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Parliamentary group confirms ‘pedigree dog concerns’

More work needs to be done, says inquiry


The Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) has this week published its findings following its inquiry which sought the views of breeders, welfare groups, geneticists and pet owners.

A Healthier Future For Pedigree Dogs claims that many pedigree dogs suffer serious health and welfare problems and says that more can be done to help them. it has also highlighted the problems that the general public face when buying a puppy and makes a number of recommendations on how health and welfare can be improved, starting with good breeding practices including more emphasis put on health screening, clear restrictions on the breeding of closely-related dogs and no dog being given the status of champion at a show unless it has been cleared for all potential diseases associated with that specific breed.

The in-depth inquiry into the serious diseases and health problems suffered by pedigree dogs followed approaches by welfare organisations and members of the public concerned about this issue, and was brought about shortly after the screening of the now infamous Pedigree Dogs Exposed in 2008. The Inquiry seeks to present possible solutions to Defra, who has informed the group that it is awaiting the final copy of the report alongside the Bateson investigation, due next spring, before deciding what action to take. the Bateson report is an independent investigation, commissioned by the Kennel Club and The Dogs Trust into the breeding, registration and showing of dogs, chaired by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson.

Eric Martlew MP, chairman of APGAW said: ‘We have had numerous examples given of the distress and suffering caused by poor breeding practice. Dog owners find themselves faced with huge vet bills and have to endure the emotional distress of seeing their pet in pain and sometimes even being put to sleep. Throughout the inquiry it has been apparent that both veterinary surgeons and welfarists believe that this is serious problem which cannot be ignored.

‘The inquiry sets out ways in which key stakeholders, such as the Kennel Club, veterinary professionals and animal welfare organisations, can work together to make improvements. Such as the recommendations to set up an independent body to monitor progress and offer advice, the need for better enforcement of Codes of Ethics and general breeding practice and more public information. Puppy farming also needs to be addressed as that adds to low welfare standards.’

Swift response

In a swift response, the KC’s Caroline Kisko told us: ‘The Kennel Club welcomes any report which seeks to help improve the health of pedigree dogs and to improve breeding practices. We very much welcome the fact that APGAW has recognised that this is a hugely complex issue and that there is a real lack of reliable information about the precise extent of the problem which affects some breeds. We believe that this report contains a number of very sensible recommendations which could have wide ranging benefits for all dogs, not just those registered with the Kennel Club.

‘We agree that the key to solving what the report acknowledges to be, the ‘complicated problems’ involved, will be through the Kennel Club and other stakeholders working together and pooling vital scientific information. The Kennel Club started this process by conducting the world’s largest dog health survey in 2004 and by working ever more closely with vets. But there is still a long way to go in order to ensure that we get a true picture about the precise extent of the problems that exist for certain breeds, and the best way to address them. As the report recognises, there can be no catch all solution and issues must be looked at on a breed by breed basis.

‘It is with the objective of further improving pedigree dog health in mind that the Kennel Club has, alongside the Dogs Trust, commissioned and funded an Independent Review into the breeding, registration and showing of dogs, chaired by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson. We must await the results of this review before we take action on some of the specifics in APGAW’s report, but in general, we believe that the report contains some sound bases for future action.

‘In particular, the Kennel Club is pleased that the report recognises the importance of health screening and DNA testing and of “supporting and encouraging” responsible breeders. The Kennel Club has been working on developing health tests with the British Veterinary Association for many years, and all Kennel Club Accredited Breeders are required to health test their dogs. We agree that those problems that do exist in specific breeds – and the health tests that are available for them - need to be clearly identified and the Kennel Club has taken numerous steps, and agrees it should continue to do so, in order to ensure that dog owners are fully aware of the problems and how to help minimise the risks. We also agree that compulsory permanent identification could be extremely beneficial in this area; this is already a requirement for KC Accredited Breeders.

“The Kennel Club has asked for legislation to be introduced that would require the breeders of all dogs – whether cross breed or pedigree and whether Kennel Club registered or not – to follow the same high standards, similar to those already followed by Kennel Club Accredited Breeders. We are glad that the report acknowledges that compulsory testing can only be enforced by government intervention, otherwise health tests will be taken up only by the more conscientious breeders who voluntarily register with the Kennel Club, but not by less ethical breeders who are outside the Kennel Club system. This would create a dangerous divide that could be detrimental to pedigree dog health.

