Enough data; time for some action? My latest “Best of Health” article

Best of HealthI am writing this on Christmas Eve and I am trying to get myself into gear for writing our Annual Breed Health Report. It’s something we’ve done since 2009 and it was originally inspired by the work of the English Springer Spaniel Health Coordinators who summarised their efforts and progress for the past year.

It’s interesting to reflect on how the content of our report has changed over the past six years and what will be new in our 2015 report.

Back in 2009 (just a year after PDE) the focus of our report was on brief summaries of each of the main health conditions we were aware of in Dachshunds. Pretty much the only data we had was a few years’ history of Cord1 PRA DNA tests in Miniature Longs and Miniature Smooths. We were able to show that the number of “Affected” results had been dramatically reduced in a short period of time. Obviously that was good news, but we didn’t have much data on our two big issues; Back Disease and Lafora Disease. All we could say was we were looking at ways to address these problems.

Since then, our report has evolved into a more extensive document that summarises not only our work on the main health issues we have prioritised, but also the approaches we are taking to engage with owners, potential owners and breeders. You might ask why any breed might want to report on that sort of thing. The simple answer is that dog health will only improve if the behaviour of those three groups of people changes. For all the good work the Kennel Club might do, or all the seminars that Breed Clubs might run, it eventually boils down to people changing their behaviour.

We only have to look at Dan O’Neill’s VetCompass data to see that owner behaviour is a major issue in the most prevalent issues dealt with in first referral veterinary practices. Issues such as obesity, ear infections, tooth decay, overgrown nails and anal sac impaction strike me as being more related to husbandry and basic animal welfare than hereditary conditions associated with inbreeding. Roughly 40% of the cases reported by Vet Compass could be addressed by relatively simple actions taken by these dogs’ owners.

The situation is similar with buyers’ behaviours. The KC and RSPCA have both published shocking statistics about the number of puppies being bought from puppy farms. There is only a market for these poor quality and often unhealthy puppies because of the stupidity or ignorance of the people who buy them. The same stupidity or ignorance helps reinforce poor breeding practices at the supposedly more reputable end of the supply chain. That’s why our Health Subcommittee Pet Advisors spend so much time on social media trying to educate potential Dachshund buyers. The more we can get them to ask breeders questions about the health status of any puppies’ parents, the more difficult it will become for the irresponsible breeders to sell their puppies. They will either have to do the right thing (e.g. health testing or breeding less exaggerated shaped dogs) or they will have to stop breeding.

So, in our Health Report we also now talk about how much reach and engagement we have achieved with buyers and owners through social media, newsletters and events. Increasing our reach is a leading indicator of success in improving the health of dogs.

In 2015 we conducted our second major breed survey (DachsLife 2015) and had responses for just over 2000 dogs. So, we now have a very clear picture of what the health issues are in the six varieties of Dachshund and there are some significant differences between them. Some time in 2016 we will also have the KC’s reports from their 2014 Health Survey, but I can’t imagine it’s going to tell us much that we don’t already know about Dachshunds. Hopefully, if the response rate was good, some other breeds will find useful insights, backed by data, that will give them confidence that their health efforts have the right focus. For some breeds, it might be a wake-up call to take seriously some of the issues that have either only been discussed anecdotally, or have been swept under the carpet.

The other mass of data we had during 2015 was the KC’s Genetic Diversity Report, from Tom Lewis and colleagues. As I predicted in my previous article one of the (unsurprising) reactions has been people challenging the methodology and the results. Frankly, I don’t care if Coefficients of Inbreeding should be calculated on a fixed number of generations or if the lack of pedigree data on imported dogs has skewed the data. We should see this report in the context of all the other data and evidence, and use it as another piece in the jigsaw to help focus on the actions breeders need to be taking.

Yes, having data is useful, but if we wait for the perfect set of data we will be waiting a very long time. In my previous article I discussed some ways of selecting the breed-specific strategies that could be implemented to address the genetic diversity and inbreeding challenges highlighted in Tom Lewis’s report. My definition of a strategy is an “action plan with a rationale”. The data and evidence available to all breeds from multiple sources provides the starting point and rationale for the actions they need breeders and owners to take.

So, back to my Annual Health Report for 2015. I’ll be pleased this year to be able to write about the actions breeders have taken to improve the health of Dachshunds. I’ll also be writing about the actions they need to be taking in the future to continue our improvement journey and to safeguard the viability of our breed for future generations to enjoy.

Happy New Year.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

..

.

 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: