Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Friday, 25 July 2014

Scotties - cramping their style

There has been a massive interest shown in Scottish Terriers following the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony earlier this week which featured several Scotties.

According to the Kennel Club, searches for the breed on its Find a Puppy service were up nearly seven-fold in just 24 hours - from 93 searches on Tuesday July 22 to 607 the following day.

Only 339 Scottie puppies were registered with the KC in the first half of 2014 so it will be interesting to see how breeders rise to the swell in interest in the next year or so.

Says the KC's Caroline Kisko:

“The breed are affectionate and cheerful, equally happy to go for a nice long walk or to curl up in a favourite armchair, as well as being very loyal and protective of the family. We are glad that the interest in the breed has been so tremendous, both on social media and the Find a Puppy service and we hope that they continue to keep the nation’s attention.”
The KC urges those who want to find out more about the breed to visit the Breed Information Centre on the Kennel Club website.

Unfortunately, there's nothing there on this breed's health - and the UK breed clubs also offer next to no health info, although I did find this rather dismissive report on the findings of the KC's 2004 Health Survey on the Northern Scottish Terrier Club's website (see here).  There is mention of an ongoing breed survey - but no reports available online.

The PDE Blog advice? Never buy a breed that has a condition named after it. And in this case it's a movement disorder called Scottie Cramp. Here's what it looks like.

Actually, Scottie Cramp is neither progressive nor life-threatening. The cancer that blights the breed is, though. The 2004 KC survey found that almost half of Scotties died it, and one US survey found Scotties suffered 20 times the average rate of bladder cancer. Oral melanomas are another problem.

This dog here, meanwhile, displays another Scottie genetic glitch - cerebellar abiotrophy. (NB turn the sound down - the music is hideous). This condition looks similar to Scottie Cramp but it's progressive.

See wobblyscotties.com for more info on this and Scottie Cramp.

Then there's the bladder stones and the Cushing's. And the fact that the 2004 KC survey found that they had the fifth highest rate of C-sections - around 60 per cent of pups are not delivered naturally, the worst of all the non-brachy breeds.  Bitches commonly suffer from dystocia.

All contribute to a longevity that is poor for a Terrier (10.5yrs). And on top of all that, it has a high-maintenace coat. Today's Scottie is a hirsute little dog.

It wasn't always the case. Here's how the breed changed for a sturdy, workmanlike terrier into a short-coupled hairdresser's dog. (Pictures plundered from the ever-wonderful Pietoro's Historical Dog Breed Pictures


Ch Tattenham Treat - 1920
Ch Nortley Pilot - 1934
Best of Breed, Crufts 2010

Related post: "And while on the subject of Scottish Terriers"

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Myths, mutts and misrepresentation

This headline, when it appeared in April 2014, was the best bit of news the purebred dog world had received since Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

It was a report on a new paper from the terrific team at VetCompass looking at the most common disorders in UK dogs. (You can read the whole paper here).

The Telegraph article quoted the paper's main author, Dan O'Neill: “My hypotheses was that crossbreeds would have a lower prevalence of common disorders than purebreds," he told them. "But the overwhelming evidence for that has not been proved."

The Kennel Club was delighted. “The view of the researchers, which we would heartily endorse, is that crossbreeds are not healthier than purebreds," said the KC's Caroline Kisko, who went on to claim: “Over time, we would expect purebreds to go ahead of crossbreeds, because of the amount of research going on into their pedigrees, helping you to get away from health problems.”

As you might imagine, the dog press fell on the report like a pack of hungry wolves.  This from Lee Connor in Dog World (in an article entitled "Don't let untruths go unchallenged") was typical.
"So, that’s that then, the ‘hybrid vigour; lets mix it all up’ theory has been well and truly exploded. Can we now expect apologies from the BBC and from those who likened our breeders and our world to that of the Nazis and the Eugenics movement? Will we now get a big ‘I’m so very sorry, we were wrong’ from the celebrity vets and the RSPCA who have for over a decade championed the mongrel and the designer dog crosses as a healthier, more intelligent pet alternative to the purebred?
In the US,  Dog News claimed too that the paper debunked "the mother myth of them all".


The new paper has even been mustered by Philippa Robinson from the Dog-ED initiative as evidence that the dog-breeding reports that followed Pedigree Dogs Exposed were unfair to the Kennel Club. (See that article here.)

