts with genes to help slow down arthritis. Canine sufferers can now look forward to a longer, healthier life.
For more information about nutrigenomics, ask your local veterinarian for details on the new scientific canine joint diet.
(Press release by Hill's Science Diet., September 2005)