Saturday 22 August 2015

Gordon Setters: ouch!

A whopping nine per cent of Gordon Setters in Norway suffer from an immune condition which causes all their claws to fall out.


And guess what?

The same bunch of genes that researchers found are linked to this condition - called  symmetrical onychomadesis - may help protect Gordons from another immune-mediated condition:  hypothryoidism (which commonly causes hair loss as well as lethargy, weight gain, muscle loss, sluggishness and a slow heart rate).

The new findings from researchers in Norway (read the open-access paper herepresent breeders with a dilemma. Do you select against one condition at the risk of heightening the risk of another?

Well let's have a look:

Symmetrical onychomadesis (also called Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodsdrophy or SLOvaries in severity, but the lesions can be very painful, treatment is often not successful and some dogs have to be euthanised. English Setters, Whippets and Bearded Collies suffer from it too.

Hypothyroidism, meanwhile, is treatable (if tricky and expensive to keep on top of) and is found in Gordons at a lower prevalence than the claw-loss (2.9% compared to 8.9%).

So... select against the claw-loss!

Well no. The authors stress that a lot more research is needed before breeders could start using the new info in a way that could help improve the health of their dogs. In other words...

But actually...

Immune-mediated disease (heck almost all disease) in dogs is on the rise because of the way we breed them: closed gene pools, overuse of popular sires, over-emphasis on looks to the detriment of health (as much as the loonies would prefer to deflect the blame on to vaccines, dog food and vets conspiring with big-pharma).

This new Norwegian paper looked at a specific part of the dog genome called DLA (dog leukocyte antigen).  DLA codes for the immune system and it is made up of different haplotypes (bunches of genes).

The number and distribution of haplotypes is considered to be an indication of overall genetic diversity in a breed.

Broadly speaking, the more haplotypes, the better. Your immune system needs a diverse armoury with which to fight disease/foreign invaders.

And, generally, the more inbred the dog is,  the fewer the haplotypes.

The Norwegian researchers found 10 different haplotypes in Gordons and seven in English Setters in the dogs they studied - not the worst compared to other dog breeds, but low. A high incidence of immune-mediated disease is found in other breeds with a low number of DLA haplotypes, such as the Bearded Collie, Standard Poodle and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

Seriously, the answer is not that difficult. And there is no need for paralysis while we wait for the researchers to come up with the definitive answer. Because there is already one out there.

We need to increase diversity in these breeds. And where it isn't possible to do it within the breed by going out to different lines, then it's time to outcross... to dilute the poisoned rivers that are today's closed gene pools.

Because, frankly, I'm sick to death of paper after paper finding yet another breed-related disease at the kind of rate seen for symmetrical onychomadesis in the Gordon Setter.

Read it again.

Almost one in  10 Gordon Setters in Norway suffer from a hideous condition that makes their claws fall out. 

Want to have a guess at how it feels to walk with that?


  1. Breeders doing nothing is the really distressing part. Too many breeders are content to do nothing. This is incredibly frustrating for the breeders who want to change the situation in order to make things better for the breeds they care so much about. Not every breeder feels that it’s wrong to bring an outside cross into a breed. There are also breeders that feel it’s wrong to continue on with pure breeding. I have a kennel full of purebred dogs and not the conscience to breed them and I know a number of other breeders that feel the same as I do.
    This should be expected from breeders who have a basic understanding of biology and/or genetics, and/ or breeders who know roughly what the effective population size of their breed is and/or have done pedigree research for the purpose of generating co-efficient of inbreeding values for their future pairings. Many breeders know that their breed’s COI averages are already at high risk levels. The clincher for me was finding out what our nearest to true inbreeding co-efficient COI values are and being able to visibly see all the inbreeding that took place in the generations behind our dogs. I know now that I can’t possibly breed the healthiest dogs possible within a closed studbook that will only let us gamble.

    The whole purpose of bringing an outside cross into a breed is to reinvigorate immunity, vitality, fertility, mental and physical good health and general well-being. We know that by crossing two different breeds together once, and then breeding back to one of the breeds (backcrossing) twice, we will have puppies that will look and act almost exactly like the purebred dogs they were backcrossed with. It’s simple, it’s interesting, it’s right thing to do, and it’s sorely needed in many breeds. It shouldn’t be getting put off or ignored. Good breeders don’t have time to waste and more importantly, purebred dogs need some help now.