But, of course, this is a classic case of wild over-interpretation by the purebred lobby desperate to counter the evidence that the way we breed dogs within the Kennel Club system is harmful to dogs.

Aha, but you would say that, wouldn't you?

Well yes, that would undoubtedly be my default - and that's because there is just so much evidence that reform is needed if we're going to keep our purebred dogs safe for the future. Nevertheless, having based my stance on evidence, I have got to be open to new evidence even if it doesn't concur with my world view.

So did this paper provide it?

Let me walk you through it and you can make up your own minds.

What is VetCompass?

VetCompass is a UK veterinary surveillance scheme set-up after Pedigree Dogs Exposed - a joint initiative between the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Sydney. Today it pulls data from 100 primary care veterinary practices in the UK representing around 150,000 dogs.

As such, it is an amazing epidemiological resource. No bones about it, you can trust the data.

What was this paper all about?

The paper looked at a random sample of 3,884 dogs to establish the 20 most common disorders in dogs. Here's what it found.

In three of these was there a statistically-signifcant crossbreed advantage - otitis externa (ear infections), obesity and skin mass. And there were no conditions in which there was a statistically-significant purebred advantage.

As the paper explained: "Purebreds showed significantly higher prevalence values for 13 of the 84 (15.5%) disorders and syndromes evaluated. No instances were identified in which prevalence values were significantly higher in crossbred than in purebred dogs. "

So, overall, crossbreeds were found to be healthier (albeit not overwhelmingly healthier). And yet, inexplicably, the headlines claimed that the paper showed that purebred dogs were just as healthy as mutts and that hybrid vigour was a myth.

What the press picked up on was the fact that the authors said they had hypothesised that there would be a more significant difference.

But, actually, it is pretty obvious why there wasn't.

Take a look at that list of disorders again.

As the paper states: "The most prevalent disorders identified in dogs within the current study were complex disorders that have multiple interacting environmental and genetic casual factors."

In fact, some of these conditions don't have much if any genetic component (overgrown nails/obesity/diarrhoea/obesity/laceration/dog bite injury etc). And of the ones that do, most have a moderate to high environmental component.

There is likely to be a genetically-mediated breed predisposition to periodontal disease, for instance - but we also know that diet and dental hygiene plays a huge role in whether or not dogs' teeth rot. Even with degenerative joint disease - which we know is under enough genetic control for selection against it to be reasonably successful - exercise, diet and traumatic injury play their part.

The condition where the greatest difference was seen was "skin mass". Here, crossbreeds were much less likely to suffer than purebred dogs (more than 50 per less in fact - 1.5% as opposed to 3.2%) but given that the category includes much more than just cancer (abscesses, granulomas, cysts and other indeterminate skin lumps too) it's not really possible to make much of a claim either way for that, either.

Clearly, what the paper showed is that the most common disorders in dogs are pretty common across the board (although there were a few interesting breed differences - see below). No big surprise. Dogs are dogs are dogs - fed by overindulgent owners who don't know how to trim nails... prone to cutting their pads on glass.. likely to catch bugs or scavenge something disgusting that will make them vomit.

The authors, too, are concerned about the interpretation of their paper. To help counter the misreporting, they have just produced an infographic aimed at the hard-of-reading.

So what did the paper say about hybrid vigour?


Hybrid vigour- or heterosis - is a phenomenon that occurs when you cross two inbred strains of plants and animals to create offspring that are often superior than either parent - more robust, bigger, stronger, more fertile, more fecund and longer-lived.

None of these traits was measured in this paper. It did not look at the severity or duration of disease, for instance, or at survival times for the more serious conditions .

In fact, while hybrid vigour has been very well documented generally, it hasn't been studied much in dogs - and neither has what many refer to as its opposite: inbreeding depression. No one, for instance, has looked at what happens to litter sizes or neonate mortality as inbreeding increases (although there is some anecdotal data).

But there is some longevity data - and most recently from the same team behind the disorders paper paper.  Last December,  VetCompass published a paper looking at longevity and mortality of owned dogs in England and what it found was unequivocal. Although Miniature Poodles, Border Collies and Jack Russells lived the longest, overall, crossbreeds lived 1.1 years longer than purebreds - around 10 per cent longer. This echoes most other studies.

The authors concluded: "The findings... support the concept of hybrid vigour in dogs" - as noted on another infographic they've just released.

In conclusion...

