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Animal Doctor: Generational effects of diet and exercise

Animal Doctor: Generational effects of diet and exercise

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Dear readers: I have expressed concern about the obesity epidemic in companion animals over several years, as well as raising the issue of epigenetic consequences: how parent-animals’ diets and activity levels affect the metabolic health of their offspring.

This is especially relevant for commercial puppy- and kitten-mill breeding operations, as well as hobby breeders whose animals are confined in cages and fed high-cereal-content kibble, which is shown to promote obesity and metabolic syndrome.

My concerns have been recently confirmed in a research study, “Exercise during pregnancy mitigates negative effects of parental obesity on metabolic function in adult mouse offspring” by Rhianna C. Laker and associates (published in March in Applied Physiology). The authors state, “Parental health influences embryonic development and susceptibility to disease in the offspring. We investigated whether maternal voluntary running during gestation could protect the offspring from the adverse effects of maternal or paternal high-fat diet in mice.”

The researchers found that “maternal or paternal obesity causes metabolic impairment in adult offspring in mice. Maternal exercise during gestation can completely mitigate metabolic impairment.”

In another study — by researchers at my alma mater, the Royal Veterinary College in London — offspring from mothers fed a “junk food” diet in pregnancy and lactation exhibited excess fat. The authors state:

“We have shown previously that a maternal junk food diet during pregnancy and lactation plays a role in predisposing offspring to obesity. Here we show that rat offspring born to mothers fed the same junk food diet, rich in fat, sugar and salt, develop exacerbated adiposity accompanied by raised circulating glucose, insulin, triglyceride and/or cholesterol by the end of adolescence (10 weeks postpartum) compared with offspring also given free access to junk food from weaning, but whose mothers were exclusively fed a balanced ‘chow’ diet in pregnancy and lactation.” (S.A. Bayol and associates, Journal of Physiology, 2008)

The truism that we are what we eat carries with it the legacies of culture, customs and food choices that influence the health and well-being of one generation after another.

Dear Dr. Fox: My 14-year-old dachshund was diagnosed with kidney failure. He doesn’t like the food the vet has given him. What meats and vegetables are safe for him to eat? — C.R., Tulsa

Dear C.R.: It is regrettable that many of the special and costly manufactured prescription diets for dogs and cats are unpalatable.

Try the home-prepared recipe from my website, but reduce the protein (meat, eggs, cottage cheese, etc.) to one-quarter of the amount in the recipe. Dogs with kidney disease should have less protein, but still need some because they pass protein out in their urine. This can cause them to lose muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


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