How long will my dog live?
It seems a long time ago, but in 2014 the KC ran its pedigree dogs breed health survey with an online survey that attracted just under 50,000 responses. Among these were 5663 reports of dogs that had died. Now, that set of mortality data has been analysed and published in an Open Access paper: “Longevity and mortality in Kennel Club registered dog breeds in the UK in 2014”. The co-authors are Tom Lewis, Bonnie Wiles, Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi, Katy Evans and Dan O’Neill; names that will be familiar to many readers.
There are some interesting findings in the paper and I’d like to share a few of those, this month.
The most commonly reported causes of death were old age (13.8%), unspecified cancer (8.7%) and heart failure (4.9%); with 5.1% of deaths reported as unknown cause. Overall median age at death was 10.33 years. Breeds varied widely in median longevity overall from the West Highland Terrier (12.71 years) to the Dobermann Pinscher (7.67 years). There was also wide variation in the prevalence of some common causes of death among breeds, and in median longevity across the causes of death.
What do dogs die of?
All dogs are going to die of something (!) so it’s perhaps good news to find that owners reported “old age” as the most common cause of death. Interestingly, “old age” as reported by the owners ranged from just under 6 years old to just over 22 years old. The median age of death under the “old age”category was 13.7 years.
At the recent Breed Health Coordinator Symposium, Dr Mike Starkey told us that 1 in 4 dogs will be affected by cancer so it’s probably not surprising to see Cancer (of unspecified types) as the second highest cause of death. The median age of cancer deaths was just over 10 years, again suggesting it is as most people would expect, a condition of older age. The range for age of death due to cancers was very wide: 2 months to 21 years.
What do different breeds die of?
It’s well-known that canine longevity varies considerably depending on the size of the breed; giant breeds have shorter lifespans while smaller breeds tend to live longer. Of particular interest to me was a previous VetCompass study that showed Miniature Dachshunds to be among the longest-lived breeds. This breed was subsequently chosen to be a long-lived representative in a genome-wide association study that Cathryn Mellersh (AHT) and other colleagues conducted to compare the genomes of long and short-lived breeds.
The latest paper shows data for “Within Breed Proportional Mortality” (WBPM). This is a way to look at the relative differences between the various causes of death for each breed where there were sufficient reports. (Unfortunately, from my personal point of view there were too few Dachshund reports to be included in this analysis).
This is where the paper gets really interesting. The data shows, for example that the WBPM for “old age” ranged from 3.85% in Bernese Mountain Dogs to 25.0% in Bearded Collies. In other words, significantly fewer BMDs die of old age than Bearded Collies. The WBPM for ‘cancer – unspecified’ ranged from 0.00% in Gordon Setters to 19.56% in Flat Coated Retrievers. The WBPM for ‘heart failure’ ranged from 0.00% in Whippets to 19.82% in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Again, these reflect what most people know about cancer risk in FCRs and heart disease in Cavaliers. The analysis also shows that Border Terriers had the highest WBPM for dying as a result of road traffic accidents.
This WBPM data enabled the authors to identify how individual breeds’ causes of death compared with the Overall Proportional Mortality (OPM) based on reports for all the dogs in the survey. Boxers and FCRs were the 2 breeds less likely to die of old age compared with the OPM. Cavaliers were less likely to die of cancers, compared with the OPM, but, as you would expect, were more likely to die of heart conditions. If your breed is among the 25 analysed in this way, it’s well worth looking at the data to see how it compares with your own experience.
Healthspan vs. Lifespan
Healthspan is an interesting concept that has become quite topical. A dog’s healthspan is the length of time it is healthy, not just alive. The paper says “Although death may be postponed by improved healthcare, extended longevity by itself does not necessarily imply an improved or even a good quality of life, so a delicate balancing act exists between longevity and acceptable quality of life.” This leads to challenging ethical debates about whether a shorter but healthy lifespan with a short, rapid decline to death, might be preferable to a longer life with long periods of illness and a slow decline to death. There is, inevitably, a difficult decision to be made by owners, with vets, about treatment options to prolong life, quality of life and when might be the right time to consider euthanasia.
The concept of healthspan means that longevity almost certainly means different things in different breeds. A giant breed would, typically, be expected to die younger than a toy breed but as long as the dog was healthy during that lifespan, most people would not consider there to be welfare issues. Conversely, long-lived breeds should not necessarily be considered as being “healthier”, particularly if much of their lifespan is subject to a debilitating illness.