This is a good paper in many respects. It highlights, for instance, just how common ear infections are in dogs and it suggests that we we should expend more energy working on the 'less sexy' disorders because of their high prevalence.

It also highlighted some hitherto unknown and interesting breed differences: Cavaliers, for instance, were found to suffer from a high rate of anal sac impaction - another 'low grade' problem that might not make headlines but is nevertheless significant because of the number of dogs involved.

But did it tell us that purebreds are "as healthy as crossbreeds" - or that hybrid vigour is a myth?

No, it didn't.

Most importantly, the over-arching scandal in dogs remains the breed-specific disorders that plague individual breeds as a direct result of the way we breed dogs under the current Kennel Club system:

• selection for looks over health and function
• inbreeding
• popular sires
• the damaging obsession with purity for purity's sake
• the myth that you can health-test your way out of trouble

And this is why...

• 30 per cent of Shar-pei suffer from Shar-pei Fever.
• 50 per cent of Cavaliers have a heart murmur by the age of five
• more-than 50 per cent of Flatcoats are dead from cancer by the age of 8/9.
• a horrific number of Dobermans drop dread from dilated cardiomyopathy
• so many Pugs and Bulldogs have to fight for air their whole lives

...etc ad nauseum

None of these conditions featured in the Top 20 Disorders list because they get lost in the numbers when you lump all breeds together.

But no one other than a fool would suggest that they don't matter because it turns out that - overall in dogs - the most common problem is an ear infection.

The authors stress that they think we would be better served looking at individual breeds rather than getting too hung up on the crossbreed v purebred debate - and I agree, although only partly. And that's because the evidence that crossbreeds live longer and are healthier overall (even if only marginally when it comes to the most common disorders) is important. 


Because understanding why - despite all that selection in purebreds, despite all that health-testing - is critical to improving purebred dog health, to safeguarding the breeds we love for the future.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Dutch KC introduces tough new rules for Bulldogs

No sex please... I'm Dutch
Congratulations to the Dutch Kennel Club which has just introduced new breeding rules for Bulldogs that cover conformation, fitness and inbreeding.

Most notably, Bulldogs have to pass a fitness test before they are bred.

This is in contrast to the Kennel Club in the UK, the dog's country of origin. Here, there are no mandatory tests for the breed, not even under the KC's 'elite' Accredited Breeder Scheme. The KC merely suggests that Bulldogs undergo an assessment by a bulldog-friendly vet. As of April 2014, this assessment has a pass or fail - but KC registration of Bulldog pups is not dependent on it.

The Dutch KC's move is in response to loud calls calling for a ban on breeding Bulldogs in the Netherlands - loud enough to force the Dutch KC and Bulldog clubs there to act, or otherwise face losing the breed.

But whatever the reason, it's tentatively good news.

As of June 1st, the Dutch KC will only register Bulldog pups if the dam and sire have had a fitness test that requires all breeding Bulldogs to have walked 1km within 12 minutes and recovered from the exertion within a few minutes. (And yep, my dogs could walk 1km in two minutes and their heart-rate wouldn't budge... but still... it's something).

Other requirements for registration demand that the breeding stock:

• has a clear ECVO eye-test
• been judged conformationally suitable for breeding by a judge
• has had patellas tested (only grades 0, 1 + 2 allowed for breeding)
• been DNA tested for HUU
• has had a maximum of two C-sections (this is the same as the UK Kennel Club)

In addition, there is ban on not just first-degree relative matings, but half-sib and grandparent/grandchild matings, too. Also, no dog is allowed to sire more than 15 litters. The limit for bitches is three litters. This will help slow down the rate of gene loss in the breed.

The full guidelines can be found here

Prediction? The world is not going to end. 

1/7/14: edit to correct on number of C-sections allowed

Sunday, 29 June 2014

French Bulldogs - from nose to... er...

Yep, no tail.. it's a clear risk for spinal/anal issues and yet Frenchies with no tails continue to be rewarded in the show-ring.

And so do those with no noses.. just look at this:

A dog with such stenotic nostrils should be penalised.  But what did this judge do at Windsor Championship Dog Show this weekend?

Breed specialist Jim Peach (Rosdyke)
Why, he gave the dog the Dog CC - and Best of Breed. Meet Ch Renuar New War Bonnet, one of the UK's current top Frenchies. Like many of the Frenchies at Windsor, he was not comfortable in the summer sun.

