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06-07-2009 - Miniature poodles have highest risk of welfare problems as result of inherited diseases

Miniature poodles have highest risk of welfare problems as result of inherited diseases

Miniature poodles have emerged as the surprise top dogs in a competition that their owners would prefer them to have lost. Of all pedigree dogs, this breed has been shown to harbour inherited diseases that have the greatest impact on their welfare.

This fact was revealed in an analysis of the prevalence and severity of conditions found in the 50 most popular Kennel Club registered breeds carried out for the Dogs Trust by Dr Lisa Collins and colleagues from the Royal Veterinary College. This study was one of several initiatives by veterinary scientists and animal welfare organisations following a controversial BBC Television documentary in August last year which highlighted the consequences of breeding solely on appearance.

Dr Collins told delegates at a recent UFAW symposium that the breed with the biggest number of inherited defects, in a detailed analysis of the published literature, was actually the German shepherd dog (GSD). But the miniature poodle - in overall second place - has disorders with a greater cumulative effect, based on consideration of the prognosis, effects of treatment, resulting medical complications and impact on the affected dog's behaviour.

The breed is known to have 55 different conditions compared with the GSD's 69, of which 17 are directly or indirectly related to its conformation and thus stem directly or indirectly from selection for the traits encouraged in its breed standard.

The study also identifies those breeds which may have a smaller total number of breed defects, but which have more deleterious effects on the dog's quality of life - including the Basset hound, bulldog and pug.

Dr Nicola Rooney of Bristol University, who presented another paper looking at welfare problems in pedigree breeds, noted that these breeds commonly suffer from orthopaedic and respiratory conditions that can severely compromise the welfare of an affected animal. Brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds, such as the bulldog and pug, will typically have a life expectancy two years shorter than a similarly sized dog from a breed with a more normal conformation, she said.

While Dr Collins' team has been attempting to produce the first systematic analysis of the welfare impact of inherited diseases, Dr Rooney's study, carried out with the RSPCA and Cambridge veterinary school, has tried to identify possible solutions.

A survey of 20 experts in canine genetics and reproduction asked what steps were needed to improve the health of the affected breeds. Their first recommendation was for further research to more accurately assess the morbidity and mortality resulting from inherited disease and to monitor the efficacy of any counter measures.

Further action would include a complete ban on first and second degree matings between related animals. Although first degree (father to daughter) matings have already been prohibited by the Kennel Club, second degree (between two half siblings) are still permitted and are regularly arranged by breeders keen to preserve or enhance a desired breed trait.

Other useful strategies would include encouraging the import of breeding stock from abroad and opening the stud book to allow matings with healthy animal from physically similar breeds. Both Drs Rooney and Collins emphasised the importance of breeders taking advice from experts in canine genetics in planning their future mating programmes.

By: John Bonner
Published: 06 Jul 2009

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