Vet check storm - KC chairman responds

Created: 16/03/2012

KENNEL Club chairman Prof Steve Dean has responded to the ferocious criticism of the veterinary checks at Crufts, answering some of the questions posed by DOG WORLD but showing no signs of the KC weakening in its resolve.
He said: "There has been much comment about the veterinary checks of the high-profile breeds (HPB) which started at Crufts and is scheduled to be repeated at all general and group championship shows for the foreseeable future.
The KC has kept comment to a minimum to permit the dog exhibitors, judges and public to have their say and to allow time for evaluation of the process and the veterinary reports received. However, the fact that nine breeds passed the checks and that in the main, the concerns highlighted in those that failed were not linked to problems relating to lameness, skin disorders or respiratory distress, must be a reason for congratulation.  It is recognised that even the breeds that failed have made huge strides forward in recent years and this progress needs to continue particularly in relation to externally visible eye disease.
"To consider the background – the 1995 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals listed some 30 breeds detailing deleterious conditions which, it claimed, if not addressed could warrant action to prevent further breeding. The KC considered the list and reduced it to 14 breeds in line with available evidence in the UK. The Chinese Crested was added later because of concerns that cosmetic shaving or hair removal was causing skin damage. Why have veterinary checks – the primary reason was to prevent dogs with clinical problems associated with exaggerated conformation competing in the group ring. Only healthy dogs should receive high awards. The concept of a veterinary check is not new and was introduced three years ago at Crufts on a basis of referral by ringside observers. Breeds were observed from the ringside and BOB winners were referred to the vet if observers believed there was any sign of health or welfare problems arising from exaggerated conformation. In parallel, the results of judges and observers scoring for health and welfare of the high-profile breed in the show ring are reported in the Dog Health Group’s annual reports (2010 and 2011). These show how the ringside and the judge can disagree about a breed's health and welfare status.
This system based upon voluntary referral by observers still yielded occasions where dogs entered the group ring without a veterinary check that were subsequently criticised regarding health and welfare. In part this was because of a lack of referral or the presence of eye conditions that were not easily visible from the ringside but were visible close-up. At this time breeds examined were told where problems were noted but no breeds were excluded at Crufts in 2010 and 2011 following a veterinary check. In part this recognised the ongoing work to rectify some major problems in some breeds at that time. The General Committee, therefore, considered the recommendation from the Dog Health Group to make veterinary checks compulsory for the high-profile breeds and agreed this would start at Crufts 2012. This would give the KC an opportunity to consult on the planned process and the form of the veterinary examination with the veterinary profession, breed clubs and the championship shows. Experience gained in the examination of dogs during the period of observer referrals was informative and contributed to the development of the procedure for the high profile breed veterinary check. The HPB check was proposed to provide two potential outcomes. Either bests of breed would be free of clinical signs of breed related problems related to exaggeration and could progress to the group competition or, where clinical signs associated with pain or discomfort are detected, breeds would be excluded from further competition. In particular it was essential to focus any veterinary check on clinical signs associated with exaggerated conformation, thus avoiding subjective evaluation of excess. In short, there had to be evidence that an exaggeration was causing associated pathology.
Associated changes were made to show regulations to allow the judge to withhold a BOB where dogs on the day were not of sufficient quality in terms of health and welfare. As the judge’s opinion is the basis of the CC award it was decided not to remove the CC award as a result of a failed check but judges would be asked to comment upon why the BOB winner was found to have clinical problems and if they took this into account in their decision. Consequences of failure – Failure to pass a veterinary check is deemed to disqualify the dog from further competition (ie in the group ring). It was also decided that a dog would need to pass a veterinary inspection before a champion status is confirmed to ensure dogs that only won CCs at breed championship shows were not excluded from this initiative.
As the award of BOB would be completed sometime before the veterinary inspection would take place it was not possible to allow another dog from the breed to take the place of BOB in the group. This would be impractical from the judging perspective and interfere with the opinion of the judge. It is critical that judges are committed to rewarding healthy dogs Why only 15 HPBs – is this unfair and discriminatory? The 15 breeds were selected on the basis of risk – the likelihood of conditions occurring associated with conformational exaggeration. Each of the 14 breeds (excluding the Chinese Crested) is commonly linked with exaggerated conformation, generally accepted as leading to clinical signs of pain or discomfort on sufficient occasions as to cause concern. It is recognised that other breeds also have degrees of exaggeration but these are currently considered to be of a lesser risk due to the extent of the clinical consequences within these breeds. However, the KC has recognised this as an issue and is considering how breeds might be added or removed from the HPB list according to the general health assessment for each breed considered from time to time. Breed Watch lists various concerns about health conditions in all breeds, including conformational issues and this is completed by the breed and judges. Breed Watch should be sufficient at this time for maintaining or improving the health and welfare of breeds not currently included on the HPB list. In short the risk to health is greater for the 15 listed breeds but breeds can be added to the list if a case is made that health and welfare is significantly compromised by exaggerated conformation.
