Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Swedish vets call for a ban of certain breeds

The Swedes as a nation are a nice bunch and the veterinary profession is, in the main, a conservative one.

So in many ways it is unexpected that Swedish vets are leading the world in demanding change for short-nosed breeds.  But perhaps we shouldn't be totally surprised given that Sweden has a strong record in animal welfare and a Kennel Club that has been more proactive than most in trying to tackle genetic and conformation issues.

In recent months, Swedish vets have become increasingly outspoken.  Following a petition signed by hundreds of Swedish vets last year, brachycephalic dogs are a hot topic in Sweden, with literature/campaigning material such as this video trending under the hashtag #ogulligt. It means "not sweet" (cute).

In one Swedish newspaper today, two Swedish veterinary opthamologists have called publicly for an outright ban of certain breeds. They rather politely don't name the breeds, but an article highlighting their concerns features a Pug and a Peke.

The original report is in Swedish, but you can read Google Translate's stab at translating it here.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Research Syndrome

I try not to piss off scientists. They are, in the main, friends of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. That's because the science supports the central tenets here (if not always the sledgehammerly way they are delivered.)

I confess I feel a bit bad about having a go at the chap on the right above - Dr David Sargan, senior lecturer in molecular pathology at Cambridge Vet School.  David is a nice man; our paths have crossed several times; he co-authored one of the key reports into dog-breeding following Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and he is now quite widely involved in the issues. There is much that we agree on.

David's team is also doing some really useful work at Cambridge - both in elucidating the extent of breathing problems in brachycephalic dogs and in finding an objective,  non-invasive way to measure them.

But I'm afraid I watched this video this morning and wanted to shake him warmly by the neck. (NB to the crazies out there... this is a figure of speech.)

In this clip above, Sargan starts off by telling John Bradshaw (author of the excellent In Defence of Dogs) that the Cambridge research reveals that half of all French Bulldogs suffer from respiratory distress - and that, actually, none of them breath totally normally. 

The top trace here is of a Beagle and it shows normal breathing - a smooth, undulating rise and fall.   The two traces underneath show a "normal" French Bulldog - much shallower. These dogs never experience the joy of a truly deep, unhindered breath of air into their lungs.

And here's what the breath traces look like for 50 per cent of French Bulldogs who suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome (BOAS):

What does that feel and sound like? Something like this.

It's hideous, isn't it?  

John Bradshaw, on the left in the video above, says: "The obvious thing to do is to breed the dog with a long-nosed dog and to get rid of the face shape."

You got it!

But no. Instead of Sargan throwing his scientific weight and compelling research behind a campaign to argue for immediate change, he says:

"The problem is that the general public doesn't want a dog with a long face so what we've been looking at are the dogs with short faces that breathe well and can we find genetic differences between those and dogs that breathe badly."

Yep, Sargan wants to spend money trying to find specific mutations that code for bad breathing which, once found, would allow breeders to select against them, thus allowing breeders/owners to have the flat faces but without the problems.

Perhaps you think that makes sense? After all, half of all Frenchies breathe OK (ish) and the Cambridge research has also found  that there isn't an absolute correlation between muzzle length and affectedness (i.e. some dogs with shorter muzzles breath better than those with longer muzzles).

Certainly, the breed clubs for Frenchies, Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekes and other brachycephalic breeds love this idea. It allows them to congratulate themselves for donating money and DNA samples to researchers while continuing to breed dogs with very flat faces.

Let me see if I can convince you that it's a fool's errand.

• first and foremost, the clue is in the name - BOAS is a syndrome. It comprises stenotic (pinched) nostrils, an elongated soft palate and everted laryngeal saccules - all associated with a short muzzle/skull. Recent research from Dr Rowena Packer et al at the Royal Veterinary College found that thick necks are a contributory factor too (see here).  These are features that will be governed by hundreds, possibly thousands, of genes. We do not yet have a single useful genetic test for conditions that are controlled by multiple genes and the chances of developing one in the near future are extremely slim.

• Even in the very unlikely event that a useful genetic test could be developed before another 10, 15, 20 generations of Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs are born to to live compromised lives, that still leaves another problem that manifests as a result of breeding for a flat face:  brachycephalic ocular syndrome. This comprises the near-endemic chronic and acute eye issues that occur as a result of shallow ocular orbits. (Quite apart from the fact that dogs with very flat faces do not have the natural buffer of a muzzle to protect their eyes from injury).