“One of the issues raised in the report is the suggestion that a written contract containing certain standard terms should accompany any puppy sale. We are pleased to report that such a requirement already exists for puppies coming from Kennel Club Accredited Breeders. In addition we are working with the British Veterinary Association to establish similar contractual requirements for the sale of all dogs – whether Kennel Club registered or not.
“Furthermore, the Kennel Club welcomes the role that the report says the show ring can play in improving dog health, through encouraging and rewarding the breeding of healthy, happy dogs. We agree that the Kennel Club is in ‘arguably the best position to improve breeding practice’ through the show ring. For that reason we are glad that More 4 is broadcasting DFS Crufts in 2010, in order to ensure that there is a high profile platform for the discussion of these important issues.

Limited breeding

“Of course, this discussion needs to permeate all levels of society and we hope that all of those who care about the health and welfare of dogs, including the veterinary profession, will talk to the dog owners and lovers that they come into contact with about the health problems that exist in all dogs, whether cross breed or pedigree, and what we can all do to help eliminate them for the benefit of future generations. The Kennel Club will do everything it sensibly can to progress these issues.”

The inquiry had asked for written evidence from all interested parties, after which it called in key individuals to give further evidence, both written and oral.

APGAW reported that that it had received a wide range of evidence from organisations and individuals, including hobby dog breeders, representatives of breed clubs and societies, vets, trainers and behaviourists and major animal welfare organisations.

In its executive summary, the report also recognised that there is no restriction placed on the number of times a sire can be used for breeding, which it feels may compound the problem of inbreeding. Its belief is that a limit should be placed on the number of times a sire can be used for breeding, which in itself should be dictated by advice from geneticists and welfare experts.
Another suggestion is that it may be necessary to develop specific breeding strategies for different breeds, based on genetic advice and which should involve various experts, including working with the RSPCA, a decision which will doubtless anger many. It also suggested that if controls over breeders through the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 fail, then there may be a case for Government legislation enforcing ‘certain standards’.

Random checks

The Inquiry has also reported that it believes the use of the word ‘pedigree’ should be tied to a high standard of breeding - both for health and welfare. It says that if breeders are unable to adhere to ‘a requested high standard for the welfare of their dogs, then they should not be part of an organisation (ABS), which states that they are ‘the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of dogs.’

It also suggests that the KC could do random checks of breeders registering dogs, and should ‘enforce such schemes much more robustly’. The inquiry also reported that it had heard of several instances where low standards of breeding practices had been discovered by some KC Accredited Breeders, and suggests that this is ‘totally inadequate’, as this ‘suggests the public may be falsely led into thinking a puppy they buy from an accredited breeder and registered with the KC will have no health or welfare problems...’.

Dog showing

Though official figures on the number of dogs in the UK are hard to come by, estimations put the figure at 8 million dogs with around 5 million of these being purebred, representing 75% of the dog population. It is believed that the KC registers 40% of dogs.

Exhibiting is also put under the microscope in the inquiry, which says that it does not accept that by having the best breed standards in place and by ensuring judges are trained in the new standards that breeds will improve. It again suggests that a new emphasis must be placed on health over appearance, and also that no dog should be given the title of Champion unless it has been health screened for diseases know to be associated with that specific breed, also that proof of this must be provided. Judges may even be asked (an inquiry recommendation) to ask exhibitors for proof of dogs having passed health screening before they can be placed.
The fact that DFS Crufts is to be televised by More4, as it feels that until problems of health and welfare are dealt with, that the showing of certain dogs with alleged health problems would be wrong, though if the channel were to consider a more educational programme then it may be more acceptable.

The KC’s advice to all breed clubs and societies may need to be looked at, with the possibility that an ‘independent’ body (which could include geneticists, breeders and animal welfare scientists) may be appointed to make recommendations to the KC, which could then filter the information through to the clubs.

Many individual owners who submitted their experiences to the inquiry spoke of buying a puppy from a ‘reputable’ breeder (often an accredited breeder), only to find that the puppy subsequently showed signs of suffering from inherited disease. Many also said that despite efforts to advise the breeder of the problems, puppies were still bred and sold from the same sire and dam.

All dogs

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) welcomed the report, though stressed that the report must be for all dogs, not just pedigree dogs.

In a statement, the associations said: ‘Vets have welcomed the recognition by a group of politicians that more must be done to tackle the health and welfare problems of pedigree dogs, but believe that non-pedigree dogs must not be overlooked and that puppy farming of both pedigree and non-pedigree dogs remains an enormous threat.