4 categories of breed
The authors merged the results of longevity by breed with Within Breed Proportional Mortality (WBPM) and came up with 4 categories of breed:
- Long-lived with no specific cause of death at a raised proportional mortality (e.g. WHW Terrier, Bearded Collie, Gordon Setter)
- Long-lived with at least one cause of death at a raised proportional mortality (e.g. Labrador, Golden Retriever, Border Collie)
- Short-lived with no specific cause of death at a raised proportional mortality (e.g. GSD, Whippet)
- Short-lived with at least one cause of death at a raised proportional mortality (e.g. Flat Coated Retriever, Dobermann)
Category 4 breeds are short-lived with serious, breed-specific, life-limiting conditions. Categories 1 and 3 are breeds where there is a wide variation in longevity associated with factors that apply across all dogs (such as size) and there is no obvious disease that accounts for death.
The paper concludes: “This study has identified individual breeds that have both a low median lifespan and also a high proportional mortality for one or more specific causes of death. Breeds with this combination are highlighted with potential welfare concerns that may need to be addressed.”
If your breed is one of the 25 breeds with causes of death with more than 50 reports, the paper is well worth reading and reflecting on what actions your breed clubs might need to be taking.
How Team GB Cycling would increase dog show entries
What can we learn from Team GB Cycling that could be applied to the “problem of declining dog show entries”?
Team GB won 6 cycling gold medals at Rio 2016 and that was twice as many as their nearest rival. Before Chris Boardman’s gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, GB hadn’t won a cycling gold since 1920. According to an article in the Guardian, by the mid-90s, the sport’s governing body was riven with dissent and members had deserted in droves.
Part of the turnaround has been attributed to the team coach, Dave Brailsford, and what has become known as the “aggregation of marginal gains” or the “1% Principle”. His view was that by making a 1% improvement in a multitude of areas, the cumulative gains would end up being significant and valuable. He looked for weaknesses in the assumptions that underpinned performance and saw every weakness as an opportunity for improvement.
He measured and improved the aerodynamics of the bikes, the riders and their clothing. He looked for improvements in the riders’ diets and sleep patterns. The more they looked and learned, the more marginal gains they accumulated and the more successful Team GB became. The knock-on effect on popularity for cycling has been spectacular.
More than 2 million people in the UK now cycle at least once a week according to cycling’s governing body. Sales of UK manufactured bikes grew by 69% in 2014. The biggest growth in cyclists is among 30-year-olds, with women even more keen than men. British Cycling’s membership doubled between 2008 and 2014.
Imagine that last paragraph translated into dog showing:
More than 2 million people in the UK now show their dog at least once a week according to the Kennel Club. Registrations of pedigree dogs grew by 69% in 2014. The biggest growth in dog showing is among 30-year-olds, with women even more keen than men. Breed Club membership doubled between 2008 and 2014.
Those may be fantasy numbers, but how could the aggregation of marginal gains be applied to increase entries at dog shows?
I have played around with some numbers for Miniature Smooth Dachshund Championship Show entries. If you exclude Crufts, which is clearly an outlier with its big entry, the average Mini Smooth Dachshund entry in 2015 across General and Breed Club championship shows was 72 dogs. We can use that as a baseline.
- If every Dachshund Breed Club attracted 2 new members a year, each of whom showed 1 dog at half the Breed Club shows with CCs, that would be about 130 more entries per year. Average annual entries would increase to 77 dogs.
- If the General Championship Shows achieved the same average level of entries with their All-rounder judges as they did with their Breed Specialist judges, there would be a further 69 entries, taking the annual average up to 79 dogs.
- If the Breed Specialist judges who achieved below average entries had each attracted 5 more entries, the annual entry average would increase to 81.
- If the shows in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland could each increase their average entry by 2 dogs, the annual entry average would increase to 82.
The combination of these four relatively small improvements would result in a 14% increase in annual entries.
I’ve quoted Dr. Deming before and I’ll quote him again: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion“. There’s plenty of data available on dog show entries and exhibitors’ reasons for entering, or not. The results of the recent Our Dogs survey add to that pool of data. We should be making more use of it.
The devil is in the detail, but the insight is in the data.
It’s also worth remembering what Dave Brailsford and cycling’s governing body didn’t do. They didn’t tell the grassroots cycling clubs that there were too many of them and they needed to merge. They were confident that there was a need for lots of friendly, local, clubs where amateur cyclists could get involved in the sport. They didn’t tell grassroots cycling clubs to hold their races on the same day and in the same place as the major regional and national events. They knew that if cyclists were good enough, they would compete at the bigger events and that not everyone wanted, or could afford, to attend these.
