Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Purebred Paradox, part two: What’s the problem?

(Continued from part one.)

I recently attended The Purebred Paradox: on the health and welfare of purebred dogs. These are my musings on a few of the talks at the conference, specifically those detailing what exactly the problem is with current methods of dog breeding.

David Sargan, PhD:  “The RSPCA report on purebred dog breeding: Conformational selection and inbreeding in dog breeds”

David Sargan summarized the 2008 RSPCA report on purebred dog breeding. Before the release of the Pedigree Dogs Exposed documentary, the RSPCA had not really focused on issues in purebred dog breeding. This report represents their initial attempt to grapple with how they were going to address these issues.

The report identifies two welfare issues: exaggerated anatomical features that reduce quality of life, and an increased prevalence of inherited disorders. It also discusses current screening practices. Standardized screening is available for eye and hip disorders, among others. These screens are used only by a self-selecting population, however, so are not useful for a description of the true prevalence of a particular disorder in the population. For example, dogs which are not intended to be bred — “pet quality” dogs — are less likely to be screened, though they may well have a genetic disorder. Dogs with unsubtle signs of disease may also not be screened, but simply treated. DNA tests are being developed for many diseases, but many diseases exist for which no DNA test has yet been developed. Of course, many diseases do not lend themselves to DNA tests, as they may be multifactorial in origin, due to many different genes, or to interactions between genetics and environment.

The report outlines possible ways forward. Among its many recommendations are more systematic data collection; an increase in genetic diversity, both by limiting inbreeding and by opening the kennel club stud books (allowing offspring of unregistered dogs to be registered as purebreds); and work to improve the screening tests available.

The report concludes: “the most important element is to ensure that all stakeholder groups buy into the process and fully support the action(s) they need to take. This is the challenge that lies ahead.”

Jemima Harrison: “Pedigree Dogs Exposed: The Aftermath”

The producer of the hugely influential Pedigree Dogs Exposed spoke on the aftermath of the film. Actually, she started by outlining the premath, noting that change has been called for in pedigree dog breeding for over 100 years, and including newspaper stories and other references. She wondered if her film had caused enough change to really get and keep the ball rolling — has the sea change happened? Or is there more work to do?

She wasn’t sure, but she did include a video of Fiona, “the first mongrel to be shown at Crufts.” Fiona is the first low uric acid Dalmation to be shown at the number one UK dog show. The LUA Dalmations are the product of a single outcross to a pointer, and subsequent selective breeding to remove the gene for a genetic predisposition to kidney stones whch is present in every Dalmation except for those with this pointer heritage.

(Continued in part three.)

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