Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The best of breed GSD with shock hocks

© DogWorld TV

While the Kennel Club looks busy with a workshop that is supposed to decide how to tackle "the GSD issue" this bitch went Best of Breed at the Scottish Kennel Club Championship Show last weekend. 

Conbhairean Gabriella (b. 7 March 2012) looks more sound than Cruaghaire Catoria, the GSD that caused all the fuss at Crufts two months ago. But just look at the wobble when she's stacked  - and the droop when she isn't.  She looks like a gust of wind would blow her over. 

And those hocks!

For those interested, here is her pedigree - illustrious in show terms.

A reminder of what the Kennel Club standard demands:
"Seen from rear, the hind legs are straight and parallel to each other. The hocks are strong and firm. The rear pasterns are vertical. Any tendency towards over-angulation of hindquarters, weak hocks, cow hocks or sickle hooks, is to be heavily penalised as this reduces firmness and endurance in movement." 

A final note: this dog passed a vet check after her win.  

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Kennel Club - still registering puppy farm dogs

Last night, BBC Panorama aired a gruesome exposé of a northern Ireland puppy farmer called Eric Hale. (If you are in the UK, you can watch the whole programme on iPlayer here.)

But it was also an an exposé of the Kennel Club's continued registration of puppy farm dogs.

Despite repeated urging by the Kennel Club to prospective puppy-buyers to avoid puppy-farmed dogs, the organisation continues to register dogs bred by breeders such as Eric Hale. 

Hale is a show-breeder of Beagles - and before that Bearded Collies -  registering the Beagles under his Southistle affix.  He has registered at least 20 litters of Beagles with the Kennel Club - the last that I can find in August 2015, although this litter, from January 2016, was advertised on DoneDeal as also being KC-registered.

Clearly, Mr Hale is also breeding a whole heap of other dogs, as last night's programme revealed. The conditions looked grim - with little bedding and the dogs on sawdust. The programme claimed that the dogs did not routinely get access to the outside.

In its position statement on puppy farming, the KC states:
"Breeders who breed five or more litters a year normally require a breeding licence from their local authority, and in order to continue registering puppies with the Kennel Club, anyone seeking to register five or more litters in a single year is asked to provide a copy of their licence. The Kennel Club will also be entitled to ask for a licence from those individuals who collectively register more than five litters a year from a single address."

So, presumably, the KC has asked Mr Hale for a copy of his breeding license, and this will have shown how many dogs he is licensed to keep.

Here's the public record from 2012 - which shows that Mr and Mrs Hale are licensed to keep over 100 breeding bitches.

The Kennel Club often points out that not all volume breeders are puppy-farmers - citing Guide Dogs for the Blind as a large-scale breeder that is "responsible and caring".  But, of course, this exception does not prove the rule. Assistance dog charities or police-dog breeding programmes may mostly do a good job but, in practice, no volume breeder meets the needs of a really large number of breeding bitches unless they are in the public glare or are blessed with wad of cash from either charity donations or the public purse.

Truly raising, keeping and breeding dogs well is expensive and labour-intensive. 

The KC also maintains that "only two per cent [of breeders who register their dogs with the KC] breed more than five litters per annum". 

This is a weaselly statistic - it may be only 2 per cent of breeders, but it will be a higher percentage of actual puppies - so it is at least several-thousand puppies a year. (KC registrations per annum are about 225k.) 

However, if there are really so few volume breeders registering their dogs with the Kennel Club, how about the KC commits to inspecting any breeder that is licensed for more than, say, 10 breeding bitches - regardless of whether they have been inspected by their local authority (we know this task is often delegated to people who either don't care much or who don't have a clue)?  If the numbers really are so small, surely it is not going to be a huge toll on resources?

The KC constantly maintains that it is obliged to register any dog on its general register, as long as it meets some minimum requirements. Those requirements do not include the conditions in which the pups have been bred. 

Quite frankly, the registration of puppy-farm dogs remains a blot on the KC landscape and it needs to be addressed - to ease both our souls and the KC's reputation.