Any BOB winner may be referred to the show’s vet if there are concerns about health or welfare. In addition, judges have the ability to withhold BOB awards and exclude dogs from the ring if they have concerns that a dog’s health and welfare is compromised. The veterinary check is therefore an additional control, because the 15 breeds listed all have a significant risk of exaggerated conformation leading to health and welfare concerns and the KC has a duty to ensure this is addressed in the show ring.
Vet inspection – The veterinary examination was first proposed in 2010 and modified throughout 2011 following consultation with breed clubs and vets. The detail is available on the KC website. In summary the examination is a visual and manual assessment of four main areas: adnexal eye conformation (ie eyelid conformation and other external tissues around the eyeball); respiratory efficiency and exercise tolerance; skin condition related to skin folds and other exaggerations such as ears and tails; and soundness on the move. All four areas are commonly associated with perceived exaggeration in the HPBs. In each case associated clinical signs of pathology are looked for as an objective assessment of exaggerated conformation. It became evident during development of the scheme that eye defects would be the most difficult to assess. At first it was recommended that the presence of ectropion or entropion would be a disqualifying fault (for clarity, any visible haw is a sign ectropion exists). However it was agreed, taking expert opinion, that some breeds do permit ‘a little haw’ and thus several breeds were likely to fail the vet checks repeatedly if this measure was strictly applied. Thus for the eye, typically the vet is expected to note any ocular pathology. For example inflammation of mucosae or white of the eye, scarring or pigmentation indicating chronic damage to the cornea,  evidence of surgical intervention to the eyelids and significant overflow of tears (epiphora) or blepharospasm (eyelids squeezed shut). All these signs would help establish if an eyelid malformation was capable of resulting in problems of pain or discomfort. Respiratory function is assessed by observing respiratory rate, ease of inhalation and expiration, tolerance to moderate exercise and the presence of respiratory noise. Skin folds and tightly curled tails are assessed by looking for associated inflammation or infection of the skin in the depth of the folds or scarring from previous infection. Musculo-skeletal soundness is assessed by the presence or absence of lameness. Vets who normally officiate at championship shows have been briefed. They were informed that they are not intended to judge the dogs in the manner of the show ring. Their examination is intended to be identification of the clinical signs leading to concerns about health or welfare and no diagnosis is required. The report form does provide the vet the ability to comment on other conformational factors that were worthy of note but do not form part of the examination.
The issue of diagnostic equipment has been raised by exhibitors at Crufts. Advice to the vets throughout the past year has been not to use any diagnostic aid with the exception of a pen torch where lighting is not adequate. A pen torch was used on the first day but following complaints better lighting was placed in the veterinary examination areas and no further use was necessary. So to confirm – no other diagnostic aid was used and it has been agreed that pen torches will not be used in the future.
The process of checking – Specific areas for veterinary examination were provided in each of the four halls so that the distance a BOB needed to travel was minimised. This also prevented the regular veterinary area from becoming over-crowded and avoided the anticipated press interest compromising the usual work carried out there. The stewards used were experienced having helped with previous Crufts examinations. They were instructed to wait for the BOB to complete their post judging celebrations and to accompany the exhibit to the veterinary check area. Their job was to ensure the vet and the BOB met efficiently and to exclude press and other third parties from the process. After much debate it was decided to exclude everyone from the examination other than the owner/handler, a show official and the vet. Furthermore the results of examination are confidential – communicated only to the owner/handler and the KC. A copy of the report is retained by the vet.
Timing of examinations – It has been suggested the veterinary check took as long as 15 minutes and that this is unacceptable because the judge has only a few minutes to look at each dog. However, the time includes a conversation about the process to be followed and completion of a report copied to the KC, the owner and for the vet's records. 