IPFD 2017 workshop – summary of Day 1

IPFD_IDHW2017Participating in the International Partnership for Dogs’ 2017 workshop in Paris has been a privilege and has inspired me with ideas to take back to friends and colleagues in the UK.

After the morning’s short plenary presentations (watch mine here) we split into workshops to explore 6 key themes. This is a summary of the feedback from each theme at the end of Day 1. Day 2 will be about agreeing specific actions and owners.

1. Show me the numbers

Some of the issues flagged by this group included:

  • the need to prioritise data requirements
  • the importance of a unique ID for every dog
  • the potential value of national registration systems to include non-pedigree dogs, although there are clearly cultural issues affecting compliance levels

International collaboration on data collection would be valuable but we should aim for fair access rather than open access as there is the potential for open data to be used inappropriately.

Dogwellnet.com could act as a dating agency, matching research questions with data owners and analysts.

There is always a risk of balancing steering vs. funding; those who fund projects may want particular answers.

The lack of a standard nomenclature also hampers collaboration, with various systems already in place (VeNom, SnoMed, Petscan, Agria). However, there is the potential to establish “jigsaw projects” with linked databases.

Always, it is important to understand the uses and limitations of data and to be clear about what analytical methods are appropriate.

Ultimately, data should be used to enable change and improvement; the focus should be on dissemination, not just on research.

2. Extremes in conformation

This workstream focused on brachycephalics and everyone agreed this is the most severe and significant problem related to extremes of conformation in dogs.

However, there is still a need to gather accurate data to quantify the different sources:KC registered dogs vs. puppy farmed dogs. Whatever the source, increasing popularity means more dogs are suffering even though the evidence suggests many owners don’t realise this. They see the symptoms as “normal for the breed” (or worse, as “cute”).

Buyers need more information in order to make informed choices; vets have a key role to play here in educating their clients. Vets have to work more closely with Kennel Clubs on this.

Campaigns such as CRUFFA have been instrumental in flagging the issues of flat-faced dogs to advertisers and the media. This awareness raising needs to continue as it has the potential to reverse (or, at least slow) the trend in popularity of these at-risk breeds.

Overall, an aim to move the mean “health score” so that the population improves is a valid goal and there are options to consider such as the breeding of new, less extreme, brachy types (retro-pugs) or even cross-breeding. All of this does require a suitable way to measure progress, of course!

3. Education and Communication

This workstream took as its particular focus, the issue of anti-microbial resistance related to the over-prescription of antibiotics.

The establishment of an AMR network could be valuable, together with the development of global guidelines for vets and breeders, based on data to support the utility and achievement of particular approaches. More “stories” about the dangers of over-use of antibiotics are needed, to counter the numerous anecdotes about the importance of prescribing them (e.g. to get bitches in whelp).

As with many such programmes, the challenges are cash, data, geography, politics and buy-in.

4. DNA test harmonisation

There are currently no Quality Assurance processes in place for DNA tests. (Almost) anyone can set up a lab and offer DNA testing. The IPFD harmonisation project will establish a framework to validate providers and tests, and in phase 2 will develop support around genetic counselling.

A web-based resource is under development and will be available via dogwellnet.com

5. Breed-specific health improvement strategies

This is the workstream that I participated in and I will provide more detailed information separately.

Strategies need to be adapted to reflect a range of factors: legal, national, breed, severity weightings, tools, diversity). There is no “one size fits all” solution. What may work in Sweden may not be appropriate in the UK.

There are, however, tools we can share; for example health survey approaches and the resulting data. These could be shared via the dogwellnet.com website.

Recording age and cause of death would be another useful addition to available data but this would need to be done with sensitivity. It may also be valuable to record such information on pedigree certificates so that owners can see the history of their dog’s ancestors.

Of course, all this requires leadership and dedicated resources.

The group also discussed whether the binary concept of “carrot and stick” was too blunt an instrument to be useful in driving the required behavioural changes. A more finessed model might include “enthusing”, “educating”, “engineering” and “enforcing”.

6. Behaviour and welfare

This workstream stated that “socialisation” was a subset of “welfare” and started in utero. They felt there was a need for positive messages and these could be a way to add value to the sale of well-bred dogs. The 5 Freedoms would be a logical framework upon which to base these marketing messages.

Kennel Clubs could include socialisation as part of their breeding requirements, where they have schemes in place.

Because it’s unclear what is already available on socialisation there is probably a need for some survey or audit work and maybe also some longitudinal studies on what works.

As with several of the other workstreams, a lack of data and funding were identified as key barriers. In addition, a challenge here is how to reach the puppy producers, particularly if they lie outside the sphere of influence of Kennel Clubs.

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