4 mixed breeds of dog sitting in a field


Dog breeds look different on the outside, but what about the inside?

Differences between dogs are easy to see: Body size, colour, shape and coat type all contribute to an extraordinary range of appearances

But what about what we can’t see? Genetic tests are now common and allow owners to satisfy their curiosity by finding out which breeds are genetically embedded in any mixed breed dog. And we know that some ailments and diseases can also be more prevalent in certain breeds. But are there differences in the inner workings, or metabolism, of healthy dogs that are characteristic of a particular breed as well? So a group of researchers, led by Dr David Allaway from WALTHAM, along with scientists from Aberystwyth University and University of New England, Australia decided to find out.

The team started by looking at a large range of blood-based metabolites produced by 3 different breeds of dog fed the same food. They found that they could easily group the samples based on their breed. Confident in their approach, they set about to see if they could repeat this in a more complex study – more breeds and dogs fed any diet that their owner chose. This was no simple task as any combination of markers could potentially be breed specific.

Nine popular breeds were sampled: Beagle, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Golden Retriever, Greyhound, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever and Maltese. To their delight, the team were able to detect marked differences in blood metabolites between the various breeds. Some of these were specific enough to be used as markers. In other words, they could identify the breed from a blood sample, simply by examining the metabolite profile. Most useful in this regard, were a group of molecules called lipids, which includes fats and oils.

The team wanted to find out more about the lipid group, so it was time to pull out the big guns and deploy some state of the art technology. The technique involved using liquid chromatography to separate out the various lipid molecules, and then mass spectrometry was then used to pinpoint the molecular structure with a very high resolution.

Impressively, after some data crunching, the team were able to find unique combinations of markers that could tell most of the breeds apart, despite the dogs eating different food. Only the Cocker Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers could not be easily identified from the metabolites in the blood samples.

“This is a first step” said Dr Allaway. “We now know that the metabolism of healthy dogs from various breeds can be used to tell them apart. When we know more about these differences, we hope to be able to provide optimal healthcare and nutrition for the different breeds”.

Both of these papers are freely available to download at the links below:
Lloyd, A.J., Beckmann, M., Tailliart, K., Brown, W.Y.,Draper, J. and Allaway, D., 2016. Characterisation of the main drivers ofintra-and inter-breed variability in the plasma metabolome of dogs. Metabolomics,12(4), pp.1-12

Lloyd, A.J., Beckmann, M., Wilson, T., Tailliart, K.,Allaway, D. and Draper, J., 2017.. Ultra high performance liquidchromatography–high resolution mass spectrometry plasma lipidomics candistinguish between canine breeds despite uncontrolled environmentalvariability and non-standardized diets. Metabolomics, 13(2), p.15