Wednesday 24 February 2016

BREAKING NEWS: KC survey reveals apocalyptic drop in purebred dog longevity

There has been a catastrophic decline in purebred dog longevity, according to the results of a long-awaited health survey released by the Kennel Club yesterday.

It has taken the KC over a year to report on its 2014 health survey - the largest ever survey of its kind - and a follow-up to its 2004 survey.  It makes for grim reading.

Across all the breeds, median longevity has dropped by 11 per cent in a decade. Kennel Club registered dogs now live on average to just 10 years old - down from 11yrs 3 months in 2004.

Some breeds have seen jaw-dropping decreases compared to the 2004 survey.

Bull Terriers now die on average at just seven years old - down from 10yrs in 2004 (a 30% decrease)

Beagles: down from 12yrs 8mths to 10 yrs old.

Dobermanns: down from 10yrs 6mths to 8 yrs today.

Dalmatians: down from 12yrs 6mths in 2004 to 11yrs now.

Border Terriers: down from 14yrs to 12yrs

Irish Wolfhounds: down from 7yrs to 6.5yrs

Rhodesian Ridgebacks: down from 11yrs to 9yrs.

Bulldogs: down from 6yrs 3mths to an even worse 6yrs.

Boxers: now living to 9yrs, compared to 10yrs 3mths in 2004.

Cavaliers: now dying at 10, as opposed to 11yrs 5mths in 2004.

Irish Setters: now dead on average at 11 - down from 12 in 2004.

Whippets: down from 12yrs 4mths to 10yrs.

Even the nation's favourite dog, the Labrador,  is dying younger - at 11yrs old compared to 12yrs 3mths in 2004.

I found a few breeds with modest increases: Flatcoats now live to 10yrs - 2 months longer than they did in 2004. Great Danes died at 6yrs 6mths in 2004 and now survive on average to 7yrs. The Old English Sheepdog now lives 3 months longer (11yrs as opposed to 10yrs 9mths). Bernese Mountain Dog longevity has stayed the same at 8.

But, at this rate, many Kennel Club breeds could be extinct in 100 years' time.

It is a disappointing that the KC chose not to mention this decline in the release accompanying the survey findings (see here).

Now don't get me wrong  -  it is genuinely great that the KC is doing these surveys; it just needs to be honest and not play down negative findings.

I remember how the KC maintained both in and after Pedigree Dogs Exposed that 90 per cent of KC registered dogs were "perfectly healthy" - despite its own survey (the 2004) one finding that almost 40 per cent of KC dogs suffered from one or more health issues.

This time, as before, the KC reports that the main cause of death is old age - reassuring until you look at the actual figures.  In 2004, 17.8% of dogs died from old age. In 2014, it dropped to 13.78%.

Headline: more than 85% of KC registered dogs today do not make it to old age - and almost all die, or are put to sleep, because of disease.

(Trauma/accidents/behavioural issues account for only a tiny percentage of deaths reported.)

The new findings shouldn't be a huge surprise. Despite frequent claims by many that dogs are living longer today than ever before - it has been pretty obvious that an increasing number of breeds are tottering on the brink of viability. It does not, however, make the findings any less heartbreaking for everyone who loves dogs.

The reason for the decline? Closed gene pools... obsession with purity.. popular sires.. dogs being judged on looks not health... and the erroneous belief that breeders can health-test their way out of trouble.

Now there's some wiggle-room in this survey for those who want to question the results.  There were far fewer deaths reported than in the 2004 survey.  And while the 2004 survey was sent out to breed clubs; the 2014 survey was sent out more widely to owners of KC-registered dogs. This means that the surveyed populations were not identical.

When I talked to the KC about the survey in June 2014, though, they were at pains to point out that it would be backwards-compatible with the 2004 survey. 

This is important because, as the KC itself said when the 2004 survey findings were released: "Data gathered from this survey will provide baseline information against which the success of future control schemes can be measured."

