Monday 28 November 2011

Leap year 1930

I don't often re-post stuff from the Terrierman's Daily Dose as we share a lot of readers. But this British Pathé film clip from 1930, featuring a GSD called Mickeve, fair takes my breath away.

So here's the challenge: could anyone find me a modern German Shepherd that could do this?

Sunday 27 November 2011

Flatcoats and cancer

Pye - just one of 1000s of flatcoats to have died prematurely of cancer
Today, I heard of yet another young Flatcoat losing their life to cancer.  Millie, a search and rescue dog, was just five years old. Last year, someone I know lost two beloved Flattie boys within three months of each other - one was five years old; the other just three. As much as their owner loves the breed, enough was enough. She now has two spaniel crosses.

Contrary to popular perception, my life has not been much blighted by flatcoat cancer.  We did lose our lovely Pye (pictured above) to a cervical tumour when he was 10 but my first flattie, Fred (it's his picture at the top right of the blog) lived until he was 15 years old. My current flattie Maisie turned 10 in August. She is known as the fastest paw in the West - not for being fleet of foot (although she is quick enough when the occasion calls for it) but for the speed with which she can whip a piece of toast off the sideboard and into her mouth the moment your back is turned.

I hope to always have a Flattie in my life; but they will be rescues, not one bought as a pup. And that's because I believe Flatcoat breeders in the UK could be doing more to tackle the horrific rate of cancer in the breed (over half of Flatcoats will develop cancer by the age of 8 and it kills many of them).

There will be howls of protest at my saying this. The Flatcoated Retriever Society and breeders think they are doing quite a lot about cancer. Now it is true that Flatcoat breeders on the whole are health-orientated. Very few Flatcoats are bred without first being hip-scored and eye-tested, and many are elbow-tested too. Re cancer, over £60,000 has been raised since 1990 to fund ongoing research at Cambridge University into Flatcoat cancer - and the breed club helped source dogs for the cohort study linked to above which followed 174 flatcoats through to death.


I am disturbed that the Flatcoat Health Seminar this summer did not include anything on cancer. And I note that the Society's website doesn't actually mention cancer by name on its current health page. There is a link to the Tumour Survey, but it is just a line right at the bottom of the page.

Additionally, the Society's pdf on the Tumour Survey contains a number of inaccuracies - most seriously that the data they have collected had "dispelled the myth that [soft tissue] sarcomas occurred in young dogs."

It is true that the Cambridge research has found a peak in 8 year old dogs (and 8 was also the mean age of presentation) and there was another peak in 11-year-olds. But let's have a closer look at the figures here for the 32 dogs in the cohort study that died from confirmed soft-tissue sarcomas.

As you can see, 13 dogs died at aged 9 or over whereas 19 died at aged 9 or younger. And, crucially, this cohort recruited dogs between the ages of two and seven which could have skewed the data. The authors' rationale for this was that a previous study had found that few flatcoats under the age of seven had died of sarcoma. But this earlier study (Histopathological survey of neoplasms in flat-coated retrievers, 1990 to 1998, JS Morris et al) certainly didn't find that no young flatcoats died from cancer . Actually, the paper is a bit hazy regarding age detail, but it reports that 9 per cent of the dogs diagnosed with differentiated sarcoma were "young". Of the 10 dogs diagnosed with osteosarcoma, for instance, three were under two years old.

Certainly, there is a case for repeating the cohort study and making it a birth cohort, ensuring that Flatcoats that die young from cancer (and, anecdotally, there are many of them) are included. 

Recently, a handful of cases of juvenile renal dysplasia in flatcoats has sent the breed club into a spin - disproportionately, in my view. But then it is a rather easier condition to talk about given a simple mode of inheritance and the availability of a DNA test (albeit one that has had validation issues).

It seems to me that cancer is the elephant in the room in Flatcoats - at least in the UK (perhaps US readers can fill us in on the situation there?). Yes, it is acknowledged but it is too often played down. With the researchers yet to come up with any answers that could prevent it, I think the problem is just that everyone feels utterly powerless.

But more could be being done: an open database of dogs (and their pedigrees) affected with cancer, for instance and - in particular - a more effective fund-raising campaign for cancer research. I dont want to diss the £66k raised so far but over 21 years it works out at only around £3k a year - not so much. An opportunity to donate online would be a big help.