• Short muzzles in Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs have resulted in the bunching up of skin/flesh on the outside. The wrinkling/rolls are a hotbed for chronic yeast and bacterial infections. 

• short muzzles cause the bunching up/overcrowding of teeth and the roof of the mouth, too, leading to mouth and teeth infections/disease. This is an area often overlooked in brachycephalics but is likely to cause many dogs chronic, life-long pain. 

• while there isn't an absolute correlation between muzzle length within a breed and the extent of breathing problems, a paper published last year very clearly found that the shorter you go, the more likely it is to cause problems:

"The research, which was co-funded by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), involved two studies including over 850 dogs of over 100 breeds. The findings were reported in a paper by Drs Rowena Packer, Anke Hendricks, Michael Tivers and Charlotte Burn and published in the journal PLOS ONE. The researchers found that as muzzle length becomes shorter, risk of BOAS becomes ever higher, with over 90% of dogs being affected at the shortest extreme. This quality-of-life limiting disorder was only seen in dogs whose muzzles were less than half the length of the domed part of the skull." (Source)
Ergo, the longer you go, the less likely you are to condemn dogs to a lifetime fighting for air.

For the past couple of decades, David Sargan has been looking for the gene/genes for cancer in Flatcoated Retrievers. Flatcoat breeders have raised and donated thousands of pounds to facilitate this - and while they've been doing that (with no genetic test on the horizon yet), breeders have not explored other measures that could have helped - such as outcrossing to other breeds to dilute the poison (over 50 per cent of Flatcoats die of cancer by the age of 8/9 - and many far younger). 

Sargan is a gene hunter. It's what he does. His whole world is skewed to that perspective.  So of course he's going to focus on genetic solutions. 

My stance, however, is that it is morally and ethically questionable to give breeders this get-out clause when we know that simply selecting for longer muzzles, more open nostrils, slimmer necks, less wrinkling and a less extreme head shape would be the simplest and quickest fix. 

So, sure, hunt for genes. But not without insisting in the meantime that:

• breed standards need to change to introduce minimum/maximum measurements/ratios
• judges must start selecting for much healthier phenotypes
• the current level of suffering in pursuit of "cute" is unacceptable.

This is so important because registrations for these flat-faced breeds have gone through the roof and because the Kennel Club and breeders will wiggle and worm for as long as they can. Indeed, the KC's response to the recent peer-reviewed research which shows so clearly how much suffering is caused by short muzzles (which, let's face it, comes after decades of other research saying essentially the same thing) has been to dispute that the dogs in the studies were KC-registered and to maintain that the research, while "interesting", does not involve enough numbers to be in any way conclusive.

Here's how the KC sells itself these days:
"We are the largest organisation in the UK devoted to dog health, welfare and training. Our objective is to ensure that dogs live healthy, happy lives with responsible owners."
But this is palpably not true when it comes to the brachycephalics.  Because if it was really the organisation it wants us to believe it is; if it really wanted to ensure that dogs life healthy, happy lives it would do so much more to prevent the suffering endured by Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs.

In Sweden recently hundreds of vets signed a petition demanding change for brachycephalic dogs. The Swedish KC and breeders didn't like it much, but it's working. There is a key brachycephalic conference in Sweden at the end of February and significant changes in the breeding of short-faced dogs in Sweden looks likely as a result.

Actually, David Sargan is speaking at this conference... an opportunity, perhaps, for him to support the Swedish researchers and vets in their call for urgent action to address the problems.

Watch this space.

Monday, 4 January 2016

GSDs: the enduring tragedy

I was sent this video today. It is of a Finnish dog and it dates from 2012.

But on this day, this 3.5yr old bitch won best female - VA1. Solholmens Jafri was the Finnish Siegerin (the top honour) in Finland in 2012.

I often advise PDE supporters that it is counter-productive to call show-dogs cripples. But I can't find any other word to describe what we see here. According to his listing, her hips have been graded B/C (only borderline/mild HD) but she looks so much worse.

If you saw any other breed walk like this, you'd take them to a vet, not run them in a courage test.  That's leaving aside how very poorly this dog performs and yet has still been awarded Schutzhund titles. As my correspondent said in her email:  "When looking at the courage tests here in Finland, many dogs have problems with their structure: it clearly prevents them from galloping and even jumping/charging in some cases. Even if the head wants to go fast and bite the sleeve, they cannot do it."