The KC has, in fact, withheld certain data that it feels is not statistically significant in the 2014 survey  - e.g. if fewer than 30 deaths have been reported in a breed; hence, rather disappointingly, why there is no median death data reported for many of the current breeds of concern: Pugs, French Bulldogs, Bostons, Dogue de Bordeaux and Neapolitan Mastiff. (Although, frankly, it is telling that so few owners/breeders of these breeds, who these days so often spout a commitment to health, contributed to such a well-publicised survey.)

The Kennel Club needs to encourage these breed clubs to run ongoing health surveys to monitor longevity in these breeds, as well as to find a way to encourage more people to contribute to their next survey (which will presumably be in 2024).

In the meantime, the current findings should be a call to arms. There are some breeds today that are little more than ghosts of what they were.

But I suspect we'll get the usual denial.. the deflecting blame on to vaccines, commercial dog food, puppy millers, vets or big pharma... 

And all the while the dogs we purport to love so fiercely will continue to wither and wane.


How did your breed do?

See the 2014 survey results here.

Compare to the 2004 survey results here.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

BOAS: airway surgery helps but does not cure

This YouTube video above was posted by this French Bulldog's owners in an effort to help raise over $5000 for surgery to help the dog.

Thousands and thousands of short-faced dogs need this surgery - the consequence of our obsession with flat-faced "cute" dogs.

I don't know if Panda's owners were successful or not. I hope so. The dog was clearly suffering.

But, as a new paper reveals, while airway surgery can help some dogs, it is not a cure.

The team at the University of Leipzig featured in Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On looked at the success of the surgery they perform on brachycephalic dogs.

The owners of 62 dogs (37 Pugs and 25 French Bulldogs) completed a questionnaire following surgery.

The findings:

  • life-threatening events reduced by 90% (choking decreased from 60% to 5%; collapse from 27% to 3%
  • sleeping problems decreased from 55% to 3%
  • the occurrence of breathing sounds declined by 50%
  • there was a marked improvement in exercise tolerance
  • there was a modest improvement in heat tolerance

But is was not a cure. As the authors say: "...despite the marked improvement perceived by dog owners, these dogs remained clinically affected and continued to show welfare-relevant impairments caused by these hereditary disorders."

We also know that BOAS is progressive and this study only looked at dogs up to six months post-surgery.

There's also the rather large point that we should not be breeding dogs with a high risk of choking, collapse, sleep problems, raspy breathing, and intolerance to exercise and heat.

Not quite sure how many times I can say that. But I'm not going to stop until we see more progress.

Monday 15 February 2016

GSD Paddy at Westminster

I wrote about German Shepherd Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold in December (see here) - a blog that provoked a lot of opinion from all sides. Some thought, as I do, that the dog is a tragic indictment of what the show-ring has done to the German Shepherd. Others defended the dog saying I had used "bad" pictures of the dog. The owners, meanwhile, accused me of photoshopping the images.

I hadn't, of course, but will no doubt be accused of the same for showing these screen-grabs from the television coverage of the dog - pet name "Paddy" - at the Westminster Dog Show today. 

Paddy didn't win today. But he was given an Award of Merit - a kind of consolation prize awarded at the discretion of the judge. 

Again, no dog should stand, walk or run on their metatarsals like this. Dogs are supposed to be digitigrade animals, not plantigrade. It is a functional fault.

AKC: a nose for flummery

To mark this year's Westminster Dog Show, the national newspaper USA Today has waded into the dog-breeding debate with a strong editorial arguing for change. It refers to the shape of the current Bulldog as "tragic" and  calls for "sustained commitment and action to demonstrate that the AKC and U.S. breed groups can earn the title of dog’s best friend." (Read the whole thing here.)

The paper has, in return, given the AKC a right of reply, written by the AKC's chief veterinary officer, Jerry Klein. It is, I'm afraid, the usual blah, blah, blah.

It includes the erroneous claim that line-breeding is not inbreeding (er, it is) and the claim that dog shows preserve function (er, they don't).

It also includes this little gem:
"The AKC works with breed clubs that are responsible for creating and maintaining a standard of integrity and tradition for each breed. Breed standards define ideals in appearance, structure, movement and temperament for a breed. For example, if a standard describes a dog’s nostrils as being wide and large, a dog with narrow nostrils that inhibit its breathing should not be rewarded by a show judge, and responsible breeders would not breed from it."
Sooo... how about we have a little look-see at the AKC standards for the extreme brachycephalics (short-faced breeds) - the ones who most need wide open nostrils. While we're here, let's have a look at the pictures the AKC uses to illustrate them, too. 



