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Logical approach to dog breeding

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THE report of Professor Sir Patrick Bateson's independent inquiry into dog breeding has been eagerly awaited and, now it has been published, does not disappoint. The report is well written and logically argued. Not only does it make important recommendations; it also provides a concise and informative review of some of the genetic, welfare and other issues surrounding dog breeding, and is well worth reading for this reason alone.

While noting that many breeders exercise high standards of welfare, Professor Bateson concludes that current dog breeding practices 'do in many cases impose welfare costs on individual dogs from a variety of causes'. Improving the situation will require cooperation and action at many different levels and by many different people: research scientists, specialist dog breeders and the clubs to which they belong, the veterinary profession, dog-protection and rehoming charities, people who buy dogs, local authorities, central government and the devolved administrations. The way to improve things, he suggests, will be to 'encourage, guide and (where necessary as a last resort) enforce' beneficial changes in behaviour.

Key recommendations in the report include the creation of an independent, non-statutory council to develop breeding strategies to address issues of inherited disease, extreme conformation and inbreeding. It also calls for a robust accredited breeder scheme, setting out requirements on matters such as pre-mating health tests, purchasers being able to see a puppy with its mother, and identification and pre-sale testing of puppies. It recommends that the law should be changed to require all puppies to be identified by microchip and to place a duty of care on breeders to have regard for the health and welfare of both the parents and the offspring of a mating. It further recommends that the existing breeding and sales legislation needs to be updated and enforced more effectively. In this respect it sees a greater role for veterinary surgeons in carrying out or supporting inspections.

Decisions on breeding need to be based on evidence, which requires collation and analysis of relevant data. For this reason, the report recommends that high priority should be given to setting up a computer-based system for the collection of anonymised diagnoses from veterinary surgeries to provide statistically significant data on the prevalence of conditions in different breeds. It also points out that data held by insurance companies could be helpful in this context.

While drawing attention to some dilemmas and potential 'conflicts of interest' facing the veterinary profession in relation to breeding issues, the report nevertheless suggests that there are a number of areas in which the profession could take a lead. These include achieving a shift in emphasis towards preventive veterinary medicine rather than the correction of problems after they have occurred. It also sees a key role for vets in helping to educate the public about responsible pet ownership and issues to consider when buying a dog.

Like the inquiry by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW), whose recommendations were published last autumn (VR, November 7, 2009, vol 165, pp 546-547), the Bateson inquiry was prompted by the broadcast by the BBC in August 2008 of the television programme 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed'. However, it had a wider remit than the APGAW inquiry, and the report considers all dogs, not just pedigrees. It deals not only with inherited physical conditions, but looks at nurture as well as nature and discusses behavioural problems, too. It also considers societal issues affecting dog breeding, including the problems caused by puppy farms and issues surrounding dangerous dogs. It recognises the complexity of the subject but, by advocating action at many levels, clearly indicates how solutions can be found. The multi-level approach is appropriate, and the recommendations should be taken forward, albeit that this could be a fairly lengthy process. A lot of work has already begun but, as the BVA's past-president remarked last week, it will require a concerted effort by all those involved in the health and welfare of dogs to make the necessary changes.

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