I am sad to see that this dog has been bred twice - once in 2011 and once in 2014. Her record on the Finnish KC database, shows that of her offspring to have been tested, all have hip grades of C/C - not great.

Hopefully this dog is not truly representative of the show dogs in Finland. Hopefully things have improved since 2012. Hopefully there are some better dogs in Finland still flying the flag for what a good GSD should be.

Because this? This has to stop.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

GSD history buffs - can you solve this mystery?

My last post on Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold has become the blog's most viewed post of all time with over 50k views in just 24hrs. So now I have the attention of the GSD community could anyone help solve this mystery?

The above photo was sent to me two days ago by an American called Dave Thorpe.

"This was my grandfather’s dog named Asta," says Dave. "She was one of the first three dogs to come across the ocean. Notice the horizontal back. Finding the history of Asta has been elusive. All that I know is that she was one of the first three dogs to come to America. I don’t have any info other that this story from my parents. My grandfather was Albert Hergott and all my relatives have passed. I have spent hours searching and have come up empty. I wish I had better pictures but they have been lost. Early 1900s is all I know."

A quick Google throws up this:

The Complete German Shepherd, Milo G Delinger , 1952 third Edition, page 28 

"The first recorded reference to a GSD in America was when Mira of Dalmore (never registered) Property of Dalmore Kennels of H.A. Dalrymple, of Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was Exhibited. She was first Open Class, at Newcastle,  and first open, Philadelphia. These awards were probably in the miscellaneous Classes at those shows, for we find the same bitch appearing and winning the miscellaneous Class at New York in 1907. entered as a Belgium ( sic. ) sheepdog. 
"The bitch's real name was Mira von Offingen and was imported in 1906 by Otto H. Gross along with two others. How she came to be shown in Dalrymple's name is not known. After finding nobody in America was interested in the breed, Gross took Mira back to Germany.  Mira of Dalmore was never registered in the American Kennel Club Stud Book. 
"In 1908 she was again exhibited in the miscellaneous Class at New York in 1908, this time entered as a German Sheepdog. In this Class she had competition, another German Sheepdog known simply as Queen being exhibited by Adolph Vogt, who won first in her class, defeating Mira. This Queen, was in all probability, in fact Queen of Switzerland(115006), of Largely Krone blood. The first GSD to be registered in the Studbook of the American Kennel Club."


Sunday, 20 December 2015

GSD winner "among the worst I have ever seen" says world's leading locomotion expert

This is Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold. Despite the fact that his hock is on the floor, he was awarded Best of Breed at the National Dog Show in the US three weeks ago.

This winner is "among the worst I have ever seen," says one of the world's leading canine locomotion expert, Professor Dr Martin Fischer, author of Dogs in Motion, published by the VDH (German Kennel Club).

There has been quite a lot of chatter about this dog on social media - some saying the dog is awful; others maintaining that he is an improvement on other American showline GSDs. You can see his pedigree here.

Here's a video of him in the ring at the NBC-televised National Dog Show.

If you don't look too closely at him on the move, he looks OK - and the American show dogs don't have the hinged backs you see in GSD showline dogs in Germany, UK and elsewhere.  But they do have paddling-fronts and unstable rear ends which become all too obvious if you freeze the action. Have a look at these frames from this video.*

"His movement hurts almost all biomechanical principles of dog locomotion," says Professor Fischer. "It is not only the almost plantigrade position of the hind foot but - as we know from the hundreds of dogs we have studied - it is also the position of the thigh. The hind foot and femur [thigh bone] move in matched motion, which means that the femur in this dog is placed in a most unfavourable, almost horizontal, position at touchdown.

"Moreover, it is almost certain that any kind of storage of elastic energy in the hindlimb is gone with such a plantigrade position. I cannot definitively not understand how such a dog could have been selected Best of Breed."

These are strong words from Professor Fischer, who is Director of the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Jena. But I thank him for speaking out because show breeders of the German Shepherd - in the show-ring on both sides of the Atlantic - must reconsider what they are doing to this incredible breed.

The saddest thing is that this dog is by no means the worst - although perhaps the worst actually awarded Best of Breed at a flagship show.

No other breed of dog walks on its metatarsals. A dog's hock should never hit the deck when it runs in a straight line. Moreover, it has been proven to make the dog mechanically less-efficient - by Professor Fischer and others - even in the less extreme dogs.