The BVA and BSAVA)both gave evidence to the APGAW inquiry into the serious diseases and health problems suffered by pedigree dogs.

‘In particular the BVA and BSAVA welcome:Recognition that the veterinary role is vital in educating and informing dog owners, the breeding industry, and the public; The call for an independent advisory body made up of geneticists, veterinary surgeons, behaviouralists, breeders and animal welfare scientists to make recommendations to breed clubs through the Kennel Club; The recommendation for a database of diseases, accessible to all, to record disease incidence and allow a scientific, evidence-based approach to health and welfare; Support for increased use of health screening for known diseases and a legal requirement for screening of sires and dams for commercial breeding; The call for all registered dogs to be permanently identified, for example by microchip; The requirement for all stakeholders to work together [something the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation has already started working on]; The call for more robust enforcement of the Kennel Club accredited breeder scheme and random inspections to ensure it stands up to scrutiny. The belief that it would be beneficial to use the long-awaited Code of Practice (under the Animal Welfare Act 2006) to encourage potential puppy owners to focus on the health and welfare of their chosen breed.

‘However, the BVA and BSAVA are concerned that the APGAW report does not identify how these initiatives will be funded, especially the financing of the proposed database, independent body and further genetic research. Nor does the report address the problems caused by puppy farming or provide any solution to protecting those dogs bred by hobbyists.’

Commenting further, Professor Bill Reilly, President of the BVA, said: ‘The health and welfare problems associated with dog breeding are a major cause for concern amongst the veterinary profession. The APGAW report is therefore welcome and the profession will have much to consider and respond to in detail, even though these are just the first steps in the right direction.
‘We are pleased that so much of the BVA and BSAVA’s evidence to the Group has been taken on board and we welcome the practical recommendations for a database, an independent body and the increased use of health screening. However, funding remains a major problem and we hope that Defra and the breed societies recognise the importance of financing these measures.
,Many of the changes will take time and money to implement but the BVA’s Animal Welfare Foundation has already brought together all of the stakeholders who are currently working on drawing up welfare principles and a puppy contract.

‘The veterinary profession is committed to improving the health and welfare of all dogs, not just pedigree, and we are therefore disappointed that non-pedigree dogs have not been considered as part of this review. Inherited problems can affect all dogs and this must not be overlooked.’
Richard Dixon, President of the BSAVA, added: ‘We see this area very much as a work in progress, but welcome the increased pace of change that the APGAW report is encouraging. We know that some breed clubs are already proactively taking steps to improve the welfare of their particular breed and the Kennel Club should publicly recognise this good practice to encourage all breed clubs and societies to take action.

Vital

‘APGAW has recognised that vets and vet nurses have a key role to play in the education of the public and, specifically, prospective buyers. Vets are not simply there to deliver health care services to sick patients; we have a key role to play in disease prevention as well.

‘Vets would also be a vital part of the proposed independent advisory body and the BVA and BSAVA are keen to ensure that there is a strong veterinary voice within this body.’

The RSPCA echoed the calls of the APGAW report, whilst again calling for urgent action to safeguard the welfare of pedigree dogs and said that the findings supported the findings of an independent report commissioned by the RSPCA, Pedigree Dog Breeding in the UK: A Major Welfare Concern, and the charity’s view that exaggerated physical features and inherited diseases cause serious welfare problems for pedigree dogs.

RSPCA senior animal welfare scientist Claire Calder said: ‘This inquiry has come to the same conclusion as the RSPCA: pedigree dogs urgently need our help and the way they are bred must change. APGAW calls for an independent panel to be set up to help tackle this complex problem, an idea the RSPCA would also support.

‘The report lacks some detail about how the problems facing pedigree dogs can be solved and doesn’t recommend all the measures the RSPCA believes are necessary; for example, we believe a strategy for monitoring how effective any changes are is essential.

‘However, I hope this inquiry stimulates much more detailed and action-focussed discussion amongst everyone involved in order to identify practical solutions that will really make a difference. Pedigree dogs need our help and they need it now.’

Eric Martlew APGAW chairman concluded: ‘We hope that this report will contribute towards measures being taken to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs and also that the impact on the public of low health and welfare standards in dog breeding is recognised by the government.’

The whole report can be viewed at http://www.ourdogs.co.uk/special/apgaw.pdf


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