Briefing: Canine Health

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By Helen Brooks from Times Online

An independent inquiry has recommended that dogs be microchipped at birth to avoid the health problems associated with inbreeding.

Puppy chips

Report aims to cut inbreeding between pedigree dogs.

Dog owners should be made to microchip puppies to tackle the problem of inbreeding in pedigree dogs, according to a report published last week. The inquiry, funded by the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust, recommended a database be set up, with information from vets, to monitor canine health problems. The report says all pedigree dogs should be tested before mating, to make owners aware of the potential genetic problems puppies could face. Sir Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society, who chaired the inquiry, also called for a change in the laws on dangerous breeds. “Making dogs illegal is a waste of time. If a dog has been demonstrated to be dangerous, it can be muzzled, and if it’s not, then it can be impounded,” he said.

Health problems

Dogs are being born with painful conditions.

Years of inbreeding have been blamed for a number of problems being exhibited by pedigree breeds. In the king charles spaniel, a fashion for small heads has led to a disorder in which the brain grows beyond the size appropriate for the skull, causing pain and fits. Many boxers suffer from epilepsy and some bulldogs are now unable to mate or give birth unassisted because they have been bred to such an unnatural shape. Clarissa Baldwin, chief executive of the Dogs Trust, said: “A lot of the problems stem from puppy farms, and microchipping would go a long way to solving this. What we really need is for geneticists to say, ‘This is the way forward,’ in terms of pedigree breeds.

Close matings

Animals have been bred with parents and siblings.

Some critics blame the Kennel Club for encouraging inbreeding with its strict criteria. The club argues that, by having designated breeds and breeders, it is able to control who can look after dogs and thus bring about better overall welfare. Last year it banned “close matings” between mother and son or brother and sister. It says the problem with enforcing the results of hereditary testing is that it risks further limiting the gene pool, which could mean more inbreeding. Breeders, too, are often unwilling to change. Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, said: “We don’t have the legal powers to force them to change, so if they don’t agree with us they can just go elsewhere and then no one knows whether those dogs are being looked after properly.”

More protection

Bodies want equivalent of advertising standards.

Baldwin of the Dogs Trust said her organisation was in talks with the Advertising Standards Authority to ask for the same kind of protection for pet buyers as is available for most other consumers. This would mean prospective buyers could assess the mother of puppies to check on her welfare and give them some idea about the potential for genetic diseases. The Kennel Club is already funding research into how to breed pedigree dogs that do not have genetic health problems. The future of breeding will to some extent be determined by genetics itself, as, over the generations, families of inbred dogs will reach a point when they are unable to reproduce and their genes will come to a dead end.

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