15 to 20 minutes on these first time veterinary checks seems reasonable and is consistent with the time taken to conduct previous checks carried out at Crufts. Why not use the Crufts veterinary team – The Crufts veterinary team are busy on occasions with the routine of veterinary duties at the show. The KC decided to appoint a specific vet to conduct HPB checks, as we do with subsidised eye testing carried out each year in the veterinary centre. In addition, in the past the KC has been criticised that the vet used at Crufts in the past had potential conflicts of interest, being a member of the KC and a General Committee member. Therefore the KC sought help from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to appoint a suitable vet so that third parties would be reassured of the vet’s impartiality. The vets selected volunteered as a result of a letter from the BVA president in the Veterinary Record. The past BVA president and the KC chairman selected the vets jointly using a brief curriculum vitae submitted by each applicant and agreed on the selections made. No suitable vet was able to attend on all four days and so two were selected to cover Crufts. Both are general practitioners with background experience of either veterinary duties at championship dog shows or with some historical experience of breeding and showing dogs. They are reasonable, sensible, experienced vets and I have every confidence that they followed their brief accurately and that their conclusions were valid.  Outcome – Nine of the 15 breeds passed their health checks and six did not. The KC always stated that the details of the health check would be kept confidential. If however an owner, as some have done, chooses to make the report public that is their right to do so. It is clear that eye problems dominated the findings of the vets. Follow-up veterinary checks have been suggested to refute the findings of the Crufts examinations. This is understandable, as in many cases the clinical aspect may change over time. However, no certificates of examination have been presented to the KC and when they are we will investigate their findings further.
There has been considerable focus on the negative impacts of these veterinary checks on the owners and judges, but the positive aspects for the breeds concerned should be considered. None of the dogs examined exhibited significant breathing difficulties or lameness. Given the number of brachycephalic (short muzzled) dogs and breeds associated with inherited skeletal conditions within the 15 HP breeds this is encouraging.  Apart from two dogs with ear inflammation (which was not used to disqualify any dog) there was no reported skin inflammation or infection related to skin folds or tail conformation. This is all good news and demonstrates that judges did put forward otherwise healthy dogs. However, some did have signals that their eye adnexa are causing problems. A consistent finding in several breeds was the presence of eyelid defects (either entropion or ectropion) but in all cases signs of current inflammation or chronic damage was observed and linked to these conformational defects before a dog failed the veterinary check. The disputes arising from these findings indicate further consideration is necessary about how the problem of eyelid conformation is evaluated in all breeds in the show ring.
Consultation and communication – Several meetings with show vets, breeds and show executives took place during 2011, including one session dedicated to the problems vets would be looking for, including the effects of poor eyelid conformation. Booklets were produced for the vets. There was also press coverage of the changes to the rules associated with veterinary checks. Views on initiative – It is very regrettable that we need to use a veterinary check before the BOB award can be confirmed at championship level and I feel very sorry for those whose dogs failed the check. However, it is important to realise that 15 high-profile breeds do have conformational exaggerations that have led to avoidable conditions causing pain or discomfort and this has to be unacceptable to all of us. Much work has been done by the breeds to move away from these exaggerations and in a remarkably short time. As the KC, we have to provide the right framework to ensure dogs win at shows because they are typical of their breed and have good health. The veterinary check is just part of that framework and if breeders, exhibitors and judges play a full part, then the veterinary check should be a simple confirmatory procedure that could be dispensed with within a decade. However, we must recognise that some breeds will struggle with the veterinary check for some time to come. Although six dogs failed they did so principally because of adnexal eye conformation, already well recognised in several breeds but the degree of their seriousness is not yet an agreed consensus. As a personal view, a dog with a sore eye is not much different to a dog with a sore skin or lameness. We can say that where these are exhibited in a minor way they are less serious than more overt cases but even if the dog is otherwise outstanding, is it right to put it forward with a clinical problem even if this is transitory? This is clearly a question for debate. Can we expect a judge to notice the same level of eye disease as a vet? This is a question that needs to be considered. Equally can we continue to accept ‘some haw showing’ or descriptors in breed standards that suggest triangular shaped eyes? These are all divergent from the normal eyelid that dogs need to maintain good ocular health. Blame is not relevant at this stage for haws have been with us in some breeds for more than a century and even the veterinary profession have only recently made moves to pay more attention to adnexal eye conditions. What about other inherited diseases - There are health schemes to deal with many inherited diseases and these will be considered in the show ring only if they produce observable clinical signs (eg lameness due to hip or elbow dysplasia). There are no plans to demand health certificates or health test results at dog shows. Other breeds – It has been suggested there are other breeds with conformational exaggerations and a policy is being developed on how other breeds may be added to the HPB listing. However, the KC would encourage other breeds to follow the trend to improve conformation, particularly in terms of eyelid conformation. There will be other questions that some will want answered and we will endeavour to address as many of them as possible in due course.    

