Sick as a dog

Current pedigree dog breeding practices can promote ill-health in dogs

source: Paul McGreevy
New Scientist vol 200 no 2677 October 11 2008 p18

Critics of pedigree dog breeding are concerned that dog show winners gain prizes for movement and appearance, while canine well-being and health are neglected. The RSPCA and Dogs Trust no longer support the UK Kennel Club's Cruft's show. There is a need to focus on longevity, health and temperament.

Problems arise from intensively bred animals selected from a closed stud book. This closed system means that inherited disorders are found in many dogs. Some traits sought by breeders may affect canine health, and breeders tend to place more importance on looks than function. An example is the Weimaraner standard, for a deep and well-developed chest, a firmly held abdomen, and moderately tucked up flank, traits that can make Weimaraners vulnerable to torsion and gastric dilation. In another case, breeders who seek to develop bulging eyes in Pugs can produce dogs unable to close their eyes, and which thus become blind.

Studbooks should be more open, and there should be greater control of emerging inherited diseases. Most dogs are now companions, so greater importance should be placed on temperament, to allow dogs a better quality of life, and better relationships with humans. Australia has embarked on a scheme to promote easier temperaments, a scheme backed by Australian dog breeders. Vets are now using better quality tools to assess canine quality of life.

Rules for pedigree dog breeding should change if pedigree dogs are to survive. Good breeders care about their job. Breeders need to collaborate with veterinary associations and welfare charities, using up-to-date knowledge of epidemiology and genetics, to take a fresh approach to dog breeding.