Kennel Club Breed Health Symposium 2019

The Kennel Club’s Health Team hosted their annual Symposium for Breed Health Coordinators (BHCs) at Stoneleigh on September 18th. Around 90 BHCs or Health committee representatives, plus 30 or so other people, attended. This annual event has been running for over 20 years and 2 years ago was opened up for anyone with an interest in breed health to attend, not just Breed Health Coordinators. 

2019-09-18 10.19.37Bill Lambert (Senior Health & Welfare Manager at the Kennel Club) introduced the day with an update on changes within the Kennel Club Health Team. Charlotte McNamara has returned to the team as Health Development Manager and Hannah James has taken over responsibility for Breed Health and Conservation Plans. Dr Tom Lewis and Fern McDonnell are the other 2 team members.

Bill also talked about some proposed changes to the Eye Scheme which are under discussion, such as the removal of Schedule B and the intention for all dogs to be able to have their results recorded. Results will be available online (Health Tests Results Finder) and in the Breed Records Supplement.

Dr Sally Ricketts gave an update on the Give a Dog a Genome (GDG) project and research underway at the AHT on complex canine diseases. Over £150k has been raised for the GDG project, mainly from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and Breed Clubs. 77 breeds signed-up and the AHT has now sequenced the genomes of 89 breeds. Data from 29 dogs has been shared with 29 research groups in Europe and the USA. The recently announced DNA test for PRA in Giant Schnauzers is an example of the useful outputs from this project. 

Epilepsy is the most prevalent canine neurological problem and a priority for many of the breed communities participating in GDG. Currently, the condition is being investigated in Border Collies and Italian Spinoni, with 5 more breeds planned.

Dr Jacqueline Boyd (Nutritional Consultant at Skinner’s) discussed the topic of canine nutrition and how this fits into wider aspects of canine health and wellbeing, such as genetics, exercise, and other environmental factors. She skillfully avoided the trap of discussing “complete vs. raw” and focused on nutrition as a controllable variable. She said that “you get out what you put in” and diet is not a cure-all. Different breeds have different nutritional requirements, as do dogs at different lifestyle stages and involved in different activities.

An interesting and emerging area of research is the relationship between diet and genetics; nutrigenomics. There is research showing how, in humans, the diets of parents and grandparents is linked to conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even schizophrenia in subsequent generations. In summary, Jaqueline said that nutrition impacts on health, welfare, longevity (lean dogs live longer) and subsequent generations. Good nutrition, therefore, supports good breeding.

Dr Tom Lewis, the KC’s quantitative geneticist, discussed the upcoming regulation regarding hereditarily clear status in litters which is to be introduced from January 2022.  

Currently, Hereditarily clear status over 2 generations (of breeding) is given to dogs that are determined to be free of specific genetic mutations linked to a particular inherited disease. Both Sire & Dam are DNA tested CLEAR and consequently all the puppies from that mating will also be Clear.

In a recently published study, Tom’s analysis showed that dogs could be mistakenly given a false hereditary clear status for a number of reasons; for example, if there has been a failure of laboratory protocols, pedigree errors or incorrectly recorded parentage. In these instances, it is unlikely that the inaccuracies would be noticed immediately, but rather that several generations later many dogs throughout the breed descended from the individual with the original incorrect status will also have erroneous hereditary status, and the well-intended mating of two such apparently hereditary clear dogs risks producing affected puppies.

To reduce the knock-on effect of these errors, and the risk of unintentionally breeding affected puppies, the Kennel Club will be ensuring that from January 2022, the ‘hereditary clear status’ will be limited to two generations, unless lineage is verified by DNA parentage profiling recorded by the Kennel Club. DNA parentage profiling is a separate procedure to screening DNA for disease-causing mutations, but can often be carried out at the same time by the same laboratory.
BHC Mentor.jpg Before lunch, there was a short panel Q&A session where the team of BHC Mentors answered some pre-notified questions. Attendees were able to continue discussions over lunch and then had the opportunity for more 1-to-1 sessions with the BHC Mentors, the morning’s speakers and other scientists during the afternoon. These 1-to-1s allowed individual breed representatives to spend some quality time with the relevant experts.

As always, the team of KC staff who organised the event did a great job putting together a valuable symposium with first-class speakers and real, practical advice.

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