I have asked the KC for input regarding the continued registration of Mr Hale's puppies and will add here if I get it. 

The problem. Right here. Right now.

This video has had over two million views on Facebook with a whole heap of unthinking "so CUTE!!!" comments.

Here's what happened when someone tried to raise awareness of this dog's breathing issues.

Charlotte West Wilson is the dog's owner...

One person has provided this link to a website which advises on Pug's breathing problems. There is some good info there, but it includes this attempt to normalise noisy breathing and pinched nostrils.

Normal Noises and Wheezes 

The Pug dog will have breathing issues that are considered "normal". Although they may be quite alarming to new, unsuspecting owners, the following are common traits that are to be expected:

Snoring - Many Pugs snore when napping and sleeping through the night. This is not usually indicative of a serious health issue. If it does become excessive, stenotic nares and/or elogated palate may be the cause.

Snorting noises - It it typical for a Pug to make noises like grunting and snorting. This breed will wheeze and gasp a bit. As we look ahead into the details of Pug breathing problems, this will only need to be addressed if it appear to interfere with normal respiratory functions.

Stenotic Nares 

This is not uncommon with brachycephalic, short-nosed dogs. This is a physical condition in which the dog's nostril are too narrow to allow for proper breathing.

This is also referred to as pinched nostrils. It is a congenital trait, which means that it is passed down genetically, however it cannot be bred out of the Pug due to facial structure that gives the Pug his unique appearance.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Online for the first time: the 2012 sequel to Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Well, now seemed like a very good time.... ;-)

There has been further reform since this film. The Kennel Club has beefed up its efforts to educate on genetic diversity and it has given breeders new tools to help them avoid inbreeding.

There's no doubt we've come a long way since 2008.

But there is still such a long way to go - and particularly when it comes to the brachycephalics which feature strongly in this follow-up. Nothing really has changed for them - and if anything, things have got worse.

Hopefully, that is shortly going to change.

Vets call for "urgent action" on flat-faced misery

Four days ago, I published a plea for vets to put their heads above the parapet on the brachycephalic issue, arguing that as a profession they needed to do more to stop the overwhelming tide of flat-faced misery (see here).

I'm over the moon that a petition led by vet Susie Samuels of VetHelpDirect was launched yesterday calling for a working party to help tackle the problem.

Vet Pete Wedderburn has also joined in the demand for change in this blog and a strong piece in the Telegraph (see here).

Now the British Veterinary Association (BVA)and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) have added their voices to the campaign, stating. 
"We are unequivocal in the need for all those with roles to play – including vets, breeders, breed societies, the pet-buying public as well as others – to take action to combat the health problems that brachycephalic breeds experience due to extreme conformation. "  (See full statement at foot of page here)
Some well-known names have already signed the petition. They include Harvey Locke, a past-president of the BVA; Chris Lawrence MBE, former veterinary director of Dogs Trust  now a Trustee of the Animal Welfare Foundation and Alan Rossiter, representing Veterinary Ireland, the representative body for veterinary surgeons in Ireland. On my blog four days ago, Dr Rossiter wrote powerfully: 

Your anger at the current state of these poor dogs is absolutely justified. It makes me so so so angry that every pug I see coming in to me has to be referred for surgery to allow it to breath properly. It is an absolute disgrace that humans have manufactured such a situation and as vets we feel it is our job to get undone the harm humans have done in this regard. 
Our general policy in the Irish veterinary profession, as represented by Veterinary Ireland, is:
"The veterinary profession should strive to ensure improvement of the genetic makeup of animals so that surgical procedures are not routinely necessary to correct underlying genetic failings of a certain species or breed."
Specific to pugs Veterinary Ireland has set a goal that within a decade all pugs that are born will be able to breathe without needing surgery. We are working with the Irish SPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland on this. When I lectured on this at our last National Animal Welfare Conference (using photos like yours) our Minister for Agriculture (who was in attendance) voiced his agreement with and support for our position.  
We obviously have to help the ones that come in that cannot breathe - if they need surgery then we have to do it - but we should tell breeders in no uncertain terms that these dogs must not be bred from and that they must not tolerate a situation whereby all of their 'produce' cannot beathe. We also have to make the Kennel Clubs change the breed standards and finally we have to tell the public that they should only buy pugs from breeders that have signed up to the new standards. The breeders and Kennel Club will not like this but frankly we don't care. If they don't come along of their own volition then they are just wrong and will be made come along. 
The last such goal we set was to ban tail docking and to have all cosmetic procedures on animals made illegal and we won. We will win this now.

