Tuesday, 5 April 2011
How many more Cavaliers have to fall?
The above video shows a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Penny with Episodic Falling Syndrome - a distressing condition induced by exercise, excitement or frustration, in which the dogs' muscles become rigid and spasm, causing the dog to fall over. Affected dogs usually start to demonstrate clinical signs before one year of age, with most cases having their first episode aged four to seven months. The condition can become so severe that dogs have to be euthanised.
Yesterday, the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) launched a new DNA test for the condition - and, in a twin breakthrough, also one for Dry Eye and Curly Coat (congenital keratoconjunctivitis sicca and ichthyosiform dermatosis). DE/CC affected dogs produce no tears making their eyes incredibly sore. Their skin becomes very flaky and dry, particularly around the foot, and this can make standing and walking difficult and painful. The syndrome is thought to be unique to Cavaliers and most dogs diagnosed with the condition are put to sleep.
You can read about Cavalier Flossie, who has this condition, on the AHT website.
The AHT estimates currently that around 50 Cavaliers a year are diagnosed with either condition - with only about 3 per cent of the breed thought to be carriers (again of either condition). This means that the DNA tests offer a real chance of eradicating both conditions from the breed without further eroding genetic diversity. As both conditions are recessive there is no need to eliminate carriers from breeding (as long, of course, as they are bred to a clear).
Owners and breeders can access the DNA tests for dry eye and curly coat and episodic falling, from 18 April 2011, through the AHT’s online DNA testing webshop at: http://www.ahtdnatesting.co.uk/
Congratulations are in order to the researchers, but when you add mitral valve disease, syringomyelia, PSOM, luxating patellas, deafness, retinal dysplasia and other health issues in the Cavalier, one has to ask just how many health problems does any one breed have to suffer before one starts to question whether it is morally or ethically acceptable to continue breeding them.
It's a question being asked in the Netherlands at the moment, where an animal rights organisation is trying to bring a legal case against breeders and the Dutch Kennel Club, arguing that health problems are so severe in the breed that breeding Cavaliers should be banned.
I appreciate that people are passionate about the breed - and of course not every Cavalier is doomed to ill-health and an early death. But at what point does one say "enough is enough" - particularly if we are by and large continuing to breed in the same way that created all the problems in the first place (ie inbreeding to a greater or lesser extent within a closed gene pool)?
Some researchers caution against an outcross until the genetics of mitral valve disease and syringomyelia (the breed's two most serious problems) are nailed, but there could be a very long wait for this. Surely we are already way past the point at which a proper, monitored outcrossing programme should be started?