The problem is, of course, that it is so very difficult to convince GSD show-breeders that the way they're breeding the dogs is wrong, as anyone who has ever tried can testify.

What we need is a cohort of experts with real standing, such as Professor Fischer, to lobby kennel clubs and breeders for change.

These pictures landed in my inbox this week, btw - the collateral damage to breeding extreme dogs. This is a 7-mth-old show-bred youngster handed into a GSD rescue in Los Angeles last year; presumably because the breeder couldn't find a buyer for him. (Source here.)

Beautiful dogs, failed by the humans who purport to love them the most. 

* thank you to Ann Cardon for pulling out these freeze frames

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Hip, hip... huh?? (Part One...)

Last month, the British Veterinary Association and Kennel Club celebrated the 50th anniversary of the BVA/KC hip dysplasia scheme.

From the press release marking the event:

"Results from the Hip Dysplasia Scheme showed improvements in the median scores of 20 of the 21 most-scored breeds over the last 15 years, indicating a reduction in the incidence and severity of hip dysplasia in scored dogs."

Said the KC's Caroline Kisko:

“This data goes to show just how much of a positive effect health testing is having on the health and welfare of dogs. 
“The BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes are useful tools to support responsible breeding and, as evidence from the data from the hip and elbow schemes, they are going a long way in protecting the future health of the UK’s dogs.” 
“Breeders who health test their dogs should be tremendously proud that they are having such a sustained positive impact on dog health, and we would encourage any breeder who does not currently use the schemes to do so, to enable the positive results to continue.”

Well that sounds great, doesn't it? But let's have a look at the actual data for the top 21 breeds.

Click to enlarge

As you can see, while there has indeed been a reduction in hip scores, it is a very small one for most of these breeds - down just one or two points in almost 20 years (with perhaps only the Newfie and Gordon Setter showing a truly significant reduction).

"Such small changes may be statistically significant but it is doubtful they are clinically significant," says Gail Smith, Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Pennsylvania.

And, in fact, if you look at the data provided for the other breeds in this latest report (download link), it is hard to share the KC's enthusiasm.

For the 159 breeds for which comparative data have been provided, 62% per cent have seen no recent improvement in hip scores - and in 25 breeds hip scores have actually increased!

Seriously, it's not much bang for your bucks given that breeders have spent millions hip scoring their dogs over the years.

It's no great surprise to Professor Smith who maintains the UK/OFA/FCI hip schemes are fundamentally flawed. It was in response to this that he developed the alternative PennHIP scheme which measures hip laxity. PennHIP  has been shown to be more effective in identifying which dogs which will go on to suffer degenerative joint disease. (Smith GK, Lawler DF, Biery DN, et al. Chronology of hip dysplasia development in a cohort of 48 Labrador retrievers followed for life, Vet Surg 2012; 41: 20-33)

"The hip-extended radiograph is simply not a good phenotype on which to make breeding decisions. It should be abandoned in favor of using the PennHIP DI. It’s that simple," insists Smith.

That said, not everyone agrees. There has, for instance, been considerable improvement in some breeds in Finland using conventional hip-screening - with the indication being that when there is breed-wide selection against poor hips, it can be effective (Finnish report here.)

Longevity has improved in the St Bernard in Finland, too - it's thought because far fewer dogs are being euthanised because of severe hip dysplasia.  In the 1990s, Finnish St Bernard's died on average at 5 years old. In the 2000s, it had increased to 7yrs 1mth - and today, it is 7yrs 6mths - quite an achievement.

Finnish geneticist Katariina Maki says: "All you have to do is get reliable results and choose breeding dogs from the better half of the population."  In fact, Maki says you don't even have to breed only from animals from the very best hips; just those that are better than the breed average. Progress will be slower, but doing it this way helps maintain genetic diversity.

I had a discussion about PennHIP a few years back with Tom Lewis - then at the Animal Health Trust, now a full-time geneticist at the Kennel Club. Lewis acknowledged that PennHIP might be better but was adamant that the BVA/KC scheme was still useful and would become more useful with the introduction of estimated-breeding values (EBVs). These launched at Crufts earlier this year and are available for 28 breeds. Lewis also pointed out that it was very hard to justify throwing away 50 years of data collected under the existing scheme.

