Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Well there has been plenty of comment about the BBC program 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed'. I guess that it will continue for some time, and rightly so.

We had a lot of dogs dumped on us with hereditary problems like hip dysplasia and entropion (ingrowing eyelids). There are also behavioural problems like retrievers who can't and aggressive labradors.

There are responsible breeders , but some who don't care. I knew someone who bought a pedigree German wire-haired pointer as a puppy, and which started to have fits as it grew up. The breeder knew that the sire had fits but still bred from him and didn't warn people! Grossly irresponsible.

Breeding for looks only is not a very good idea. There is a divergence between working dogs and show dogs.
If you look at old pictures of dogs you can see huge changes in some breeds. The bulldog is a good example of bad breeding practice. They used to have longer legs and more open faces and could work. Look at them now!

Here are some examples of what I think is bad breeding to 'standards'.

  • Bulldogs - The body is now a strange shape. Many show dogs cannot mate without human assistance, or give natural birth
  • Boxers - Suffer from life threatening issues such as heart disease, high rate of cancer, brain tumours.
  • Pekingese - Breathing difficulties and overheating
  • Pugs - Breathing problems, slipping patellas (knee joints), entropion (in turning eyelids)
  • GSDs - Severely sloping back: 'half-dog, half frog'
  • Golden Retrievers - High cancer rates, hip dysplasia
  • Cavalier King Charles - Most have heart problems. Nearly a third have skulls too small for their brains - an agonising condition
  • Shar-pei - Suffer from entropian (in-growing eyelids, a painful condition)
  • Dalmatians - Deafness

There are more examples!

If you are interested in letting your views be known or in signing a petition here are some links.



Dogs Trust are suggesting you write to:

Lord Rooker, Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health at Defra,
Nobel House
17 Smith Square

For interesting and informative comment from good sources try these.


http://www.coldwetnose.blogspot.com/ ( Beverly Cuddy editor of Dogs Today magazine)
http://www.terrierman.com/ (click through to the blog)
http://www.dogsworld.co.uk/ (a trade paper - out of fairness)

The Kennel Club has released a statement in defence of pedigree dogs:

The Kennel Club feels that the programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed (BBC1 19 August) missed a real opportunity to progress the cause of dog health. It appeared to have a very specific agenda repeating prejudices, providing no context for the debate, and failing to put forward constructive proposals. It left viewers with the mistaken impression that all pedigree dogs are riddled with a wide range of health problems and that the dog community is doing little or nothing to improve the situation. This is patently not true.
Whilst the Kennel Club was shocked and saddened by the dramatic imagery used in the programme, and accepts some of the important issues raised. What it does not accept is that these problems apply widely across the 200 plus breeds in the UK. Pedigree Dogs Exposed also failed to show the real progress being made by both the Kennel Club and responsible breeders in improving dog health or to recognise that 90 percent of dogs will not suffer from health problems that have a detrimental impact on the quality of life.
More than that, the programme drew upon a new study on dog genetics by Imperial College to underline its criticisms of dog breeding, without acknowledging the fact this study was entirely enabled by the Kennel Club as part of its commitment to health research. This research will now provide the Kennel Club with a valuable scientific platform to enlist the support of breeders in tackling key health problems where they occur.
Commenting, Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club spokesperson, said: "In reality the gap between some of the views expressed on the programme and those held by both the Kennel Club and most responsible breeders is very small. Over the last 20 years we have been working to develop tests and health screening schemes to identify and eradicate problems, many of which are historic. One example of this is the elimination of canine leucocyte adhesion deficiency (CLAD) in Irish Setters, that caused early death in puppies which was eradicated through the concerted efforts of both the Kennel Club and Irish Setter breeders.
"However, it is important to put this into context. The Kennel Club has no legal standing, unlike some similar bodies in other countries. We have to work on these issues through partnership and persuasion – not coercion. The danger of introducing draconian measures is that some breeders could choose to operate outside the Kennel Club’s jurisdiction; with absolutely no controls. That cannot be the best way forward.
"The programme also made some sweeping, and far from accurate assertions. The Kennel Club refutes that it would put ‘looks’ above the health of pedigree dogs, in fact we actively discourage the exaggeration of features in any breed. The standards have been, and will continue to be amended when necessary to ensure the breeding of healthy, well conformed dogs. Dog show judges are also educated to judge to those standards ensuring that dogs with obvious problems that could affect their quality of life do not win, and that the rewards go to fit, healthy dogs. All of this of course is dependent on the responsibility of breeders and owners – and this is where our efforts must be concentrated."
"We can state categorically that the majority of pedigree dogs in the UK are healthy. We increasingly have in place checks to monitor health issues going forward. In those few breeds where there are problems, including those highlighted in the programme, we have been and will continue to work with breeders to improve long term health through the development of tests and screening programmes."
Kennel Club health initiatives include: funding research to identify problems and develop efficient screening for health, such as eye testing and hip scoring; the introduction of the Accredited Breeder Scheme, to act as a ‘kite mark’ for responsible breeders; and most recently the launch of a major campaign which seeks further to promote health improvements across breeds - ‘Fit for function – fit for life’. This, in conjunction with breed clubs, focuses on tackling unnecessary exaggeration in some breeds, whether that is of coat, weight, skin, angulation, eye formation or shortness of muzzle. All dogs should be fit for function, even if that function is to be a pet - all dogs should be able to see, breath and walk freely.
"By their lack of context, programmes such as Pedigree Dogs Exposed, far from helping the situation run the risk of damaging the work already being done. This work will not be carried out by TV production companies – but by the hard work of the Kennel Club and the country’s responsible breeders," said Caroline Kisko.
In summary, health issues are of primary concern to the Kennel Club but changes cannot be made overnight. We are working proactively with breeders to make these changes – but we are dealing with the legacy of 100 years. What we need is the support of experts such as those featured in the programme, not their condemnation – support which we have indeed received from a number of respected bodies such as The Animal Health Trust, The Blue Cross and the British Veterinary Association

