Is it all in the DNA?

Nature Vs Nurture

By Eleanor Andrews

As practitioners and pet owners, we often wonder whether our animal’s health and orthopaedic conditions are a result of their genes or their environment. This is a classic debate of nature vs nurture, which is also relevant for animals.

Nature refers to the genetic makeup of an animal, while nurture refers to the environment they grow up in. In the case of animals, their environment includes their diet, exercise, and the care they receive from their owners.

When discussing orthopaedic conditions, it’s important to understand that different breeds of animals have different predispositions to certain conditions. For example, large dog breeds like Great Danes or Labradors are more prone to hip dysplasia, which is a genetic condition. However, this doesn’t mean that every Great Dane will develop hip dysplasia and proper nutrition, exercise, and care may help prevent or delay the onset of the condition. The same for Thoroughbred horses and kissing spines.

On the other hand, environmental factors can also play a significant role in the development of orthopaedic conditions in animals. For example, a lack of exercise and a poor diet can lead to obesity, which can cause joint problems in animals, just like it can in humans. Additionally, animals that are not given proper care and attention can develop behavioural problems that lead to orthopaedic injuries, for example, stereotypic behaviour such as spinning, or continually jumping up on their hindlimbs in dogs may lead to stifle problems, whilst crib-biting and weaving can lead to joint, ligament and tendon issues in horses as well as systemic problems.

It’s important to note that the debate of nature vs nurture is not a black-and-white issue. Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in an animal’s health and orthopaedic conditions. While we cannot control an animal’s genes, we can control their environment to some extent.

As practitioners we must educate and support our pet owners, to help them provide their pets with the best care possible to ensure they live long and healthy lives.

As osteopaths, we consider the environment as well as internal factors and educate owners on how best to support their animal working with a preventative care model to ameliorate any potential negative environmental impact on the animal. That is why the Total Lesion Concept is a vital component of Osteopathic Philosophy and is taught within AOI’s diploma programme.

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