The petition has attracted over 500 signatories and many moving comments in its first 24hrs hours, from vets, vet nurses and other veterinary professionals from the UK and abroad.

You can find the petition here (NB it is only for veterinary professionals and please make sure to include your qualifications/credentials when you sign to ensure your signature is counted).\

The petition's wording:

We, the undersigned veterinary professionals, call for urgent action to address the increasing number of health problems that we are seeing in our vet clinics as a consequence of the rapid increase in the number of brachycephalic dogs and cats being bred and sold in the UK. As vets we of course provide treatment to affected animals, to relieve their suffering and to improve the quality of life of the individual, but we would far prefer that these health issues did not occur. 
Brachycephaly is a man-made conformational disorder that impacts negatively on many body systems: respiratory, reproductive, thermoregulatory, neurological, ocular and orofacial. The consequences of the condition are often life-limiting and treating affected animals has become a growing part of every small-animal vet’s workload. 
Despite the evident appeal of short-nosed pets to many of our clients, it is our duty as vets to not just treat these animals, but also to lobby for reform in the way they are bred – in particular the “extreme” brachycephalics such as Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and flat-faced Persian cats. 
The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding issued recommendations in their 2012 report, under a section titled "Breathing difficulty linked to head conformation" but veterinary clinics across the UK continue to see many patients suffering from problem linked to extreme brachycephaly. We are calling for urgent action to be taken now to deal with the consequential animal suffering. 
We propose that a working party is established with the aim of coming up with concrete proposals to tackle the issues – measures which may include reform of the breed standards to introduce minimum muzzle lengths, functional tests before brachycephalic dogs can be bred and increased efforts as a profession to educate the consumer of the welfare consequences of their puppy-buying choices. 
More to come...

Friday, 6 May 2016

Open letter to UK vets: stand up and be counted on the brachycephalic issue

There is an epidemic in the UK that is killing dogs and maiming those it doesn't kill.

It is not leptospirosis, nor babesiosis nor Alabama Rot. It's not even parvo.

The disease is called brachycephaly and it causes more suffering than all of the above put together.

Today in the UK (and much of the developed globe), you can barely step out of your front door without tripping over a wheezing Pug, Bulldog or  Frenchie.

• The Kennel Club registered 2,000 Pugs in 2005 and 10,000 last year: a five-fold increase.

• The past 10 years has seen a doubling in the number of Bulldogs (up from 3,000 to 7,000 KC registrations in 2015).

• In 2005 the KC registered just 324 French Bulldogs. Last year? The KC registered 14,607 of them.

That's a more-than 4000% increase!

That's thousands upon thousands of dogs in the UK that:

• spend their lives fighting for air
• are robbed of the delight of walking on a summer's day because they can't cool themselves
• have deformed mouths with almost ubiquitous periodontal disease
• endure chronic skin infections from the wrinkling that invariably accompanies a short face
• suffer painful eye injuries because they don't have the buffer of a muzzle to protect them
• have twisted spines because of the demand for short backs and a screw tail (or no tail)
• often can't mate or be born without assistance

And what are you vets doing about it?

Let me tell you.

You organise CPD days on how to manage the increasing number of creatures that turn up at your practice doors gasping for air.

You refer clients on to soft-tissue specialists who do their best to remedy the deformity that has been bred into them by cutting away the gobs of flesh that block their airways while hoping they don't arrest on the table.