Sadly, the AKC standard makes no mention at all of what a Pug's nostrils should look like (see here), so a Pug's pinched nostrils cannot be penalised in the show-ring. The standard needs to change as this breed is the worst for respiratory problems, in no small part  caused by stenotic (pinched) nostrils that are endemic in the breed.  The Pug pictured has narrow nostrils and is over-wrinkled.


French Bulldog: :"The stop well defined, causing a hollow groove between the eyes with heavy wrinkles forming a soft roll over the extremely short nose; nostrils broad with a well defined line between them"

Again, no mention of the nostrils needing to be "wide", "large" or "open". This needs to change.


The AKC's Bulldog standard includes this: "The nostrils should be wide, large and black, with a well-defined line between them."

Good to see the words "wide" and "large" but it needs to add the word "open" - and next time try to find a Bulldog without stenotic nares - and, for that matter, without ectropion (those sagging bottom eye lids).



From the standard: "The nose is black and wide, with a well defined line between the nostrils... " No mention of nostrils there but listed as a fault separately is: "Pinched or wide nostrils."

Eh? Now they're saying that 'wide' is a bad thing? Come on AKC, this needs sorting. And, again, the AKC has illustrated the standard with a dog with pinched nostrils.


The AKC's Peke standard is the only one of the extreme brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds that spells it out. 

It specifies: "Nose - It is broad, short and black. Nostrils are wide and open rather than pinched. " 

Well done for that. 

However, the nostrils on the Peke the AKC uses to illustrate are neither wide nor open.

None of the nostrils on the dogs used by the AKC to illustrate their brachycephalic standards are acceptable.  

In fact, according to the AKC's own words above ("a dog with narrow nostrils that inhibit its breathing should not be rewarded by a show judge, and responsible breeders would not breed from it") none of the dogs above should ever be bred.

Here, for comparison, is a great-looking French Bulldog with good, open nostrils.

And here's what a normal dog's nostrils should look like, front view and side view. 

Remember that while dogs pant through their mouth, they breathe through their noses. It's really important that those pipes are open - especially when you've been bred with a very flat face that has already compressed and buckled those airways on the inside.

Over to you AKC...

Sunday 14 February 2016

Feelin' the love

Jan Dykema is a US real estate agent and a show breeder and judge of Bull Terriers. She comments here under the moniker Bestuvall.

This was her response to someone called Ty Savoy saying that some purebred dogs suffer because of the way they've been bred.

See the context here.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Boston boogie - the bottom line

Click to enlarge

A few days ago on a Boston FB page, owner Amy Charlesworth posted a video of her Boston Terrier rubbing her bum on the carpet.

You see this very commonly in Pugs and Frenchies whose stocky bodies, thick necks and short faces make it impossible to turn round to clean themselves/ease an irritation.

I think this is what we're seeing in this Boston, too. You could clearly hear the dog whimper in the original video.

As you can see from the screen grab above, several commenters advised the owner to seek veterinary advice as it could be a sign of serious infection.  (Rear-end problems, from compacted anal glands to perianal fistulas are common in Bostons.)

So what did the dog's owner do?

Hell, she added some house music to it and peddled it to the viral video sites.

But there is a bit of good news. The video has now been removed after complaints - from those who had seen the original video and thought it wasn't right to promote as entertainment a dog in obvious discomfort .

My Pug Boo - loved to death

This vid landed in my inbox today. It is an upsetting video of a morbidly obese Pug called Boo sleeping. He has - wait for it - over 20,000 followers on Instagram (see here). There is the occasional comment about Boo being too fat, but most of those who comment think he's cute. They love his chubby wrinkles.

Boo's nose roll almost obscures his nostrils. What with this and the blubber, it is hard to comprehend how he is still alive.But he won't be for much longer. His owner is killing him. Being a Pug is hard enough without this

This is as cruel as beating a dog with a stick. 