    It would be simple to give the first and second generation backcrosses registration certificates that have notations on them, and allow the third generation backcrosses to be notation free and allowed back into the show ring and breed pool. I think this would give us much better breeders and help our purebred dogs get off to a good start in life and survive into the future.

  2. I just attempted to make a comment about this, so if this is a repeat post I apologize. I said previously that SLO is of concern to me because it has appeared in certain dogs of my breed (Magyar Agar) who all live in Finland. The MA breed also has a small gene pool so the risk of perpetuating and creating health problems is very real. However, there is another aspect of this issue that concerns me and has raised some doubts in my mind, and that is that I have heard some not so good things about the practice of veterinary medicine in Scandinavian countries. Particularly, that vets there do not do routine screening for tick borne illnesses which can result in immune-related symptoms and diseases. Several dogs have died as a result, when it probably could have been prevented. As such, I am starting to question any research coming out of Scandinavian veterinary institutions, not because I don't believe that there are or may be health issues related to KC-bred dogs, but because I'm not sure that all the information they are compiling is totally accurate.

    1. Personally, I think the veterinary research coming out of Scandinavia is among the best in the world!

    2. Perhaps the research institutions over there are better than the regular "family practice" vets. I just know that something isn't right. A vet friend of mine here in the states actually spoke to a vet in Sweden about helping a dog that was anemic and the Swedish vet didn't even know how to do a blood transfusion. It just really makes me wonder ...

    3. Seriously, the Swedes and Finns are way ahead of the game in many respects. You cannot trash a whole country because of one or two anecdotal stories.

    4. I'm not trashing anyone's country, I'm just relating a concern that I have based on several recent cases that seriously troubled me, not just one or two (dogs died). I know that anecdote can only be taken with a grain of salt, but it's hard to ignore when it starts happening on a certain scale and transcends more than one breed. I honestly don't know a lot about the practice of veterinary medicine in Scandinavia. I've seen a lot of, what looked like, great stuff coming out of there, so I give thumbs up and kudos to them for that.

    5. Living in Norway and having a very small practise vet I must say I do disagree with your stories Stoutheartedhounds. I've only ever had one dog affected by a tick related disease, it was tested for right away and the correct treatment given, the dog lived for another 7 years and died of old age.
      While some vets in the UK and even more so in the USA does a lot of fancy treatments, vets in Scandinavia find a lot of this to be "overkill" even if they are able to do the same treatment were it is (in their oppinion) a good prognosis for a happy, healthy and normal life for the pet afterwards. There are different cultures between our countries, but there is no lack of good and competent veterinaries. (and several are educated abroad as well, such as in the UK or Germany).
      That said, of course Scandinavia too have its share of veterinaries that aren't all that fantastic.

    6. Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of veterinarians here in the states push for a lot of unnecessary services too. I've had so many dogs over the years that I know what I actually need for them and what I don't, but tick-borne illnesses are pretty common in some parts so if my dog had mystery symptoms or immune related symptoms I would test for that immediately.

    7. As a Finnish person who have had dogs with severe illnesses and now living in Norway, I can only disagree with your assumptions. Vets here are mostly very highly trained and they also keep their training up. I have had only once bad treatment with my multiallergic dog and this was over ten years ago when allergy treatments were not that common.

      In many areas in Finland and also in Norway and Sweden, there is no ticks so naturally they do not think tick related diseases at the first. But in the areas where there is ticks, they sure do. In Norway it seems to be quite the normal to test yourself and your dogs for tick bites.

  3. To be fair, flat out trying to eliminate a "bad gene" can do more harm than good, as the Basenji folks found out the hard way. BUT, yes, they can and should (especially now that they have a DNA test) be selecting to have it less prevalent and less likely to cause problems!

  4. I have been looking a bit more closely at some gun dogs including Gordons this year ,so I'm ashamed of myself for not seeing this post sooner.

    Thank you for this advisement. I'll be saving this blog post.

    There are people breeding "Field bred" Gordons only in the USA that are lighter in build. I wonder how they would respond to this.

    Will look for the pedigrees connected.

  5. What's the best source to find out the rates of disease expression in other countries besides Norway?