***

A MEETING of 320 dog people, all concerned by the events at Crufts where six best of breed winners were excluded from the group judging, decided to form an organisation entitled the Canine Alliance to represent the views of breeders, judges and exhibitors.

Those present voted to invite the Kennel Club

1)To suspend the high-profile breed veterinary checks.

2)To agree that, on the available evidence from Crufts, the existing system is flawed.

3)Not to re-introduce the checks until they are transparent, there is clarity and fairness, and they are non-discriminatory.

The aim is that this will be a proposal at the KC's forthcoming annual meeting.

Those attending the meeting on Thursday evening at the National Motorcycle Museum included many senior breeders, exhibitors and judges, among them a large number from the six breeds whose winners were rejected. Of these, 61 were members of the KC and 108 members of the KC Assured Breeder Scheme. The meeting was chaired by Martin Wyles.

A steering committee of 14 was elected for the Alliance, whose strapline will be 'Responsible for Pedigree Dogs'. They are Andrew Brace, Joy Bradley, Lisa Croft-Elliott, Phil Freer, Mike Gadsby, Steve Hall, Robert Harlow, Stuart Mallard, Howard Ogden, Dianna Spavin, Tony Taylor, Susan Whitehead, Sigurd Wilberg and Martin Wyles.

See news for statements from Crufts independent vet Alison Skipper and the Basset Hound Club.



Reviews

14all, 21/03/2012

The time has come for the UK to come into line with the rest of Europe, the KC must relinquish the grip on shows here and let us affiliate to the FCI. The UK judges and shows are now the laughing stock of the world.

Yorker, 21/03/2012

The Kennel Club Chairman clearly addresses most points currently raised by the objectors to the new health checks.The whole process has a very strong message that the Kennel Club is doing its best for dogs health. Dog people may not like it but they are going to have to try and improve the health of their show dogs, and breeding stock. The message does seem to be getting through as far less of the extreme examples in problem breeds now appear in the showring. Yorker

Davy, 20/03/2012

I congratulate the excellent response from the chairman of the Kennel Club,to the Crufts,independent vet testing situation.

My friends know I do not always agree with actions/non-actions of the Kennel Club.

One issue has been clarified,a pen torch was allowed by the Kennel Club,even if it was only allowed for day one.

I think preventing use of a pen torch,by independent vets,in the future is a mistake.

I hope independent vets,will be used and pressure not to use independent vets will be ignored.

Finally,a gradual increase of /to all breeds being examined,is necessary.

stevieB., 19/03/2012

Because this alliance is to show the KC how dog folk feel .Fighting the government and councils about puppy farming is another battle.

dogguy, 16/03/2012

*****

BillyBunter, 16/03/2012

After one show a committee is set up, yet no one will sign on to fight the puppy farmers. Truly AMAZING.

convict 225, 16/03/2012

I'm not saying every action at Crufts was right I simply don't have the facts to make the call. I do, however, say the principle of independent vet checks of winning dog is a vital component of moving forward. We must be careful of spin and code e.g. “we don’t want vanilla, generic dogs” =“we’ll overlook features that can cause welfare issues because we believe they’re inherent to the breed”. “We don’t want nit picking” = “we want features that can cause welfare issues in an individual dog overlooked because we believe it has compensating good type” and “ we want vet checks conducted by vets who know the breed” = “we want vets who will overlook welfare issues that they believe are inherent in the breed type” Yes, I’m an absolutist about this. I do feel a very typy dog with even a small health or welfare issue should always lose to a less typy dog with no such issues. That to me is common sense...the poorer example of an animal can’t be a better example of the breed. If we are to claim that a dog is the best example of its breed it must first be a totally healthy a dog – no ifs and no buts.

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