There will be some who defend her, saying perhaps she doesn't know this is wrong. But it's impossible that Boo's veterinarian has not told her that this is a problem for the dog. 

No doubt she will insist she loves him to bits. But this is not love.  The dogs we own and the shape they're in are a pretty good reflection of our own psychological health. There is something terribly, terribly wrong here.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Swedish vets call for a ban of certain breeds

The Swedes as a nation are a nice bunch and the veterinary profession is, in the main, a conservative one.

So in many ways it is unexpected that Swedish vets are leading the world in demanding change for short-nosed breeds.  But perhaps we shouldn't be totally surprised given that Sweden has a strong record in animal welfare and a Kennel Club that has been more proactive than most in trying to tackle genetic and conformation issues.

In recent months, Swedish vets have become increasingly outspoken.  Following a petition signed by hundreds of Swedish vets last year, brachycephalic dogs are a hot topic in Sweden, with literature/campaigning material such as this video trending under the hashtag #ogulligt. It means "not sweet" (cute).

In one Swedish newspaper today, two Swedish veterinary opthamologists have called publicly for an outright ban of certain breeds. They rather politely don't name the breeds, but an article highlighting their concerns features a Pug and a Peke.

The original report is in Swedish, but you can read Google Translate's stab at translating it here.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Research Syndrome

I try not to piss off scientists. They are, in the main, friends of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. That's because the science supports the central tenets here (if not always the sledgehammerly way they are delivered.)

I confess I feel a bit bad about having a go at the chap on the right above - Dr David Sargan, senior lecturer in molecular pathology at Cambridge Vet School.  David is a nice man; our paths have crossed several times; he co-authored one of the key reports into dog-breeding following Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and he is now quite widely involved in the issues. There is much that we agree on.

David's team is also doing some really useful work at Cambridge - both in elucidating the extent of breathing problems in brachycephalic dogs and in finding an objective,  non-invasive way to measure them.

But I'm afraid I watched this video this morning and wanted to shake him warmly by the neck. (NB to the crazies out there... this is a figure of speech.)

In this clip above, Sargan starts off by telling John Bradshaw (author of the excellent In Defence of Dogs) that the Cambridge research reveals that half of all French Bulldogs suffer from respiratory distress - and that, actually, none of them breath totally normally. 

The top trace here is of a Beagle and it shows normal breathing - a smooth, undulating rise and fall.   The two traces underneath show a "normal" French Bulldog - much shallower. These dogs never experience the joy of a truly deep, unhindered breath of air into their lungs.

And here's what the breath traces look like for 50 per cent of French Bulldogs who suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome (BOAS):

What does that feel and sound like? Something like this.

It's hideous, isn't it?  

John Bradshaw, on the left in the video above, says: "The obvious thing to do is to breed the dog with a long-nosed dog and to get rid of the face shape."

You got it!

But no. Instead of Sargan throwing his scientific weight and compelling research behind a campaign to argue for immediate change, he says:

"The problem is that the general public doesn't want a dog with a long face so what we've been looking at are the dogs with short faces that breathe well and can we find genetic differences between those and dogs that breathe badly."

Yep, Sargan wants to spend money trying to find specific mutations that code for bad breathing which, once found, would allow breeders to select against them, thus allowing breeders/owners to have the flat faces but without the problems.

Perhaps you think that makes sense? After all, half of all Frenchies breathe OK (ish) and the Cambridge research has also found  that there isn't an absolute correlation between muzzle length and affectedness (i.e. some dogs with shorter muzzles breath better than those with longer muzzles).

Certainly, the breed clubs for Frenchies, Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekes and other brachycephalic breeds love this idea. It allows them to congratulate themselves for donating money and DNA samples to researchers while continuing to breed dogs with very flat faces.

Let me see if I can convince you that it's a fool's errand.

• first and foremost, the clue is in the name - BOAS is a syndrome. It comprises stenotic (pinched) nostrils, an elongated soft palate and everted laryngeal saccules - all associated with a short muzzle/skull. Recent research from Dr Rowena Packer et al at the Royal Veterinary College found that thick necks are a contributory factor too (see here).  These are features that will be governed by hundreds, possibly thousands, of genes. We do not yet have a single useful genetic test for conditions that are controlled by multiple genes and the chances of developing one in the near future are extremely slim.

