People who breed animals for fun or profit are scum.
Animals do not exist to make you money. They do not exist for your amusement.
There are too many companion animals. Shelters and rescues are overrun. You are adding to the problem. It is YOUR fault that dog will be put down today. It’s YOUR fault that parrot rescue can’t take in more.
And to those who breed wild animals as pets? Are you kidding me?
Perhaps most worrisome about these data is what they reveal about our notion of the “health tested” dog. Dogs are often advertised as health tested, but given the size of the gap between the number of known disorders and the number of available tests, this is clearly quite misleading. Breeders might wish for more DNA tests, but if each one potentially limits breeding options, at some point they will find themselves facing a genetic minefield across which it is impossible to find a clear path.
The genes for all of these genetic disorders are already out there; they have already affected some animal, which is how we know about them. If they are not now causing a noticeable problem, it is because they are rare, and they will not become a problem if they continue to stay rare. Testing for the (few) mutations we already have tests for does nothing to protect against the risk of some other mutation becoming a problem, and in fact DNA testing as it is widely used today might be reducing the number of affected animals for a known disorder but increasing the risk of producing animals afflicted with one caused by these known but rare mutations (as explained here). Every puppy contains copies of the mutations of its parents. Producing many puppies with the same mutations will cause rare mutations to become common, and some “new” genetic disorder will make an appearance in a breed when the frequency becomes high enough. Even if we had all the necessary DNA tests, they will never eliminate genetic disorders in dogs. There are hundreds of mutations we know about for which we have no test, and even more that we don’t yet even know exist.
Farrell et al. make this key point:
“Doing a genetic test and subsequently eliminating an individual from the breeding population may not be the best strategy, as by targeting a particular allele at one genetic locus for removal from the gene pool of a particular breed, breeders may in fact increase allele frequencies of genetic variants on alternative haplotypes at the same, or a different locus, that are recessively deleterious. In addition, by eliminating some animals from breeding, a reduction in the effective population size will occur, thus risking higher levels of inbreeding, potential founder effects and genetic bottlenecks. in essence, by correcting one problem there is a chance of inadvertently creating a new one.”
The game of genetic whack-a-mole could potentially go on forever.
If inappropriate breeding strategies like overuse of popular sires, inbreeding, and strong selection for particular traits is at the root of the problem, then the first and most useful step we can take is to stop doing those things. Since genetic disorders will be rare if the genes that cause them are rare, the most efficient way of managing genetic disorders in dogs should be adoption of the appropriate breeding strategies to accomplish this. We have not been doing this very well.
A “health tested” puppy with a coefficient of inbreeding of 30% is an oxymoron. Preventing the 25% risk of a known disorder, then breeding with a 30% risk of risk of producing a new one, is not a responsible breeding strategy, and certainly not the road to better canine health. Breeders should avail themselves of DNA tests, tools like estimated breeding values that will improve assessment of genetic risk, and be more open and honest about reporting genetic problems.
But none of these things will prevent or even reduce the overall level of genetic disorders unless breeders also adopt sensible, sustainable breeding strategies that keep the problematic mutations rare in the population and avoid the inbreeding that will bring two together in the same animal.
The New York Times discusses the dreadful health of the bulldog, and the alarming fact that people breed them when they absolutely should not be bred.
My personal experiences with bulldogs – every. single. one I have met in the clinic has had multiple problems. Let me count the ways:
- Skin fold pyoderma: facial folds, vulvar folds, tail folds (every single one of them)
- Chronic skin yeast infections
- Entropion (eyelashes rolling in and irritating their eyes)
- Chronic ear infections
- Brachycephalic airway syndrome. Some have it fairly mildly and just snort now and then. Some have it so severely they cannot exercise at all. I saw one dog who had to have his soft pallet resected and a tracheotomy performed, and then his tracheotomy kept blocking with inflammation, and the poor thing was standing there in an oxygen cage wheezing and turning blue all because he was bred that way. He was not neutered. The owner was going to breed him to pay for his surgery.
- Heart murmurs.
- Hip dysplasia.
- Lumbosacral stenosis (impingement on the spinal nerves causing severe leg pain and lameness).
- Cranial cruciate ligament ruptures.
Every single bulldog I’ve ever met had at least 3 of those conditions, and let’s not forget the fact that they require artificial insemination to breed and C-sections to be born. They have very sweet personalities, usually. Which almost makes it worse – because you have a creature that wants to be playful and silly and clownish, and oftentimes, can’t even play fetch because it gets too winded. I have asthma, and I know what it’s like to breathe out through a straw when I get an attack. But that’s only occasionally – the rest of the time my nose and airways are clear. I can’t imagine having to push air past the excess tissue in the back of my throat, over my soft palate, through my too-small trachea and too-small nostrils, every minute of my life.
COI stands for Coefficient of Inbreeding. Essentially, it measures the common ancestors of dam and sire, and indicates the probability of how genetically similar they are.
Why should I care?
There are consequences to being genetically similar, some good, some bad. The fact that dogs within individual breeds are so genetically similar is what makes them that breed- and why , if you breed any Labrador to any other Labrador, the puppies will look recognisably like Labradors.
Helps potential purchasers to make informed decisions when buying puppies and kittens. It is ‘designed to collect, organise and disseminate information on the prevalence of inherited disorders in Australian cats and dogs.’
Book: Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats, Alex Gough and Alison Thomas (Wiley-Blackwell): http://www.amazon.co.uk
A comprehensive list of genetic health issues for all of the dog breeds to assist practising vets in their diagnoses. Also an indication of how common these diseases are in a particular breed.
Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding. An independent council chaired by Professor Sheila Crispin (est. 2010) The Council’s recommendations and advice will hopefully lead to very much needed reforms in the dog breeding industry.
The RSPCA/BVA AWF Puppy Contract was launched in April 2012. Puppy buyers and breeders can download the Puppy Contract and Puppy Information Pack (PIP) from the website. Use of this contract will give puppy buyers peace of mind that everything has been done to produce healthy and well socialised puppies. Breeders can also safeguard themselves and be assured that their puppies are going to a good home.
Seeks an end to the breeding of dogs based on looks. ‘Dogs bred to the KC’s breed standards could suffer from pain, hereditary diseases and developing health problems. These exaggerated features may have been celebrated at dog shows but to some of our best loved breeds, they mean a life of pain and misery.
A campaign to reform the current system of dog breeding. Raising awareness of the genetic health problems of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and the measures that are being taken to restore the breed to health.
Sandy Smith’s heart warming book about her own dog’s battle with Syringomyelia which has already raised thousands of pounds for research into this painful and debilitating condition. Now also available as an e-book.
The Dog Health Workshop was arranged in Stockholm, Sweden in June 2012. Around 150 stakeholders from 20 countries that share a responsibility for dog health, such as geneticists, veterinarians and representatives from the cynological and animal welfare organsations, gathered in Stockholm to discuss key issues with relevance to canine genetic health. Initiatives arising from the workshop may be seen on the website above. The German Kennel Club will arrange a second Dog Health Workshop in Dusseldorf in 2014.