Can Diet Change a Dog’s Genes to Fat Burning from Fat Storing?

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The idea of functional foods and, specifically, nutrogenomics (the study of how food and nutrition can impact gene expression), suggests that food can have a direct and marked impact on a person’s or pet’s health. One interesting study, performed at Hills Pet Nutrition, found that specific foods could change a dog’s genes and turn an obese dog’s body from fat storing to fat burning.


Diet and the Obesity Genes in Dogs

The Hill’s study was based on the work of Hill’s scientist Dr. Ryan Yamka. Yamka had previously conducted studies including one that compared differently formulated weight loss foods to weight loss and gene expression, and his prior work which identified the gene expressions of overweight vs. lean dogs. In the food comparison study, Yamka et al. concluded that a diet with a higher lysine (an essential amino acid) to calorie ratio and lower total fiber but higher soluble fiber would not only preserve muscle mass upon weight loss, but it would also alter the gene expressions of markers related to obesity. This research supported the idea that diet could change a dog’s body, through gene expression, to one that tended toward leanness vs. obesity, when compared to its pre-diet state and even when compared with other dogs fed a normal low calorie weight loss diet.

The follow up Hill’s study looked at the weight loss and gene markers in seven obese Beagles. This study was not comparing different diets, but rather was meant to confirm that high lysine to calorie diets could result in weight loss and a change in obesity gene expressions. The researcher’s findings are summarized below.


On average, dogs lost 2.8 ± 0.8 kg body fat (41.2% of initial fat mass) in 4 months. In addition, gene expression profiles were modified in these dogs after 4 months of weight loss on the food. The nutrigenomic effect of the food can be seen in the shift from an obese to a lean profile. Of the genes identified, there was a down regulation of genes associated with fat accumulation.


The Hill’s study and the prior work both support the idea that food can impact gene expression and help to change a body to have less obesity tendencies. The research also raises a handful of questions in my mind.


First of all, I wonder if the obese dogs were born with the gene expression profiles that they presented with at the time of the study, or did these develop over time due to over- and poor- feeding patterns? If the latter, would a high quality, calorie restricted diet, over the long term, in and of itself modify the dog’s gene expression back to a more “normal” level? Obviously, in order to test this, a study would need to capture blood work throughout adulthood for a set of subject dogs and compare the markers for dogs that remained lean with those that ended up getting fat.


The second question is whether or not the biomarkers in the blood samples would reflect actual changes in the bodies fat cells. In other words, is it certain that changes in the blood markers mean that the actual cells themselves were less prone to fat storage?


The third question is related to the specific food that was used- the Hill’s Prescription Diet r/d Canine. In the next installment of this piece, I will examine this food and make my own conclusions on the appropriateness of it as a healthy weight loss tool.

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  1. Interesting study. It would be interesting to find out that increasing the amino acid profile content could have more of an effect on weight loss than the traditional dietary fiber/lower carb, and it’s nice to know that the dogs fed with the higher lysine diets maintained (and gained greater) muscle mass. Sounds like a promising start for some further research.
    Jen Gabbard recently posted…Mass Dog Vaccinations Successful at Eliminating RabiesMy Profile

  2. if that really works it would change nearly the world. I would like to hear what you found out.

  3. Very interesting. I sometimes get bogged down in studies and their info. I look forward to your next post on the subject.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Taste Testing Sojos Baked Treats And Give-AwayMy Profile

  4. Oh wow! This was super interesting!
    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Can pets have pet peeves?My Profile

  5. We’ve wondered about this food and the claims. It seems to be working, but we look forward to hearing more about what you find out and think about the genetics changing.
    Emma recently posted…Should You Brush Your Dog’s TeethMy Profile

  6. Beagles and Dachshunds, especially, seem prone to obesity. Which seems odd, given their jobs, running to hunt. Why do some dogs gobble food and others not? None of my dogs are gobblers, and I know that it’s not training on my part. Not sure if it’s breed. Not even sure if that lends itself to obesity.
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  7. We switched to a slow feeder bowl for Bentley and it is great. We began working diligently on his weight in November. He has lost 5 pounds and we are walking one mile each day. Huge improvement!!
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  8. Thanks for sharing. This is very interesting.
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  9. So does it say conclusively (I did not read the study) that perhaps overweight dogs should be fed a diet with foods containing increased lysine? If so, what are foods with increased lysine?

  10. Who do I email to get you guys federal funding?

  11. Interesting study for sure. Beagles do tend to be a bit overweight I think. In fact, at Luna’s first vet appointment our vet made a specific effort to let me know about that. I always associated it with Beagles being such food hounds, but I do wonder if the breed is genetically prone to weight gain at all.
    Jessica Shipman recently posted…Valentine’s Day Strawberry Banana Heart Frozen Dog TreatsMy Profile

  12. Interesting, we recommend R/d at the clinic so I’m too am interested in what you find out.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Norman’s Kisses~Hand To Paw Cream and ChapstickMy Profile

  13. This is really interesting. Generally speaking, it makes sense. We know that environment influences gene expression in humans, it would follow that there are changes that we can make in our dogs “environment” and see differences.
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  14. I do believe that nutrition affects gene expression. Waiting for Dr. Dodds’ book on nutrigenimcs to arrive. I’m also quite fascinated by epigenetics, which also influence how genes get expressed.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Does Your Dog Like Chewing Sticks? Hank’s StoryMy Profile

  15. This was a very interesting post indeed, and I can’t wait to read your thoughts on Hill’s Prescription Diet..
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Understanding B.A.R.F. ~ Bones And Raw FoodMy Profile

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