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RSPCA report calls for more help for pedigrees
Breeding practices top of agenda again

An independent report commissioned by the RSPCA has called for a ban on close breeding, a revision on registration rules to prevent certain breeders from being able to do so, and open Stud books to allow more frequent introduction of new genetic materials into established breeds.

The report, which was published on Tuesday, argues that urgent action is needed as exaggerated physical features and inherited diseases that result from in-breeding cause serious welfare problems in pedigree dogs, according to its chief compilers, Dr Nicola Rooney and Dr david Sargan.

It comes as the Kennel Club last month announced it would change ‘unhealthy’ breeding rules which have led to this year's Crufts being dropped by the BBC, the first time the event has not been televised in 40 years.

The Kennel Club recently announced it will no longer register puppies whose parents are closely related. However they define close relative matings as between mother and son, father or daughter or brother and sister. The RSPCA report has added grandparents and offspring and half brother and sisters to the list.

The report, titled Pedigree Dog Breeding in the UK: A Major Welfare Concern, also suggests a number of other ways to safeguard welfare, including setting up the systematic collection of morbidity (disease) and mortality (death) data from all dogs and making screening tests for prioritised disorders compulsory as a condition of registration with the KC.

Mark Evans, the RSPCA's chief veterinary adviser, said: "The RSPCA recognises that finding remedies for the many problems facing pedigree dogs is a difficult, complex challenge. But that isn't an excuse to shy away from it – the fact is pedigree dogs need our help and they need it now."

The Kennel Club was quick to reply to the findings, and issued a statement later the same day in which it expressed the fact that it would be happy to consider any research or surveys which would give additional insight into dog health and welfare.

Caroline Kisko commented: ‘As the largest organisation representing UK dogs, owners and breeders, the Kennel Club has been promoting similar discussions and research for 40+ years. We have also achieved a significant amount of progress in tackling the key issues involved and we are using science and the skills of dog breeders to make huge strides forward and to invest in further research to improve the health and welfare of dogs in this country.


“The report contains several sensible recommendations and we are glad to confirm that the majority of these have already been put in place by the Kennel Club for dogs registered by it. Had we been asked to contribute to the report, we would have taken the opportunity to move it one step forward and to suggest it should have looked at all dogs rather than simply registered pedigree dogs. However, the Kennel Club has already asked the government to make the principles of the well established Kennel Club Accredited Breeder Scheme mandatory for all breeders, regardless of whether their dogs are pedigrees or Kennel Club registered.

“The report recognises the importance of health testing and of conducting research that will enable us to monitor the health status and genetic diversity of breeds, an area in which the Kennel Club has been leading the way. It also recognises the importance of educating judges so that dog shows can continue to be used as a force for good, incentivising and rewarding the breeding of healthy dogs.

“We are pleased that the report has recognised that solving the health issues facing some breeds is a ‘difficult, complex challenge’ but in view of this fact and without being in any way complacent we believe that the report fails totally to recognise the real steady progress and advance of scientific knowledge that has already been made in the area of pedigree dog health. This progress has been achieved through the combined efforts of veterinary organisations, breed experts, Kennel Club registered breed societies and the Kennel Club. However, we are pleased that there are large areas of agreement among us all. We hope that the progress achieved so far can continue through everyone working together, at events such as Crufts and Discover Dogs, to achieve our shared objective of breeding happy, healthy dogs.

“We are also pleased that the survey appears to demonstrate strong support for a review of breed standards; this confirms the process which the Kennel Club started some years ago and updated once again at the end of last year. Following years of work with vets and breeders on specific health issues surrounding pedigree dogs – we introduced revised standards in January 2009, which will be used by judges at this year’s Crufts. However, the description of each breed’s physical attributes in a way that will prevent unhealthy exaggeration - is only one part of every breed standard. Equally importantly, these include information on the importance of each breed requiring to be healthy, fit for function and of the ideal temperament.

“We now look forward to Crufts 2009, where all dog lovers can come together to talk to breed experts and representatives from the 20 well known charities and veterinary organisations that are attending the event, to take forward our goal of breeding happy, healthy dogs. We expect around 28,000 dogs to be present at the show – the third highest in its long history.

“The Kennel Club is confident that with the support of its Kennel Club registered specialist breed clubs, the veterinary profession and those animal welfare organisations that care about dogs - and with the sensible use of the available science and promotion of further scientific research, the healthy future of the vast majority of pedigree dogs in this country is assured.”

The RSPCA is working with the University of Sydney and the Royal Veterinary College on a three-year research project to create a new, electronic system for collecting, analysing and reporting data on inherited disorders in both dogs and cats. When complete, for the first time in the UK there will be comprehensive data to show the prevalence of inherited disorders in specific breeds.

Ways forward

The RSPCA went on say that, as each breed has its own problems, there is unlikely to be one cure-all solution. However, the authors have suggested a number of possible ways forward. The four measures considered to be of greatest priority are:

• Systematic collection of data on the diseases all dogs suffer from and causes of death.

• Changes to current registration rules to prevent the registration of puppies born from the mating of close relatives.

