Paris in the Spring! My April Best of Health article for Our Dogs

Best of HealthThe third International Dog Health Workshop takes place in Paris from 21st to 23rd April 2017. It is being organised by the International Partnership for Dogs, of which our Kennel Club is a founding and sponsoring member and Caroline Kisko is Vice-chair of its Board. I am honoured to have been invited to give one of the plenary presentations on the work we have done in the Dachshund Breed Council on our breed health strategy.

The IPFD’s mission is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health and wellbeing of pedigreed dogs and all dogs, worldwide. It has a website:, which is an information hub and provides a wealth of resources as well as blogs on current hot topics. This brings together breeders, vets, scientists and others in an online community of interest.

The first international workshop was held in Sweden in 2012 and the second one in Germany in 2015, where there were participants from around 20 countries. This year’s workshop looks like being equally well represented, with 137 participants from 24 countries.

The themes for this year’s workshop are:

  • Breed-Specific Health Strategies: Needs and opportunities; innovations, nationally and internationally.
  • Exaggerations And Extremes In Dog Conformation: Health, welfare and breeding considerations; national and international efforts.
  • Education and Communication: How can international collaboration improve education and communication within and across stakeholder groups (especially between veterinarians and breeders); using the example of antimicrobial resistance.
  • Behaviour and Welfare: How can we better integrate actions to address issues in welfare, behaviour and health in breeding and raising dogs?
  • IPFD Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs: An international, multi-stakeholder initiative to address selection, evaluation and application of genetic testing.
  • Show Me The Numbers: Integrating information from various sources for prevalence, risks and other population-level information; the latest national and international strategies to collect data and disseminate information.

These workshops are preceded by a series of short plenary presentations, designed to set the scene for the following practical sessions. I’ll be sharing the platform with three other speakers whose names will be familiar to most UK readers: Aimee Llewellyn (formerly with the KC and who now works with IPFD), Rowena Packer (from the Royal Veterinary College and well-known for her work on Brachycephalics and Dachshunds) and Paula Boyden (Veterinary Director of Dogs Trust).

While you might expect me to gravitate towards the “Show me the numbers” workshop, I’m actually participating in the Breed-specific health strategies one. The challenge for my presentation is how to condense the key points from over 20 years’ work on Dachshund health into less than 15 minutes!

Breed Health Strategy

Our Breed Health Improvement Strategy is much broader than simply focusing on health conditions that affect Dachshunds. It is based on a model developed by the Kennel Club in its guide for Breed Health Coordinators. It comprises our approach to:

  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Engagement
  • Improvement

I’m using those four points to give people a flavour of the wide range of activities we cover in our strategy. Our Breed Council represents the interests of sixteen UK Dachshund Breed Clubs and has appointed a Health Sub-committee, chaired by a Vet plus 9 others, to develop policies and coordinate plans for breed health improvement. 3 of our members are Pet Advisors from outside the show community.

The Breed Council reviews and prioritises health and welfare issues which it considers to be of significance to the breed. Current priorities can be found on our health website ( and in our DachsFacts information leaflets. We currently have a Top 3 priorities, plus a Watch List of other conditions.

We collect breed health data regularly to help us plan and prioritise our work. DachsLife 2015 was our second major Breed Survey and its focus was on understanding the lifestyle factors that might influence the risk of back disease (IVDD). The response rate (over 2000 dogs) exceeded our expectations and enabled us to identify some useful and surprising insights into the health of the breed. This was also followed up with a peer-reviewed paper which was published in 2016 which I co-authored with researchers from the RVC, including Rowena. We also have an ongoing on-line Health Survey (since 2009) which continues to provide a source of useful data on Dachshund health issues from more than 500 dogs.

For many of the conditions that we need to address, we seek specialist advice from outside the Breed Council and Clubs. We, therefore, work in partnership with specialists from the Animal Health Trust, RVC, Kennel Club and others, as necessary.

We have three key groups of people with whom we must communicate and engage effectively:

  • Breed Club members (who have agreed to abide by our Code of Ethics)
  • Breeders who are not members of Breed Clubs (probably about 80% of the UK’s Dachshund breeders)
  • Owners and potential owners of Dachshunds (an important group for our Pet Advisors to reach)

We continue to develop our approach to communications, particularly the use of on-line groups and social media. Facebook is a major communication channel for us and our Pet Advisors spend a lot of their time helping potential owners and existing owners in the many regional Dachshund groups.

None of our efforts in Leadership, Planning and Communication matter if we don’t actually achieve real health improvements that benefit the breed. We measure the impacts of our efforts in each of our priority health conditions and others that are on our Watch List. We’ve made fantastic progress on reducing the risks of cord1 PRA in all three miniature varieties and Lafora Disease in Mini Wires. Our major challenge remains in reducing the incidence of back disease; hence the introduction of an X-ray screening programme last November which is well-proven in the Nordic countries.

Networking, sharing and learning

In addition to my presentation, I’ve created a large poster which is a montage of many of the things we’ve done in the four key strategy areas. My biggest challenge was what to leave out! Some of our information and resources have already been shared on the Dogwellnet website.

Given the diversity of participants, I expect one of the benefits for many attendees will be building new or enhanced relationships across the various groups of vets, researchers, breeders, Kennel Clubs and others.

The practical sessions on each of the workshop’s six themes aim to provide some focus and prioritisation of actions needed to support breeding, health and welfare. They are intended to stimulate and accelerate activities after the workshop, so it will be interesting to see what we come out with and who signs-up to take on leadership roles in these important areas.

I’ll be on the lookout for tools and ideas being used elsewhere in the world which we can pick up and adapt to benefit our breed. I’m really looking forward to learning lots of new things to be able to share with my Dachshund colleagues and other Breed Health Coordinator friends (and anyone else who is interested).

No doubt I’ll be reporting back in a future “Best of Health” article. I’ll probably also be tweeting updates during the workshop, so please follow me @sunsongian.











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