• Even in the very unlikely event that a useful genetic test could be developed before another 10, 15, 20 generations of Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs are born to to live compromised lives, that still leaves another problem that manifests as a result of breeding for a flat face:  brachycephalic ocular syndrome. This comprises the near-endemic chronic and acute eye issues that occur as a result of shallow ocular orbits. (Quite apart from the fact that dogs with very flat faces do not have the natural buffer of a muzzle to protect their eyes from injury).

• Short muzzles in Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs have resulted in the bunching up of skin/flesh on the outside. The wrinkling/rolls are a hotbed for chronic yeast and bacterial infections. 

• short muzzles cause the bunching up/overcrowding of teeth and the roof of the mouth, too, leading to mouth and teeth infections/disease. This is an area often overlooked in brachycephalics but is likely to cause many dogs chronic, life-long pain. 

• while there isn't an absolute correlation between muzzle length within a breed and the extent of breathing problems, a paper published last year very clearly found that the shorter you go, the more likely it is to cause problems:

"The research, which was co-funded by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), involved two studies including over 850 dogs of over 100 breeds. The findings were reported in a paper by Drs Rowena Packer, Anke Hendricks, Michael Tivers and Charlotte Burn and published in the journal PLOS ONE. The researchers found that as muzzle length becomes shorter, risk of BOAS becomes ever higher, with over 90% of dogs being affected at the shortest extreme. This quality-of-life limiting disorder was only seen in dogs whose muzzles were less than half the length of the domed part of the skull." (Source)
Ergo, the longer you go, the less likely you are to condemn dogs to a lifetime fighting for air.

For the past couple of decades, David Sargan has been looking for the gene/genes for cancer in Flatcoated Retrievers. Flatcoat breeders have raised and donated thousands of pounds to facilitate this - and while they've been doing that (with no genetic test on the horizon yet), breeders have not explored other measures that could have helped - such as outcrossing to other breeds to dilute the poison (over 50 per cent of Flatcoats die of cancer by the age of 8/9 - and many far younger). 

Sargan is a gene hunter. It's what he does. His whole world is skewed to that perspective.  So of course he's going to focus on genetic solutions. 

My stance, however, is that it is morally and ethically questionable to give breeders this get-out clause when we know that simply selecting for longer muzzles, more open nostrils, slimmer necks, less wrinkling and a less extreme head shape would be the simplest and quickest fix. 

So, sure, hunt for genes. But not without insisting in the meantime that:

• breed standards need to change to introduce minimum/maximum measurements/ratios
• judges must start selecting for much healthier phenotypes
• the current level of suffering in pursuit of "cute" is unacceptable.

This is so important because registrations for these flat-faced breeds have gone through the roof and because the Kennel Club and breeders will wiggle and worm for as long as they can. Indeed, the KC's response to the recent peer-reviewed research which shows so clearly how much suffering is caused by short muzzles (which, let's face it, comes after decades of other research saying essentially the same thing) has been to dispute that the dogs in the studies were KC-registered and to maintain that the research, while "interesting", does not involve enough numbers to be in any way conclusive.

Here's how the KC sells itself these days:
"We are the largest organisation in the UK devoted to dog health, welfare and training. Our objective is to ensure that dogs live healthy, happy lives with responsible owners."
But this is palpably not true when it comes to the brachycephalics.  Because if it was really the organisation it wants us to believe it is; if it really wanted to ensure that dogs life healthy, happy lives it would do so much more to prevent the suffering endured by Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs.

In Sweden recently hundreds of vets signed a petition demanding change for brachycephalic dogs. The Swedish KC and breeders didn't like it much, but it's working. There is a key brachycephalic conference in Sweden at the end of February and significant changes in the breeding of short-faced dogs in Sweden looks likely as a result.

Actually, David Sargan is speaking at this conference... an opportunity, perhaps, for him to support the Swedish researchers and vets in their call for urgent action to address the problems.

Watch this space.