Fat cats, growing children and unusual ingestion

WINSS Roundup Day 2



What can we learn from comparing the growth patterns of children and puppies? The comparison might at first glance seem unhelpful, but in fact techniques used to measure healthy growth in humans have led to the development of accurate growth curves for pets.

In the opening keynote, Professor Gary Butler of University College London explored the complexity of measuring growth in children. Measuring height and weight in the early years is tricky – failure to remove a full nappy when a baby is weighed can lead to wildly inaccurate readings. Equally challenging is accurate height measurement for infants and fidgety toddlers. However, if accurate information can be obtained and analysed the resulting growth charts are a valuable tool to help identify health issues, including obesity.

The success of this approach in human paediatrics, has directly inspired similar developments in veterinary science. Alex German of the University of Liverpool described a forthcoming tool for veterinarians based on thousands of measurements collected by the US Banfield chain of veterinary clinics. Once puppies are overweight it can be very hard to get them back to a normal size. Identifying the problem early is likely to lead to more successful interventions. Dogs have a much greater diversity of size and shape compared to children, but the tool can still be effectively applied.

The obesity theme was further developed by Nick Cave of Massey University. In a long term study to identify the early risk factors for cats. Being heavier early in life was clearly an issue, but surprisingly, so was time of birth. Kittens born before the summer solstice tended to end up heavier, although the reasons for this are currently unclear.

WALTHAM’s Janet Alexander spoke on the progress being made in modelling the canine gut in vitro. Sophisticated cell growing techniques in the lab are enabling some functions of the gut epithelium to be mimicked. This may ultimately lead to in vitro tests to assess the nutritional efficacy of alternative sources of protein as current supplies become scarcer.

Other speakers presented new research on the effectiveness of vitamin D supplement levels in dogs and nitrogen and sulphur amino acids requirements for kittens.

Vincent Biourge’s presentation on new ways to measure levels of coprophagia in dogs certainly caught the audience’s attention. The condition is commonly observed when dogs are bored or stressed, but may also be influenced by pack behaviour and diets that result in undigested food being excreted in the faeces. By using tiny makers pellets called BIPS (Barium Impregnated Polyethylene Spheres), Biourge and his team at Royal Canin were able to work out which dogs were eating their own waste by counting the numbers of pellets recovered on a daily basis, since if they had been re-ingested then less were recovered.

In the afternoon Hot Topics section of the programme, Adronie Verbrugghe of the University of Guelph asked whether the ancestral diets of cats and dogs might offer insights into the optimal nutrition for modern day pets. Other speakers addressed regulation of petfood ingredients in the US and returned to the issue of vitamin and its influence on animal health.

The afternoon ended with a lively workshop for early career researchers, giving them unique opportunity to question senior nutrition and veterinary scientists from across the globe.

You can view the WALTHAM presentation here: