Kate Shoveller: My name is Kate Shoveller, and I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Bio-sciences. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Animal Biology from the University of Guelph and my PhD from the University of Alberta. I’ve spent time in government, in the pet food industry, and I’m now an academic at the University of Guelph.
What brought me to this research was most companion animal and equine nutritionists, while we would love to focus on only a few things, we tend to focus very broadly. And one of the things that my lab does is looks at new ingredients for these companion animal industries. And the oil that we’re investigating in this trial, camelina oil, does not have the physiological research that most ingredients do. So that led us to ask the question of how similar or different camelina oil and its effects are in both dogs and horses with a particular focus on functional outcomes. So does camelina oil change the fatty acid components? Does it improve inflammatory markers? And does it improve or support skin and coat in both of these species too?
This is a long-term study or what we would call a parallel design. We had three different groups of client owned dogs. Those clients owned dogs, we first gave them what we call a wash in diet. We standardize everybody and make sure everybody’s at the same starting point at the beginning. And then we take baseline measures and we continue with those same measures throughout the entire feeding of those diets to dogs.
When you look at different oils, the first thing that you want to look at is whether the fatty acid composition of that oil, how quickly it then alters the fatty acid composition in the blood. And in other species, we’d look at tissues, but we’ll be using blood and the lipid fractions in that blood to look at how fatty acid content changed in the dogs.
Then in the blood, we will also be measuring different kinds of markers of inflammation and anti-inflammation. And then in terms of skin and coat, we have both subjective and objective markers. And so our objective marker is we take a look at how much water is lost from the skin. As an example, elderly would lose more water from their skin than an adult would, for example, so we also have a wide range of age dogs on our study. And if these different oils support skin turnover, then what we’ll see is, we’ll see less water loss from that skin as their skin and coat improves.
In terms of the subjective markers of skin and coat, you can look at how much the dogs shed. How much dander they have on them and then you can also ask individuals to score how shiny they think the coat is. And so those are more subjective because you might think a dog looks shinier than I do, and you will score it higher. So those are a little bit more subjective versus the water loss, which is a as a quantitative measure.
Taylor Richards: We wanted to make sure that we standardized the dogs, so every two weeks before each sample day, we would bathe the dogs. And to do that, we used a calculation, a surface area calculation, to determine how much soap each dog gets. We just made sure to bathe them before that two week period, because that’s really when the results are affected is within the two weeks before that period.
My role with this project is mainly looking at transepidermal water loss because that’s a sign of skin barrier function. I’m also looking at pro and anti inflammatory biomarkers, so that’ll give us a good idea on how the dog’s skin barrier function is working.
Scarlett Burron: Part of what we’re doing in our study here, is we take blood samples at every sample day. So at week zero, two, four, 10 and 16, we’ve been taking blood samples from the dogs. Part of that is to get the plasma for the inflammatory and non-inflammatory biomarkers. The part that I’ll be looking at is we’re using the serum from the blood, and we’re going to use gas chromatography in order to look at the lipid fractions in the blood. That will give us an idea of which dietary oil supplement is going to be preferable and what’s going to create a more desirable fatty acid profile in the dog’s blood and see how that is being integrated into their bodies.
So Eumay, with a very beautiful coat coming in already, so it’s hard to assess that with her. But as you can see, it’s still very nice and pretty. I did just brush her so it’s very poofy right now. We did have some dogs who started their study and they were much more lower skin quality, you’d say. Black dogs who looked a little bit more reddy or brownie, kind of poor quality there. We definitely did see an improvement in those and I was looking very closely at all of that. So it was really rewarding in a lot of ways to see how that changed throughout the study.
Kate Shoveller: Now, the question is, we hypothesized that camelina and flax, and of course camelina is ancient flax, that they’ll have a similar effect on markers of inflammation and skin and coat health. So flax is what we would call our positive control and then canola has a poorer n-6 fatty acid to n-3 ratio. So we expect that canola will have less of a effect on all of those parameters in both dogs and horses.
The study was very successful. One dog dropped out from the study and so we have the numbers that we hoped that we were going to get, which is one of the most important things. When you’re trying to do sciences, you can’t make conclusions for a population based on only a few observations. So we tried to make sure that we had sufficient dogs and we had more than enough outcomes that we felt confident in our conclusions, in our comparisons of the oils.
Taylor Richards: I think the results will be very helpful in determining what oil supplement will be best for dogs and horses. I think specifically the fatty acid results and the biomarkers will be super helpful. And even the subjective skin and coat health assessment will be really cool to see. I think it’ll be really helpful.
Wendy Pearson: I’m an Associate Professor of Equine Physiology in the Department of Animal Bio Sciences at the University of Guelph. I’ve been full time here since 2016 and was part-time teaching in the equine program for eight years before that. After I finished my doctorate here, I did my PhD at the vet college here at the University of Guelph in biomedical toxicology.
Oils is an interesting thing for horses because typically horses don’t have a very high fat content in their diet. Unlike dogs that can tolerate quite a lot of fat, horses not so much. A lot of the work that’s kind of contemporary in terms of feeding oils and fats to horses, is as it pertains to skin and coat health. Mainly because horse people, like dog people, they really desire that that sheen, that shine that makes the horse look very healthy.
I’m very interested in camelina oil, as it pertains to development of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds that result mainly from metabolism of different kinds of fats. So the types of fats that are in camelina oil are less inflammatory than some other types of fats. We prefer the n-3 to n-6 ratio in camelina oil, as opposed to, for example, canola oil that has a much higher n-6 fatty acid content.
I mean, one of the interesting things about horses as compared to other livestock species is they tend to live till they’re old. You don’t often hear about chickens and I don’t know, beef cattle living to the age of 25, but it’s not uncommon at all for a horse to do that. So, if a horse is lucky enough to get to that age in life, it’s almost inevitable that they’re going to have some kind of degenerative type joint condition. And a lot of the medications that are available to us for managing the symptoms, they can be kind of destructive over the longer term. So they have adverse effects, they can actually slow down metabolism of cartilage. They can actually accelerate breakdown of cartilage over time. So those are not good strategies for managing arthritis in the longer term. So we really want to find nutritional type interventions that can delay some of the onset of these very destructive type pathways and camelina oil is a great opportunity for that.
The study that we’re embarking on, very shortly, is going to be the first of its kind to really be able to demonstrate, what is the effect of altering the fatty acid content of the diet as it pertains to production of inflammatory biomarkers? That’s ultimately the goal from the equine study.
Well, we’re going to be doing a lot of the same measures in the horses that we have done in the dogs. A lot of the same subjective type measures that Kate talked about with respect to coat quality, we’ll be doing a lot of those with the expectation that we will have an improvement in overall coat quality when the horses have the camelina in their diet. But I predict that we’re going to see some effect on coat condition and coat quality. What I’m really interested to see is the effect on the anti inflammatory biomarkers that we’re looking at. That one’s going to be pretty cool.