• Changes to current registration rules to allow new genetic material to be introduced into breeds. Currently a dog can only be registered with the Kennel Club if both its mother and father are registered members of that breed’s studbook.

• Monitoring of the effectiveness of any changes to breeding strategies.

It goes on to place on record that limited record keeping, lack of transparency in the breeding and showing world and the absence of sufficient research means, in the opinion of the RSPCA, that the full extent ‘of the problem is difficult to assess.’ The problems it did identify in the report were: that it affects a large percentage of dogs in the UK; that problems are passed on from generation to generation and that the quality of a dog’s life can be severely reduced.

In a statement sure to anger thousands of careful dogs breeders with its ‘tarring all with the same brush’ attitude, the report states: ‘Most dog breeding is a hobby conducted by ‘dog lovers’ rather than totally utilitarian. Much of the suffering which some pedigree dogs endure could be avoidable with revised breeding practices. Human control of breeding has contributed to the problem. For these reasons society has a strong moral obligation to solve this problem.
Mark Evans concluded: “I hope this independent report will be seen as a constructive contribution to the debate and that it stimulates discussion amongst everyone involved in order to identify practical, evidence-based solutions that really make a difference.

“The RSPCA recognises that finding remedies for the many problems facing pedigree dogs is a difficult, complex challenge. But that isn’t an excuse to shy away from it – the fact is pedigree dogs need our help and they need it now.”

The RSPCA is working with the University of Sydney and the Royal Veterinary College on a three-year research project to create a new, electronic, system for collecting, analysing and reporting data on inherited disorders in both dogs and cats. When complete, for the first time in the UK there will be comprehensive data to show the prevalence of inherited disorders in specific breeds. This will allow the effectiveness of any new breeding initiatives to be monitored.

The full report can be viewed at dogs

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We have had corgis and labradors for three generations in our family, since the 1940's.  Our Labradors in the 1950's were fine healthy upstanding intelligent dogs with very few health issues.  By 2002 the dogs had all manner of diseases including hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (they went blind), epilspsy, blood that wouldn't clot, and diabetes, as well as weight problems.
Corgis should be active feisty working dogs who could drove cattle all day everyday for weeks, not the animated teddy bears they have become.
I think there are three issues here:
1) Processed convenience foods (out of tins or bags) has lead to poor health.  In the 1950's dogs were fed on horse meat, lights, bones, home made dog biscuits, eggs, etc. mostly raw.  Then along came the tinned food.
2) Genetically where any animal is bred to select for certain traits, there is always another undesirable trait that comes too.
3) The changes in breeds are so very gradual, generation by generation, that breeders and owners are not aware that the type is being changed.  After only 50 years, some breeds are changed beyond what is reasonable.
If you look at a 200 year old painting of baby King Charles I with the spaniel on his lap, the modern Cavalier still has the size and colour, but the face shape has totally changed.
Part of this is because they are pedigreed, and out-crossing to other breeds is not the done thing.  But vets know that the healthiest longest-lived dogs are the middle sized mongrels - no genetic selection there!
I am sure that before corgis were recognised as a breed, and had pedigrees, they were probably a motley crowd, and not at all particular about who they mated with - the occasional Welsh sheep dog probably got in there.
It will take brave breeders to step back and look carefully at what their breeds used to be like, and to stop breeding with dogs that have problems, physically or mentally.
Sometimes the health problems don't become obvious till later in a dog's life.  One of my mother's Labs was tested clear for PRA every year, and went blind at 9 years old - having already sired several litters - the offspring all carried the PRA gene, and they too eventually went blind.  By the time he went blind it was too late to stop the ongoing problem.  Of course none of those dogs should have been bred with - and wouldn't have been, if the PRA had been obvious at a young age. 

Persephone C Booth

Perhaps, then, the RSPCA should look to stopping all the dingos, wolves, jackals, village dogs across Africa and other such wild dog-related species from their own indiscriminate breeding practices?  Oh, and while on that matter, should we thern include foxes and badgers that breed
within small and determined circles of often related animals?  And will they go on to admit that these creatures have healthy specimens as can be readily seen - or would they like to argue that?  This comes from someone who is passionate about breeding good, healthy, well adjusted dogs; would never consider in-breeding, but does support line-breeding, which when done properly, provide healthy, well adjusted dogs.
And how much does the RSPCA know about practical dog breeding, apart from the unfortunate and often-as-not cross breeds that are born in their premises.  They should do well to recognise that some breeds have been bred for purpose, where cross breeds simply can never, ever fulfull those purposes.

Neil Garrod

Hi I have a working Cocker Spaniel,what a lovely happy loyal breed they are too! It took me a long time to find her as not too many working breeders eye test! but I managed to find a breeder and got our littl beauty! I have had her eye tested and also Gonioscopy tested for Glaucoma she has passed both of these tests! also I had her Optigen tested and she is clear! so I know that she and her offspring if we were to breed will be happy and healthy!! I do think people should do the revelant health screens! it would save an awful lot of heartbreak! as I don't think you should ever have to go through if it can be prevented!!

Mrs Tracey North