I also think that it would be worth the breed club organising a group of flatcoats to be DLA haplotype-tested - something that the breed club turned down when I suggested it to them in 2010, saying they had limited resources and other health concerns to be spending money on. But this is a test that could help breeders breed for a stronger immune system and cancer, of course, is immune-mediated. The Society did agree to include mention of the test in its 2011 newsletter - not sure if it did or not but if it did, here's hoping it encourages some flatcoat breeders to explore.

There is a touching tribute to Millie here.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Every breath they take

It doesn't have the snappiest of titles, but "Brachycephalic syndrome by Dr Göran Bodegård, MD" in this week's Dog World is essential reading for everyone with (or thinking of getting) a short-faced breed - or, indeed,  anyone looking for ammunition with which to try to persuade people that dogs really were never meant to look like human children.

The article describes in wincing detail the welfare cost of breeding dogs with flat faces.
In many breeds the aim has been to get flat-faced dogs and this has been achieved by selection for a shortened skull and muzzle. This head type – the brachycephalic head – is not to be considered as a normal variation but is the result of a human intention to consolidate desired physical characteristics which are expressions of a genetic mutation. 
Even with the selected breeding for this trait, dogs are produced with a spectrum of characteristics, including individuals having practically no nose at all. Strongly connected to the flat face characteristics is the development of malformations in the airways including pinched nostrils, elongated and thickened palate, hypertrophic and/or collapsing walls of the trachea and bronchi which cause obstructions for the flow of air. The degree of breathing impairment is varying. The brachycephalic breeds also manifest a disturbed thermoregulation capacity.

Brachycephalic animals are all, to at least some degree, affected by lifelong breathing problems which are particularly pronounced under conditions of elevated environmental temperature and during increased physical activity when insufficient airway capacity hinders an adequate gas exchange. Attacks of evidently laboured breathing with respiratory distress, snoring and snuffling are the most common clinical signs which in the most serious cases might develop into apnoea, loss of consciousness, collapse and even death.
Let's just pull out one of those sentences again:

"Brachycephalic animals are all, to at least some degree, affected by lifelong breathing problems..."

Not some - all of them. And for their whole lives.

We did that.

Read the whole  article here.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Raging bull

The Bulldog Club of America makes a controversial claim in this week's New York Times Magazine's damning cover story on Bulldogs.

Distancing itself from UK data which put the Bulldog's median age of death at just over six years old, a spokesperson for the Bulldog Club of America insists that US bulldogs are healthier than those in England.

Great... so what is the average of age death for the Bulldog in America, then?

Er, they don't know. No one has done the work, or not recently at least - although US vet school data gathered between 1980 and 1990 found that the average age of death in Bulldogs was just 4.6 years.

But perhaps there is other data to support the BCA's claim in the article that US bulldogs are healthy? Well, no, there isn't. In fact, the OFA lists the Bulldog as the breed worst affected by hip dysplasia (over 70 per cent of dogs tested are dysplastic); and a recent paper exploring causes of death in US dogs found that the Bulldog was the breed most likely (18 per cent) to die due to respiratory problems and was only beaten by the Newfoundland as the breed most likely to die from congenital problems.

The New York Times' long and thoroughly-researched article, by writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis, is a real indictment of what we have done to the Bulldog and it makes for painful reading.  Breeders will no doubt find reason to dismiss the piece for including quotes from the the HSUS's Wayne Pacelle, but the testimony from expert after expert on the breed's many health woes is compelling.

Particularly worrying, for me, is that in 1973, the Bulldog ranked just 41 in the AKC's most popular breeds whereas in 2010 it was number 6. It is now the most popular breed in Los Angeles (where, surely, they can barely venture outside in summer?).

Of equal concern is that the Bulldog Club of America has no intention of changing the breed standard to encourage a healthier phenotype - and the AKC has no plans to make them, saying it trusts the BCA to "know what's best for the breed."

As such the US breed standard - depressingly - still calls for the Bulldog to have a "massive short-faced head", an "extremely" short face and for the head and face to be "covered with heavy heavy wrinkles" - features which are clearly detrimental to health and welfare and which have been moderated in the UK standard, although not without protest. (I should say that there is little evidence that UK breeders are taking much notice of the new standard, but at least it's in place.)

Read the whole of Benoit's excellent article here.

