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Blueprints for Health: The Breeder's Guide to DOHaD

Picture your favorite puppy, those trusting eyes gazing up at you… and consider that every choice you make, from their mother's nutrition to their socialization period, can impact their adult lives. Imagine a future where chronic disorders like obesity, chronic enteropathy, and behavioural issues are significantly less common. A future where we, as responsible breeders, can shape not just the breed, but the health of each individual dog. This isn't a dream; it's a scientific reality we're just beginning to understand. An enlightening paper published in late 2022 has opened a new chapter in our knowledge journey. It explores the concept of developmental programming, suggesting that the early stages of life hold the key to adult health outcomes. A puppy's world, from its mother's diet to its gut microbiome, weaning, growth rate, and even the timing of rehoming and neutering, can all mold its future. Isn't it remarkable? Our role as breeders is not just genetic architects, but also health shapers for our dogs, impacting their quality of life for years to come. So, in this blog, let’s discover what the key take-aways from this ground-breaking paper are for dog breeders.

How Early Life Shapes Canine Health
In the quiet moments, as you watch a mother dog tenderly care for her newborn puppies, it's easy to marvel at the miracle of life unfolding before you. But these early stages hold more significance than you might imagine.

A newly emerged perspective, the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) hypothesis, suggests that these early life experiences can dramatically influence a dog's risk of developing chronic diseases in adulthood. Conditions like obesity, chronic enteropathy, and behavioural issues could have their roots in the puppyhood we help to shape.

It's a bold idea, supported by diverse studies across humans, rodents, sheep, and pigs.
Yet, the research in our canine companions remains sparse, despite the increasing prevalence of these disorders. Our understanding of early-life risk factors could revolutionize preventive veterinary care and our breeding practices, ultimately creating a healthier future for our dogs.

The Lifelong Impact of Early Choices
A dog's journey begins long before its first breath and continues to evolve well beyond its first steps. And our influence extends beyond genetics into the realm of early-life experiences.

During gestation, a mother's diet or stress level can subtly mold her puppies' development. The suckling period affects a pup's growth, metabolism, and immune system. Early growth before neutering or puberty influences reproductive development and behaviour. Even the period from post-neutering or puberty to adult size, where the body's composition is finessed, is a critical window.

These findings underscore our role as architects of health, shaping our dogs' lives through the experiences we curate.

Yet, as with any great journey, we need a map to guide us. Despite the promise DOHaD holds, our understanding of it in dogs remains in its infancy. We still need to unravel the complex mechanisms underlying these early-life influences and determine how we can optimize conditions for our dogs' wellbeing.

The Urgent Need for DOHaD Research in Dogs
Such research won't be easy. It requires a team of multidisciplinary experts, longitudinal studies, standardized protocols, and recognition of breed-specific nuances. But the potential benefits are enormous. Not only could we enhance our dogs' lives, but we might also gain valuable insights into human health, considering our shared environment and common diseases.

In our quest to shape the future health of our dogs, we stand at a crossroads. 
To the left, the well-trodden path of traditional husbandry and veterinary care, addressing immediate needs. To the right, a path less traveled, one that asks us to consider not just the present, but the far-reaching echoes of our actions. A path inspired by the DOHaD concept.

Preventive veterinary care and husbandry practices should not merely be a response to present conditions. They should also be a carefully considered investment in our dogs' futures. The decisions we make today about nutrition, stress management, gut health, socialization, growth rate, and neutering can shape the future wellbeing of our dogs, affecting their immune, endocrine, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems.

As breeders, you are pioneers on this journey of understanding. By championing and supporting such research, you can help shape a future where chronic diseases are fewer, and our dogs enjoy a healthier, happier life. After all, isn't that the ultimate goal of our lifelong journey of knowledge?

Table 1: 10 Practical Tips Dog Breeders Can Immediately Use and Implement Based on the DOHad concept

#1 Provide optimal maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy to support fetal development and avoid metabolic disorders in offspring.
#2 Promote early establishment of a diverse and balanced gut microbiome in puppies and kittens by avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use and providing probiotics or prebiotics when appropriate.
#3 Encourage maternal behaviour and care during the suckling period to reduce stress and enhance immune system development in offspring.
#4 Wean puppies and kittens gradually and at an appropriate age (around 8 weeks) to avoid abrupt changes in diet and environment that can affect gut health and behaviour.
#5 Provide adequate nutrition during growth that meets the specific needs of each breed and avoids overfeeding or underfeeding that can lead to obesity or malnutrition.
#6 Monitor growth rate and body condition score regularly and adjust feeding accordingly to prevent excessive or insufficient weight gain that can predispose to chronic diseases.
#7 Socialize puppies and kittens with other animals and people from an early age (3-12 weeks) to help prevent behavioural problems such as aggression, fear or anxiety.
#8 Rehome puppies and kittens at a suitable age (around 8-12 weeks) to minimize stress and facilitate adaptation to their new environment.
#9 Neuter puppies and kittens at an optimal time that considers the benefits and risks of the procedure for each individual, breed and sex, and monitor their weight and behaviour after neutering.
#10 Provide regular veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, parasite control, dental care, exercise and enrichment for puppies and kittens throughout their life to maintain their health and welfare.

Emmanuel Fontaine graduated from the Toulouse Veterinary School in 2004, he continued his studies at the Alfort Veterinary School (Paris) as trainee Vet in the domestic carnivore unit of the Reproduction Department. From 2005 to 2011, he worked at the Centre d’Etude en Reproduction des Carnivores (CERCA) [Research Centre for Reproduction in Carnivores], a unit specializing in pet breeding assistance. Emmanuel Fontaine is also qualified at the European College for Animal Reproduction (ECAR) and completed his PhD in 2012 on the use of GnRH agonists in canines. From September 2011 to September 2018, he worked as Technical Services Veterinarian for the PRO team at Royal Canada. He then was in charge of Scientific Communication for the Americas until August 2022. He now works as Senior Scientific Communications Veterinarian for Royal Canin North America. 
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