Judges have their part to play in making a 1% difference, too. People want to feel they have had a fair evaluation from someone who understands their breed. Courtesy and a demonstrable interest in the dogs on the day goes down well too, as does a promptly submitted critique explaining their decisions.
It is noticeable and significant that the biggest impact in my Dachshund marginal gains example is the role of Breed Clubs in attracting new members who exhibit their dogs. Breed clubs are fundamental to the future of dog showing and the popularity of pedigree dogs. They have the potential to attract, retain and grow participation in our hobby. Seminars, fun days and events to inspire owners and potential owners are all part of their role; relying on “just running shows” is no longer good enough.
We all need to be asking “what’s the 1% difference that we can each make?”.
I am grateful to Anna Richardson for sharing this article with me. (PDF: DACHSHUND-HOOPERS-article)
The recent Select Committee Report on dangerous dogs says: “We were concerned to hear that the Government considered the Dangerous Dogs Act to be successful on the grounds that it was impossible to tell how many attacks would have occurred without the law. This is not convincing”.
Yet another example of policy-making and legislation that is not based on evidence.
Here’s the summary of the report:
The UK is a nation of dog lovers. Whilst the vast majority of dogs pose no threat to the public, concern is growing that the Government’s current approach to dog control is failing to protect people adequately. In 1991 the Dangerous Dogs Act outlawed certain breeds/types of dog to protect the public from attacks, but since then the number of yearly fatalities has continued to rise. Hospital admissions for dog attacks have increased by 81 percent since 2005. An unacceptably high number of victims suffer horrific life-changing injuries in these incidents. Even where no physical injury occurs, dog aggression can cause significant psychological distress. At the same time, too many harmless dogs are being destroyed every year because they are banned and cannot be re-homed, even if they are well tempered and pose no risk to the public.
The Government has maintained that the breed ban is essential to public safety, arguing that these prohibited dogs pose an inherent risk. Our inquiry found insufficient evidence to substantiate this claim. We agree with the Government that it would be irresponsible to amend the breed ban immediately without adequate safeguards. That does not mean that the Government should continue to sit on its hands. Changing the law on Breed Specific Legislation is desirable, achievable, and would better protect the public. The Government’s lack of action on this front shows a disregard for dog welfare.
The current approach to dog control is plagued with deep structural problems. Improvements to public safety that simultaneously safeguard animal welfare can only be achieved through an open-minded engagement with new strategies. This will require time, commitment and political courage. To this end, we call on the Government to:
- immediately remove the prohibition on transferring a banned dog if it has been behaviourally assessed by experts and found to be safe. This would prevent the needless destruction of friendly animals that could be safely re-homed;
- commission an independent evidence review to establish whether the banned breeds/types present an inherently greater risk than any legal breed or cross breed;
- commission a comprehensive review of existing dog control legislation and policy, with a view to developing an alternative model that focuses on prevention though education, early intervention, and consistently robust sanctions for offenders;
- ensure all future strategies are developed with a full and transparent commitment to evidence-based policy-making. If the independent evidence review concludes there is insufficient evidence to support the Government’s position on Breed Specific Legislation, this aspect of the law should be revised;
- introduce mandatory training and education courses for minor dog offences, similar to speed awareness courses for drivers;
- support wider dog awareness training for schoolchildren, and run a targeted awareness campaign for dog owners and the general public on safe human-dog interaction;
- increase support for local authorities and police forces to ensure they have the capacity to fulfil their duties; and
- engage with international partners to learn lessons and best practice from abroad.
Sue went to the Open Day hosted by Hamilton Specialist Referrals who have recently opened a state-of-the art referral hospital in High Wycombe. You may have seen Michael Hamilton and his wife Clare on TV’s “Vet on the Hill”. Michael is Clinical Director and Clare is Managing Director.
This multi-million pound hospital is the first of its kind in the High Wycombe area and offers the following services:
- Diagnostic imaging
For anyone with Dachshunds who needs a referral for IVDD (back disease) this will surely be a fantastic hospital to choose. By the end of this year, there will be a team of 30 staff in place. Currently, there are 2 vets and 2 interns, plus a nursing team of 8, a rehabilitation specialist and 4 support staff.
Sue said the facilities are amazing and they are about to install a new animal-only MRI scanner in addition to the CT Scanner already on-site.
The rehab centre offers physiotherapy, gait analysis, hydrotherapy and sport conditioning.
Access to treatments is by referral from your vet.