I have some sympathy with that... but it does make you wonder how much better those EBVs would be if they were built on PennHIP data rather than on the current scheme.

Incidentally, I have gone back to the BVA to ask for more comprehensive historical hip-score data from which to better assess the success of the scheme, and will report further when I get it. Perhaps if it made more grading information available we could see more of an improvement?

In the meantime, I've discovered something else interesting about the BVA/KC hip scores - something every breeder should know.

Stand by for Part Two...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Jack Russell Terrier Club of GB slams the KC over JRT recognition

The decision by the Kennel Club to register the Jack Russell Terrier as a show-dog met with outrage when it was announced in October. (See my blog here)

Now the Jack Russell Terrier Club of GB has confirmed that the KC went ahead despite its vehement opposition and has issued a swingeing statement in response. It calls the KC move "ridiculous" and accuses the Kennel Club of embarking on a journey into "a minefield of confusion, misery and despair".

Chairman Greg Mousley also accuses the KC of ruining rather than preserving the future of the breeds in its care.

The statement in full.

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain, has, for 40 years, stood against Kennel Club recognition for the Jack Russell Terrier and will always do so. 
We along with our worldwide affiliated Jack Russell Clubs, fought tooth and nail against the recognition of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier but the Kennel Club committee blindly went ahead. Now many years later they have realised their predicted failure and Parson Russells are almost as rare as the breed the Kennel Club started with in 1860, the Fox Terrier. They badly need a small breed to gain income!

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain wrote the definitive breed standard for the Jack Russell Terrier 38 years ago and it has been adopted by Jack Russell Clubs worldwide, even copied by the Parson Russell Club! No doubt it will be used once again.
Along with our affiliates we have a registration system reaching back to the mid 70s. Our terriers, worldwide, are classy, correct in conformation and possess a tremendous working ability. They are virtually free of both hereditary and congenital defects whilst among the Kennel Club breeds these are rife. 
Kennel Club recognition will not affect any of us and most importantly it will not affect the Real Jack Russell Terriers that are under our care The Parson Russell came and has almost left. This ridiculous attempt will also fail and pass.
The Kennel Club is about to embark on a journey into a minefield of confusion, misery and failure. 
The JRTCGB along with its affiliated JRT Clubs worldwide have a huge register of quality Jack Russell Terrier dating back to the mid 70s. Our registration system is carefully structured to prevent any Kennel Club pollution.
We have a breed standard that is totally work related and practical.
The secretary of the Kennel Club, Caroline Kisco, gave the reason for their move:  “By recognising the Jack Russell as an official breed we can help cement its heritage and protect its future”. Unreal! 
Well Caroline, you are 41 years too late. We have been doing just that since 1974!
The Kennel Club has NEVER cemented the heritage nor protected the future of ANY of the breeds under their banner! Quite the opposite. Take for example the poor old English Bulldog - they have protected it to the point where natural reproduction is impossible!
What kind of protecting and cementing is Caroline talking about exactly!? 
The true working Jack Russell is quite safe where it always has been, LONG BEFORE THE OLD SPORTING PARSON BOUGHT ONE! Safe, with the working terrier men and women of Great Britain and the rest of the world! 
Our worldwide aim is: 
To PROTECT, PRESERVE and WORK the Jack Russell Terrier. We have held firm against the Parson Russell and succeeded. The same resilience will hold firm again.

Greg Mousley
Chairman and a founder member of the JRTCGB
The Jack Russell Terrier was first registered as a showdog in Australia, where it has become very inbred. It was exported from there to be recognised and shown in FCI countries. These Ozzie exports, in fact, are the dogs that the KC will be recognising - not the working-bred/pet-bred native dogs that are popular in the UK with those who couldn't give two hoots about Kennel Club registration.

So the newly-registered KC dogs won't be the real deal. Sure, they may descend from the same original stock but they have been primped, pimped and inbred for several generations by those who are only interested in what a dog looks like, not what it it truly is under the bonnet.

Inevitably, it will lead to considerable confusion. The danger is that the imposter will start to water down the real Jack Russell as people won't be savvy enough to avoid the KC-registered dogs.

If you ever wanted proof that the KC is not about the dogs, this is it.  Bottom line? The Jack Russell is not theirs to steal.

The "Hands off Our Jack Russells!" petition to ask the KC to revoke this decision is still active - with currently over 800 signatures.   Please sign if you haven't already!