Terrierman (an excellent blogger) has already had a good read of the report and here is his summary :

1. The study is based on a 10-breed sample of 2.1 million dogs in the Kennel Club's electronic pedigree data base. The Kennel Club's database contained records of a total of 5.7 million dogs from 207 breeds as of the end of 2006. The Kennel Club's electronic data base was begun in 1970.

2. This is the first systematic attempt to study Kennel Club population structure using The Kennel Club's own pedigree database.
3. The 10 breeds examined were: the Rough Collie, the Golden Retriever, the Boxer, the English Bulldog, the Chow Chow, the Greyhound, the German Shepherd Dog, the Labrador Retriever, the English Springer Spaniel, and the Akita Inu.
4. The researchers note that inbreeding condenses and exacerbates genetic disorders with a population:
"Dog breeds are required to conform to a breed standard, the pursuit of which often involves intensive inbreeding .... This has adverse consequences in terms of loss of genetic variability and high prevalence of recessive genetic disorders. These features make purebred dogs attractive for the study of genetic disorders, but raise concerns about canine welfare."
5. The researchers note that many dog breeds are associated with specific genetic disorders that have been magnified by inbreeding:
"Many diseases affecting dogs have high prevalence in one or a few breeds, such as Addison’s disease, common in Portuguese Water Dogs (Chase et al., 2006), interstitial lung disease in West Highland White terriers (Norris et al., 2005), and dermoid sinus in Ridgeback dogs (Salmon Hillbertz et al., 2007)."
6. The authors found disturbingly high levels of inbreeding within most Kennel Club breeds they looked at:
"We find extremely inbred dogs in each breed except the Greyhound, and estimate an inbreeding effective population size between 40 and 80 for all but two breeds. For all but three breeds, more than 90% of unique genetic variants are lost over six generations, indicating a dramatic effect of reeding patterns on genetic diversity."
7. The number of generations studied ranged by breed from 5.9 in Greyhounds to 9.0 in the German Shepherds, with an average over the ten breeds of 8.0 generations of dogs analyzed.
8. Popular sires are part of the problem, but not all of the problem.
"Popular sires (defined here as > 100 recorded offspring) are evident in all breeds except Greyhound. Golden Retrievers have the largest proportion of popular sires (10%), and conversely the lowest proportion (5%) of male dogs that are sires. . . . Highly-prolific dams (> 40 offspring) are concentrated in three breeds: German Shepherd, Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever. Most dams have just one litter recorded."
9. A closed registry system is the core of the problem.
"Dog registration rules have only been rigidly enforced for about 50 years, prior to that occasional outcrossing was still possible."
10. The Kennel Club needs to change the way it does business.
"We have found that the loss of genetic diversity is very high, with many breeds losing over 90% of singleton variants in just six generations. On the basis of these results, we concur with Leroy et al. (2006) that remedial action to maintain or increase genetic diversity should now be a high priority in the interests of the health of purebred dogs. Possible remedial action includes limits on the use of popular sires, encouragement of matings across national and continental boundaries, and even the relaxation of breed rules to permit controlled outcrossing."

Plenty of food for thought there.

On a final note, I think that banning Crufts won't achieve anything. There is a real need to stop the breeding of dogs which have serious problems. Possibly by having all registered breeders dogs checked by independent Vets and the compulsory neutering of dogs and bitches if there is a serious problem.

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