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Vet panel in call for health priorities

Issue: 08/03/2019

A new panel of vets and 'pet industry stakeholders' are calling for dog health to be prioritised over 'perfect looks'.
The Dog Breed Standards committee includes TV vet Emma Milne, vet and newspaper coumnist Pete Wedderburn and vet and speaker Mark Hedberg.
They compared the breed profiles of the Pug and German Shepherd Dog by looking at photos from 100 years ago and modern day dogs. 
Examining the pug photos, Pete Wedderburn said, 'This (older-type) animal will clearly suffer from fewer health issues, for instance better breathing, no skin folds that get infected, no corneal ulcers due to bulging eyes, and better dentition due to a less crowded mouth.'
Turning to the German shepherd photo from around a century ago, he added, 'The posture is a far more natural position, with a straight back, vertical hind legs, and probably far healthier spine and hips.'
Emma Milne said that while it is clear that some breeders strive for health over looks, 'there are very many breed standards that simply do not conform to health because of either closed gene pools with high levels of inherited disease or, more recently, more and more extreme conformation. Breeding for looks by definition puts health in second or third place.'
Mark Hedberg said, 'Current dog breeding standards still focus overwhelmingly on appearance, rather than health, and while it's encouraging to see more requirements for health testing in at-risk breeds, people still prioritise looks over long term health, and even quality of life. As long as health is second to looks, this problem will persist.'
As the start of Crufts 2019 approaches, panel members called for breed standards to be toughened up and enforced, to ensure 'unhealthy' characteristics are excluded.
A Kennel Club spokesman said: 'Crufts is an event that celebrates all dogs and helps to educate and advise on all aspects of dog ownership - but the showing aspect celebrates purebred dogs, which are loved and owned as pets by millions of people. 
'Whilst every purebred dog is bred selectively to have certain distinct characteristics this goes far beyond 'looks' and is in fact inseparable from health and welfare. A Breed Standard describes everything from a dog's general temperament to their exercise and grooming needs and size to which they will grow - and this helps owners to pick a suitable pet for their lifestyle, but health should always be a breeder's top priority. 
'The Kennel Club has developed many vital resources, from DNA tests to inbreeding coefficients, to help breeders - of purebred dogs or otherwise - to breed the healthiest possible puppies. 
'Inside the show ring, such as at Crufts, it is critical that only dogs that are healthy, happy and with a good temperament are rewarded. Of course judges look at appearance but this includes everything from the condition of a dog's teeth and coat, to making sure there are no visible signs of poor health. 
'Every Breed Standard, to which a dog is judged, makes it clear that exaggerations that are detrimental in any way to health, are unacceptable and will not be rewarded in the show ring and there are vet checks before dogs can go on in the competition. 
'Of course, Breed Standards mean very little to the vast majority of breeders, who never compete at Crufts, as well as puppy buyers, who are simply looking for what they perceive to 'look good' - which can lead to unhealthy exaggerations - which is why dog shows, rewarding good examples of a breed, can be a positive lever for change, a view echoed by the late Professor Sir Patrick Bateson in his independent enquiry into dog breeding in 2010.' 


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