Best of Health – my 4th article for Our Dogs

I’m sure lots of people pore over the Breed Records Supplement when it’s published and you’ll not be surprised to know that I start at the back. I’m not looking for the “Sports Pages”, but at the Health Test Results for Dachshunds.

It was good to see in the Spring 2014 BRS that all the hard work done by the Wirehaired Dachshund Club (WHDC) and their Lafora Disease Sub-committee has finally resulted in the publication of the first set of DNA test results.  The KC has been very supportive over the past few years while the club has been working with a laboratory in Canada to develop the test.  Although the test is for an Autosomal Recessive mutation, the nature of that mutation makes it incredibly difficult to differentiate between Clear and Carrier dogs, even when using state of the art techniques.  The KC Charitable Trust generously matched funding raised by the Dachshund Breed Clubs which has enabled the lab to perfect the test.

There’s lots of untapped value in the information contained in the Breed Records Supplement, but it’s probably quite hard for most breeds to extract it.  Going back to Lafora Disease in MW Dachshunds, the WHDC is really interested to see what rate of progress is being made in the uptake of the test.  The only way to do that is for someone to go through every litter recorded and identify the Lafora test status of the sire and dam.  The proportion of “safe” litters can then be calculated.  It’s time-consuming because of the need to cross-check sires and dams with the DNA results database.  In an ideal world, we’d be able to ask the KC to run a custom report for us every quarter, or better still, interrogate the online Health Test Results finder ourselves.

The KC’s Health Team is continuing to support the WHDC and has e-mailed Mini Wire owners on the Registration database to tell them about the test.  Although the KC’s Health Team is relatively small in relation to the number of breeds they have to support, they are very responsive to approaches from Breed Health Coordinators, seeking help to promote current initiatives.

Another example of this cooperation between Breed Clubs and the KC was last year’s English Springer Spaniel Health Survey.  The KC agreed to e-mail ESS owners with a link to the online survey and this greatly  extended the reach of the survey beyond what the Breed Clubs could expect to achieve.  In the end, the ESS Health Coordinators received around 5000 survey responses on live dogs and mortality data which gives them a really robust set of data to work with.  Importantly, this cooperation with the KC meant that they sample that included show, working and dual-purpose dogs which can be used to highlight any differences in these populations.

Louise Scott, one of the ESS Breed Health Coordinators told me “…the KC sent out mass emails to thousands of owners of registered ESS, as well as publicising the survey through news releases and KC Twitter feeds. It proved to be the single most important factor in enabling us to elicit 5000 survey responses”.

As far as I’m aware, this support from the KC is now available to help promote bona fide breed health surveys from any Breed Club. Credit where it’s due; things are still far from perfect, but we should also remember that for many years the KC Health Department was woefully under-resourced and under-valued.  A lot more work still needs to be done and, good as the KC’s Health Team are, they aren’t mind-readers, so breeds and their BHCs need to be proactive in asking for help.  If the level of demand for support is “hidden” it’s going to be difficult for the team to argue the case for more resource.

Among the points made by other BHCs when discussing the support available from the KC, someone suggested that there are clearly some breeds where a majority of breeders, owners and clubs are supportive of health initiatives and other breeds where the BHCs are battling on their own and feel they have no breed support and no backing from the KC.  Engaging with, and providing support to, those breeds that are already proactive on health is one thing. It’s quite another thing, however, to find ways of bringing on board those breeds that may be afflicted by internal conflict, or that simply don’t want to engage on matters of breed health. It’s difficult to know about how much headway the KC is making on that front, yet that is undoubtedly where the real challenge lies, particularly where there is indisputable veterinary evidence that health problems exist.

The Breed Health Coordinators’ Facebook Group is a useful forum for discussion and one which manages to be polite, constructive and helpful.  Another Canine Health Facebook Group has started recently, led by Carol Beuchat, and this looks like it will be a valuable source of information and discussion.  It is the Institute of Canine Biology (search for ICB Breeding for the Future).  The goal of this group is to assist breeders in implementing modern, scientific principles in their breeding programmes and it already has over 1700 members.

It will focus on learning about the science of genetics and what breeders need to know to make the best use of the tools available.  Carol is running this group as a classroom, but don’t let that put you off if you’re used to more interactive Facebook discussions.  She wants participants to stay on topic and be concise so that the conversations stay “information-rich” and can be moderated by her (as teacher).

There is zero tolerance for bad behavior of any sort (rude, sarcastic, disruptive, personal attacks or anything similar); violations will get offenders blocked immediately.

Discussions so far have highlighted lists of essential reading on genetics for dog breeders and a review of the Coefficient of Inbreeding and other “breeding statistics”.  It’s early days and will be interesting to see if the idea of Facebook as a classroom can work in practice.

I suspect participation in this Group will follow the usual social media 1:9:90 rule of thumb where 1% of members actively contribute, 9% respond and interact with the contributors and the remaining 90% simply “lurk”.  That’s not meant to be critical of “lurkers”; if they lurk and learn, that can only be a good thing for canine health improvement.

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