Breeding standards and pedigree health questioned at EFRA debate
SIR PATRICK Bateson, chairman of the independent enquiry into dog breeding, told the committee he believed that a ‘highly bred’ dog was more likely to get infections.
Some breed clubs had embraced the concept of outcrossing while others did ‘not want to engage with it’, he said.
"Some clubs are in different parts of the country and some are in rivalry with each other and some have very little interest in science,” he said.
"And they use the word linebreeding when it is just another word for inbreeding.”
Sir Patrick and Dog Advisory Council chairman Sheila Crispin were asked whether clubs ever hindered their members getting involved with schemes which would improve a breed’s health.
"It certainly happened with the Cavalier,” Prof Crispin said.
What is the scale of inherited health and conformation problems, they were asked.
"It varies from breed to breed,” Sir Patrick replied. "In some it is very acute, such as the Bulldog where 90 per cent of the bitches have caesarean sections because their heads are too large.
"That is a big problem. And if you want to treat a dog ethically you should not allow it to breed more than once if that is what has to happen.”
He said vets should focus on prevention rather than cure.
"If a Bulldog goes to a vet for a caesarean section to be carried out and has already had one a vet should tell the owner not to breed from her again,” he said.
Prof Crispin said there was no doubt that ocular disease was ‘largely a consequence of head conformation’.
"That is a big problem and tackling it has started to bear fruit,” she said.
"Sometimes breed clubs are in denial with the problem because they believe that if it is in the breed Standard it must be OK.
"It’s a funny kind of circular argument but we have been able to educate clubs with the help of the KC. For instance, if the eyelids don’t close properly you will get secondary corneal problems.”
Prof Crispin explained to the committee that the KC had conducted ‘a huge review’ of the Standards in 2008.
"I still think there is a need to regularly review them because some things are there from habit and custom,” she said.
"Breeders do understand, and although they don’t always agree they’re moving in the right direction. I would like things to move faster because an ocular problem is not something I would wish to have so why should a dog be any different?”
Sir Patrick said: "To be frank, I think some of the breed Standards are very vague. They should be much more precise which would make it easier for breeders to move in the right direction. Some breeders are very proactive…”
He went on to tell the committee about the outcrossing of the Dalmatian with a Pointer in a bid to stop the breed suffering from high levels of acid problems which cause stones.
And later, KC chairman Steve Dean told the committee that the KC ‘actively encouraged’ breeds to consider outcrossing where it would be beneficial.
Sir Patrick returned to the Standards, again calling them vague.
"The Bulldog’s says it should have a big head so breeders breed for a bigger head and judges reward them,” he said. "The process is inexorable.
"You can change the characteristics of an animal very quickly (by changing Standards). Judges play a big role in that.”
Prof Crispin said the KC’s campaign ‘Fit for function, fit for life’ was an important move in ensuring that breeds could do what they were designed to do, such as a Border Collie working sheep.
Committee chairman Anne McIntosh asked Prof Dean whether breeding practices were causing inherited problems.
"Certainly if you breed pedigree animals and use inbreeding you increase the risk of inherited disease,” he said.
"I don’t think any responsible breeder working under the KC umbrella would seek to breed dogs with illnesses or inherited diseases and the evidence is that they try to breed away from such problems and have done that for decades and possibly hundreds of years.”
Dachshund breed council chairman Ian Seath said he thought there were problems in some breeds.
"Some people have lost sight of what is good and have become accustomed to seeing dogs the way they are,” he said. "And you have to include the veterinary profession in that.
"What people see becomes the norm after a period of time, and people should sit up and realise there are issues which need to be addressed.”
Prof Crispin suggested that all breeders should be registered, even if they bred only one litter.
"It’s important, otherwise they slip below the radar,” she said. "But some may be making a lot of money which goes nowhere near HM Revenue and Customs, and they are doing it for all the wrong reasons – financial – and don’t care about the dogs at all.
"The argument is that there really needs to be some sort of register which is common to everyone who wants to breed from a dog – a register of unneutered animals. I think that is an area which must be looked into.”
Sir Patrick said he was worried about puppies and dogs coming in from Ireland.
"Under current EU law we can’t stop them but we can try to ensure that it is made more difficult,” he said. "It is a real problem.”
Prof Crispin said some breeders regarded puppies only as an ‘income stream’, kept no records, paid no attention to health issues and did not socialise the puppies.
"To call it farming is a joke,” she said. "It is cruel and it must be tackled. By the time they are sold from a white van the damage is already done.”