You section that Bulldog and say nothing to the breeder about how wrong it is that the dogs are no longer capable of birthing their own pups.

And you smile ruefully at memes like this on your closed social media groups.

And when a client walks through your  practice door with a Bulldog, Pug or French Bulldog puppy... you coo along with the best of them - because those that don't risk losing a paying customer.

You are of course all too aware of the problems. I know because you tell me - although almost always in confidence because publicly you have to distance yourself from me. That's because you all too often buy the kennel club-and-breeder line that calling for the right for a decent lung-full of air makes me a dangerous radical. 

At the top level of your profession, meanwhile, there is institutional kow-towing to the Kennel Club  and a reluctance to do anything other than accept their platitudes that they have to take things slowly or risk "losing" the breeders.

Did you know that the Pug breed standard specifically states that Pugs should never be "lean or leggy"? That it still states that a double curl in the tail is "highly desirable" (a clear invitation to hemivertebrae further up the the spine)?

Did you know that although the Frenchie standard demands a "well defined muzzle" there are dogs winning in the UK show-ring that look like this?

And that if you put a longer-muzzled Frenchie like this in the ring,  it would never win?

Were you aware that although they're supposed to have "open nostrils" judges routinely reward dogs with nares like this:

Ch Boule and Onuba Zinderella at Sealaw - Top French Bulldog 2013

Did you know that this Bulldog was shown at Crufts this year? 

And this one?

This dog, by the way, is a good example of Bulldog breeders' desire for a good "layback". 

You want to know what that means?

On a "correct" Bulldog, you are supposed to be able to lay a ruler from a Bulldog's forehead to the upper tip of its undershot lower jaw.  Yep, it's a fault if the dog's nose is too proud to prevent it.

Did you know that there still isn't a single health test that a Pug, Bulldog or Frenchie has to pass to be registered by the Kennel Club - not even those bred under the supposedly-elite Assured Breeder Scheme?

If you're asking why I focus so much on the Kennel Club and the show-ring, it is because it's the sole reason that there were Bulldogs in 1906 that looked like this:


And Bulldogs now that look like this...

In particular, I focus on the Kennel Club because it is vulnerable to strong pressure - as we saw after Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming with paper after paper elucidating the cost to the dogs of being bred to meet some people's dysfunctional need for a dog that looks like a baby. And, incidentally, just like with a baby, they have to wipe these dogs' bottoms as they cannot reach round to clean themselves. 

One German vet who breeds them herself told me she didn't think this was a problem. 

The  Pug-breeding Austrian-born vet who oversees the vet checks at Crufts is on the record saying the short muzzle in and of itself is not the problem.

But other vets are calling time on the brachycephalics - and they are putting most UK vets to shame.

In Sweden last year, over a thousand vets put their name to an open letter demanding urgent action. Last month, the Norwegian Kennel Club came out and said that things had to change for the brachycephalics. (See here)

In consultation with vets, the Dutch KC now insists on functional tests before Bulldogs can be bred.

Here in the UK, though, whenever the issue is mentioned officially by the profession , it is always conflated with the issue of flat-faced puppies being imported legally or illegally from abroad. Sure, this is a problem, but it diverts from the central issue which is that the design is fundamentally flawed and something needs to be done about it.  

I'll say this, too: the overseas-bred puppies may have been bred in poor welfare circumstances, but they often have more moderate features and I bet a pound to a dollar the puppy peddlers aren't forking out for expensive C-sections that cut into their profits.

Let me put it even more bluntly: 

UK vets... in not speaking up, you are failing these dogs. It is not enough to just treat them.

If I thought it would work, I would start an open letter or petition for UK vets to sign. But it would be so much more effective if it came direct from the profession.

I have been lobbying so hard on this now for so long.  I am exhausted and frustrated that there isn't more support from the very people that know first-hand how awful the situation is and how much it needs to change. 

So please.. will one brave vet put his or her head above the parapet and start this?  Now?

Because it is, frankly, time for UK vets to grow a pair.