Last autumn, the Kennel Club announced that French Bulldogs were to be downgraded from a Category 3 breed (those that are subject to vet checks at champ shows) to a Category 2 breed which is not vet-checked.  (See blog here)

As I wrote at the time, this had nothing to do with the fact that Frenchie health had improved - it was some kind of misplaced reward for the French Bulldog Club appearing to be proactive on health issues. A Frenchie farce.

Because it's all about appearance for the Kennel Club. Always has been and always will be. And, really, it's not good enough.

Here are some more pix of the Frenchies at Windsor. The first three are of Geoff Corish's bitch Ch Boule and Onuba Zinderella at Sealaw who has featured on this blog before. Her noisy breathing was really evident at Windsor. Despite this, she still got placed - 4th in Open Bitch (a class of 10).

No tail

And the other end of the bitch above...what's with the flat skull?

Best Puppy- slightly better nostrils but struggling in the heat - Chelmbull Rumour Has It
And a reminder of what French Bulldogs used to look like before the show-ring got too great a hold of 'em.

They used to have tails, too.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, please help keep the pressure on by emailing the following asking for stronger action. It makes a difference - it really does. 

• Kennel Club Chairman, Steve Dean - steve.dean@thekennelclub.org.uk
• KC Breed Health Co-Ordinator Penny Rankine-Parsons: honsecfbce@aol.com

I don't have an email for judge Jim Peach. But here's his snail-mail address:

Bankend Cottage
Boston Road
PE11 4NN

As ever, please keep it polite - it gives them less excuse to dismiss it.

Related posts

I say, I say, I say... your dog has no nose

French Bulldogs - an enviable life?

French Bulldogs Removed from KC's High Profile list

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

RVC opens new clinic for defective dogs

In today's most depressing dog news, the Royal Veterinary College announces it is to open a special clinic for brachycephalic dogs - like this Pug above who, despite being desperate to sleep, is standing in an effort to keep his head up and his airways open.

This of course, is considered "cute" in Pugland (and beyond) where those that breed, buy, register  and purport to love brachycephalic dogs remain stubbornly impervious to the suffering.

The RVC press release pulls no punches.
"This type of breed is one of the most popular pet choices in the UK, but the breeding of brachycephalic dogs has lead to a variety of health issues for the animals. These include problems with their bones and gait as well as eye, heart, ear (including hearing), skin, and breathing complications. 
"Brachycephalic dogs have a compressed skull in the front and in the back, which results in the soft tissues being crammed within and around the skull. In severe cases it can even appear the dog has no nose at all. 
"This means the animals are at especially high risk of developing respiratory problems such as brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). The clinical signs include breathing difficulties, noises during respiration, ‘constant smiling’, overheating, gagging and choking. 
"But it isn’t just a dog’s breathing that is severely affected by the condition. The short skull also results in the dog’s skin folding over the front of the face, creating deep crevices which are a warm and moist environment that encourages growth of bacteria and yeasts. These bacteria can then attack the skin causing infection. 
"The flattening of the skull also causes the eye sockets to become shallow, meaning the eyeball protrudes significantly. Therefore the cornea is more exposed than usual, making it more likely to become dry, leading to ulceration or direct trauma. Other health issues can include heart problems, ear and hearing issues and complications with the animal’s bones and gait.

They should have added dental issues to the list too - this picture shows the internal consequence of breeding for a flat face: teeth overcrowding/misalignment that often results in painful infections.

But, of course, despite the litany of life-impairing health problems suffered by  Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pekes and others, nobody is doing a blind thing to stop it.

And let's be blunt here - these dogs' suffering is a marketing and income-flow opportunity for the veterinary profession.

I suggest if the RVC wants to feel good about this that it also needs to be issuing a  really strong statement saying that breeding dogs this defective is morally and ethically unsupportable.

Almost all vets will admit this privately.

Unfortunately,  neutering/de-barking has always been part and parcel of veterinary training.

The new RVC clinic for brachycephalic dogs opens its doors on July 1st.

PS: The video at the top is from this site.. scroll down to have a look at the comments...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Holler for UK Tollers

UK breed health survey for Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is now live.

This is a breed which has featured quite a bit on this blog - beautiful dogs with very little genetic diversity that often suffer from immune-mediated issues.

This survey  - open to all UK show dogs, working dogs and pet dogs whether KC-registered or not - is hugely important in terms of guiding the Toller's future.

Know anyone with a Toller? Please give 'em this link.