Best of Health – my 5th article for Our Dogs
This is in the latest edition of Our Dogs:
I’ve just finished watching the first of two webinars presented by Aimee Llewelyn who is the Genetics and Health Information Manager at The Kennel Club. The webinars were sponsored by the KC and The Webinar Vet (thewebinarvet.com) and, although aimed primarily at UK vets, attracted an international audience.
The webinar “Avoiding Inherited Diseases: It’s all in the genes” lasted about an hour including a Q&A session which Prof. Steve Dean also contributed to. The main presentation, although aimed at vets, is good basic knowledge that should be “bread and butter” for responsible breeders today. It explained “simple” inherited diseases and covered advice for vets on the sort of information they could provide to clients about health testing schemes e.g. where a DNA test exists.
There was a particularly good slide with some health and temperament information on a bitch and three potential mates and Aimee’s challenge to the audience was “what would you advise the owner of the bitch to do?”. Of course, there’s no right answer and no perfect set of data on individual dogs, so it was a great example of the real world situation breeders find themselves in. It still worries me that there is an obsession among some people that ‘health testing’ is the answer (and the “only health-tested dogs should be registered” argument is part of that), but Aimee did a good job of showing how tests are just one part of the breeder’s toolkit.
The Q&A session included questions from vets outside the UK which, I think, shows the level of interest in the whole canine health issue and the work of our Kennel Club. In some ways the Q&A was more interesting for the views it threw up. The KC is clearly building bridges with the veterinary profession and working hard to change perceptions about itself and pedigree dog health, based on good data and evidence. There were also interesting insights into thinking on Popular Sires and a few comments about the health of ‘doodles’. This was one of the better webinars I have watched because Aimee didn’t just read the words off the slides which so many speakers do.
The second webinar is “Avoiding Inherited Diseases: tackling complex diseases”. Both webinars are free, so all you need is a couple of spare hours. You can even download a Certificate of Attendance. This is primarily for vets to be able to demonstrate their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and I won’t open the CPD can of worms in relation to dog breeders and judges! An ABS Accolade for breeding-related CPD would surely add more value than “numbers of litters bred”.
Importing and exporting: Do we understand the health consequences?
Over many years, UK breeders have established a reputation for exporting good quality dogs overseas. Many go on to become Show Champions, often to a new career as a stud dog or breeding bitch. Some overseas kennels proudly advertise that they have imported UK-bred stock to improve their line.
There is a similar story with imports; importing new bloodlines has long been a valuable way in which breeders and exhibitors can improve the quality of their stock, as well as adding to the diversity of the UK gene pool.
As well as exporting or importing desirable traits and genes, there is also the risk of exporting or importing undesirable ones. The fact that we now have a variety of clinical and DNA tests available for a range of conditions means responsible breeders can reduce the risks and share the knowledge about potentially dangerous mutations with breeders outside the UK.
Lafora Disease (a form of epilepsy) in Mini Wire Dachshunds serves as a particularly current example for me. Lafora is known to affect around 8% of the UK Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund population and they may go on to develop debilitating epilepsy, blindness and dementia in later years. As many as 40% of UK Miniature Wires are Carriers of the Lafora mutation. Over the last few years a number of Miniature Wire-haired Dachshunds have been exported to, or spent time, overseas for show and/or breeding purposes. Some Mini Wires that have been exported have been known to be Lafora carriers, and in one instance, a known affected dog was exported.
Breed Clubs clearly have a role to play in being proactive and sharing information on health concerns and available tests with their overseas counterparts. Last year, the Wirehaired Dachshund Club (WHDC) wrote to a number of overseas Dachshund Breed Clubs to advise that dogs exported from the UK over the last few years may have carried the Lafora gene, which means that no breeder should assume that it is safe to breed from any dog with UK genes without first doing Lafora testing. Hopefully, that information and advice for overseas breeders has been passed on by those Breed Clubs to their members. Anyone mating a Lafora Affected dog will be introducing the mutation into their country’s population and there’s a chance that anyone breeding from a Carrier will be doing the same.
The Mini Wire breed has also had a good number of imported dogs in recent years and the WHDC became aware of a particular form of PRA that had been reported in Scandinavian dogs. Fortunately, a DNA test was available and, with the support of the AHT, the club was able to conduct a breed-wide sampling and testing exercise to assess the extent to which the mutation had been brought into the UK population. The results thankfully demonstrated a very low mutation frequency and the proactive approach taken by the breed club has enabled breeders to use imported dogs with confidence and add to the UK gene pool.
In many breeds, DNA testing for PRA mutations and other eye diseases has been widely adopted by UK breeders and the mutation frequency is generally much lower than the Dachshunds face with Lafora disease. Nevertheless, even at low mutation frequencies, breeders do risk exporting these eye conditions. In addition to the use of DNA tests, most overseas breeders will probably wish to have any dog they are importing clinically eye-tested via the KC/BVA/ISDS Scheme, which is able to pick up other eye conditions such as Distichiasis, Ectropion and Entropion.
Anyone who sends dogs overseas has a moral responsibility to ensure that the new owners are made aware of any potential inherited problems that might emerge in future litters from that dog, whatever breed. Being open and honest about health tests carried out and their results is part of that responsibility. There are similar responsibilities if you are importing a dog and people importing dogs to the UK would be well-advised to ask about health tests that are routinely carried out in the dog’s home country.