On the subject of veterinary checks, Prof Crispin said there had been resistance to them but while this had not ‘crumbled’ there was now a lot less.
Prof Dean told the committee: "The fact that the vast majority of dogs since Crufts have passed the checks is very encouraging sign, with the occasional dog failing suggesting that work still needs to be done – and the breeds are aware of that.
"But some problems have been around since the 1800s so we are asking them to do a lot of work in a short time. I regard (the checks) as a success.”
Mr Seath said he perceived the checks as a piece in the jigsaw. "They won’t change things overnight,” he said.
Some breed clubs were discussing whether every dog should be looked at before the show starts, Prof Dean said, ‘a form of pre-checking’.
"But with 21,000 plus dogs at Crufts we would need an army of vets,” he said.
He said the KC was in favour of compulsory microchipping.
"A little bit of legislation would make a big difference,” he said. "It would identify the dog and the breeder and place the responsibility very firmly on the breeder to get things right from the outset.”
Miss McIntosh said that when dog licensing was the law only 50 per cent complied. How would one ensure the other 50 per cent chipped their dogs – ‘the shady underworld’ of dog owners’, she asked. And presumably it would have to be compulsory to keep chip records up to date as well?
Prof Dean said that the details would have to be kept current in similar fashion to the DVLA system.
"And how are you going to reach out to this underworld?” Miss McIntosh asked.
"I’m not going to reach out because I’m not interested in it,” Prof Dean said. But, he continued, if chipping was compulsory, owners could be stopped in the street and dogs scanned.
Mr Seath said he was in favour of chipping but how could the ‘underworld’ or those who run puppy farms be persuaded to stick to the law.
"They’re not going to buy into it unless there are enough resources to make sure they do,” he said. "It’s difficult to see how by just bringing in the legislation one would get to that section of the population.”
He said the Dachshund fraternity was working very hard on health issues.
"The whole under-belly of breeders don’t know about health tests or breed Standards and have no interest in breeding healthy dogs,” he said.
Mr Parish asked Prof Dean whether making the DAC a Government-funded regulatory body would improve breeding practices. He replied that he thought not; it was an advisory body and designed to bring together different views.
If the KC had a criticism of the council, he went on, it would be that a great deal of work carried out by its members on how to breed and buy puppies had been done already by the KC and its Assured Breeder Scheme.
Mr Seath said the DAC’s greatest skill had been in bringing people and ‘the whole system’ together.
"Theirs is a facilitative role,” he said. "They have identified the eight welfare priorities and other data. Whether they succeed in getting their message to the outside world, breed clubs and the KC community is another question.”
Neil Parish, chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, asked Prof Dean whether he thought vets had sufficient understanding to identify poor breeding practices.
"As a vet and chairman of the KC I would say the biggest difficulty for them is knowing the difference between a responsible breeder and an irresponsible one,” he replied. "Vets do checks but they’re not experts on looking at conformation in relation to breeds.”
Prof Dean said that he and Prof Crispin had spent a good deal of time talking to owners of high-profile breeds about eye conformation.
"I believe we’re coming to a really good consensus,” he said. "We have met a lot of good breeders and are helping people understand why poor eye conformation is such a problem.
"I think a sea change is taking place, with people breeding dogs with healthy eyes.”
With regard to Sir Patrick’s remarks about Bulldogs needing caesarean sections, Prof Dean said the KC had limited the number bitches could have – two in their lifetime – and since this rule had been introduced the KC had been contacted by 2,500 breeders declaring their bitches’ caesareans so records could be kept.
The committee had heard that 90 per cent of Bulldogs have caesareans, but it was not known whether they needed them or whether the breeders involved had elected for their bitches to have them, Prof Dean said.
"We now realise that they can give birth quite naturally if given the chance,” he said. "It is a question of perception.”
The EFRA committee comprises chairman Anne McIntosh, Thomas Docherty, Richard Drax, George Eustice, Barry Gardiner, Mary Glindon, Iain McKenzie, Mr Parish, Margaret Ritchie, Dan Rogerson and Amber Rudd.
Good article. Particularly the section about innbreeding (linebreeding) versus outcross breeding. I have Samoyeds, and find that the mating coeficient standard for these are 6.4 overall!! Far too close for comfort- when I outcross breed it comes out as 0.4. (I go to France for a stud). Surely new genes into the stock in UK must be encourgaged at all times - yet I have had comments because the dogs do not look like clones of their parents, but as one older ex-breeder commented - mine looked like the original samoyeds! And they are big, healthy strong dogs and good enough to win 1st at dog shows!