International collaboration on dog health – part 2: My June 2017 “Best of Health” article

Best of HealthLast month, I wrote about the Breed-specific Health Strategies workstream that I participated in at the third International Dog Health Workshop. This month, I’m sharing some of the discussions from the other workstreams.

  1. Show me the numbers

This group emphasised the importance of asking “why collect this data?” so that it would be clear how the answers could actually make a difference. Picking up on breed trends and eco-epidemiology (recycling of datasets) could also increase the speed at which improvements could actually be realised. 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

The group felt that one of the biggest scandals is not mining the available data and they agreed to work together to catalogue data resources within their network and to coordinate objectives across multiple studies (e.g. breed and disorder). They would aim to publish whatever is possible and look to promote fair-access collaboration internationally and inter-disciplinarily.

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 hampers collaboration, with various systems already in place (e.g. VeNom, SnoMed, Petscan, Agria). However, there is the potential to establish “jigsaw projects” with linked databases.

It is always 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.

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 issues in dogs from 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. Often, owners 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 and 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!

The team focused on Brachycephalics and confirmed an action to revisit FCI Breed Standards to clarify wording and to ensure breed-specific instructions are available for 4 priority breeds. They also agreed sub-groups to exchange data, research and implementation. The latter included media communications and effective ways to change buyer/owner/breeder behaviours.

Education and Communication

This workstream took as its particular focus the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) related to the over-prescription of antibiotics. They agreed the establishment of an AMR network would 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 overuse 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.

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. This project is already well underway with IPFD having appointed a project director (Aimee Llewellyn) and building an early proof of concept on the dogwellnet website. Evaluation of the range of available tests using a template of questions will be a priority and further funding to ensure sustainability of the system will also be important, given the rapid rate of change and development in the genetic testing field.

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.

The group confirmed the need for more positive messaging to the general public regarding pedigree dogs and breeding of dogs. Their action plan included identifying currently available messaging on the importance of socialisation and to develop any new resources that might be needed to fill any gaps. In the longer term, they felt it may be necessary to conduct further research into what might be needed to ensure breeders and owners are aware of effective approaches during pregnancy and early weeks of a puppy’s life.

Kennel Clubs could include socialisation as part of their breeding requirements, where they have schemes in place. 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 all the puppy producers, particularly if they lie outside the sphere of influence of Kennel Clubs.

The workshop wrapped-up with thanks to the organisers, hosts and facilitators as well as all the participants who had collaborated over the 2 days.

I really enjoyed the workshop and picked up new ideas to share with Dachshund colleagues and other Breed Health Coordinators. I didn’t really know what to expect as this was the first IDH Workshop I have attended but I made some useful contacts and have a better understanding of what the challenges are around the world as well as some of the good practices that are already available “off the shelf”.

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