Incidentally, it's not the first time that Bulldog health has made the cover of a top US magazine. Time Magazine's 2001 "A Terrible Beauty" cover story caused huge ripples at the time. Have a look at that cover from 10 years ago, though, and what stands out is how unexaggerated the Bulldog on the cover is compared to many Bulldogs today. Underneath is a front-shot of a dog previously featured in profile on this blog - one of the top-winning UK bulldogs of 2011, Ch Pringham's Eclair Glace.  And underneath that, in case anyone thinks current US bulldogs are less exaggerated, is a US Bulldog featured in the NY Times article.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Discover Dogs 2011

From the "Stop the BBC Making Another PDE" Facebook site this eve...

The "Stop the BBC Making Another PDE" Facebook site issued several dire warnings in the past week warning good dog folk to be on their guard at this weekend's Discover Dogs against "JH" taking pictures without permisson. Their cunning plan? To take photographs of me or anyone who might conceivably be an agent of mine.

That would, then, be pictures taken without permission. The irony appeared to be somewhat lost on them.

In fact, the Kennel Club had refused us access to film so we couldn't. No ifs or buts -  BBC rules are strict on this and secret filming is only allowed in special circumstances. There was nothing to stop us filming outside, though, so we set up camp outside to ask visitors about their breed choice; then I paid for a ticket to have a quick whizz round the show in the last hour; camera switched off and firmly zipped in the camera bag.

Don't think the KC trusted me to keep it zipped though. As I stopped to have a chat with Sarah Blott from the Animal Health Trust at the Cavalier Matters stand, the KC's Caroline Kisko and Bill Lambert approached and hovered.  Bill then followed me as I wended my way towards the exit, quite literally ducking behind breed stands to try to avoid being seen; at one point peering through a gap in one stand's dressing to keep me in sight. Very Keystone Cops.

I doubled-back and collared him, telling him he should feel free to say hello. I also thanked him for the information he had sent me last week in response to questions about the Assured Breeder Scheme. "I look forward to seeing how negatively you use that information," said Bill.

"Well," I replied, "I am a bit surprised to learn that the KC has inspected only 15 per cent of the breeders who have joined the Assured Breeder Scheme."

I mean, really, and with the best will in the world, it is quite hard to put a positive spin on that, isn't it?

On the plus side, Bill also told me that all breeders who have registered more than two litters in the previous 12 months are now inspected before they are accepted and that there are plans to extend this to all applicants (although he couldn't say when).

But if (as is the case) the KC has only done 1100 odd inspections in total since the scheme started in 2004 and they only have 23 breeder advisors (compared, for instance, to over 100 in Sweden where in 2010 alone they did 2000 breeder visits), when exactly is the KC going to get round the 6,000 or so ABS breeders who have never been inspected?

There was some good news at Discover Dogs during my brief visit.  A breed advisor was honest about the health issues in Boxers on the Boxer breed stand and it was good to see health informaton given real prominence on the Griffon stand, as it was last year. I also saw nothing to stop me lusting after a Hovawart (despite worries about the small gene pool).

But I'm afraid the rep on the Neopolitan Mastiff let the side down when asked if the breed had any health problems. "Not really," came the reply. He also maintained that they lived on average to 8 yrs old (not really his fault - this entirely unsupported claim is in black and white in the health info the Club prepared for Discover Dogs; a bit of a shame because the rest of the health info is not bad).

Finally, despite having lookouts/security in place to protect the Neapolitan Mastiffs from me and prying lenses, this picture was sent to me this evening of the dog on the breed stand this afternoon.

Just to make it crystal clear to Neapolitan Mastiff breeders who will no doubt express outrage: the crime is not in my publishing pictures like this; it's in you breeding dogs like this.

If you don't want pictures of Neopolians with desperate eye conformation, too-narrow nares and sore skin being blogged or broadcast for everyone to wince at... stop breeding them this way.

Edit 13/11/11 @ 20:04

Now that we know this dog is Rayvonley Leone (see comments), here is a picture of him at Darlington Championship Dog Show a few weeks ago, where he won Best Dog. If you click to enlarge it, you'll see there is no skin irritation under his nose, but his chin looks sore and his eye looks no better than it does in the above picture.

Edit 13/11/11 - 

The reaction from the anti-PDE Facebook site....

So now we know. The dogs are just fine. I have, apparently, been photoshopping the images in order to make the dogs look bad.

Which beggars the question: if I could prove that I have not photoshopped them, would they agree that there is a problem that needs to be fixed?