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Maintaining momentum on dog breeding

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THE BBC1 television programme ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ broadcast in 2008 did much to stimulate interest in tackling some of the inherited animal welfare problems associated with selective breeding of dogs. It prompted, along with much else, a revision of breed standards by the Kennel Club and three separate inquiries into the welfare aspects of dog breeding. The inquiries, in turn, led to the formation of a new Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding, an independent, non-statutory body to make recommendations on how the situation might be improved (VR, January 15, 2011, vol 168, pp 53–54). All this despite the fact that many of the issues highlighted by the programme were not new: for example, some of the issues had been considered at a BVA Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) discussion forum just a few months previously and, in 2006, the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) had produced a detailed report on breeding and welfare in companion animals in general.

A follow-up programme, ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed – Three Years On’, broadcast on BBC4 at the end of last month, revisited the issues to see how much progress had been made. While acknowledging progress in some areas, it nevertheless served to emphasise that much remains to be done. Once again, it has stimulated interest in the subject and it is important that this does not wane. As the CAWC and others have pointed out previously, this is a complex subject, and tackling the problem effectively will require action on many levels and concerted effort and commitment from everyone involved.

Commenting on the programme last week, the BVA's past-president, Harvey Locke, said that it ‘featured some good progress but highlighted the fact that there is much more to be done to tackle irresponsible dog breeding and breeding for extreme characteristics and fashion’. He called for a further review of Kennel Club breed standards to remove any ambiguity for breeders when selecting features that might impact adversely on dog health.

Emphasising the importance of identifying problems in dogs before they are bred from, he welcomed the research, largely funded by the Kennel Club, being undertaken at the Animal Health Trust to identify the genes responsible for inherited diseases, noting that it was vital for breed clubs to make best use of this information when selecting dogs for breeding. He pointed out that the veterinary profession was working hard to help improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs and that several initiatives were underway, including the recently launched BVA/KC Chiari-like Malformation/Syringomyelia Scheme. He also drew attention to the need to tackle irresponsible dog breeding in all dogs, not just pedigree breeds, and said the BVA would continue to lobby the Government to improve legislation around dog breeding establishments.

Education has a key part to play both in raising awareness and tackling inherited problems in dogs and in this respect a website recently launched by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare should prove helpful. The website, www.ufaw.org.uk/geneticproblems.php, aims to provide clear, comprehensive information about the impact that inherited conditions can have on animal welfare – not just dogs, but other species as well – and is aimed at prospective owners and breeders (VR, February 25, 2012, vol 170, p 192).

It is also important that prospective owners know what they're getting when they purchase a dog and it is hoped that a puppy contract and information pack, soon to be launched by the BVA AWF and the RSPCA, will help them in this.

Government, too, has a role to play and could contribute by improving the legislation relating to breeding establishments or by updating the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs to take account of the health and welfare of the progeny of any mating.

The Kennel Club declined to take part in the programme broadcast last week but, in a response posted on its website, drew attention to initiatives in which it was involved both before and after the 2008 programme was broadcast. Although it provoked controversy at the time, there is no doubt that the original broadcast added much impetus to the efforts being made by a number of organisations to tackle inherited disorders in dogs and it is important that this momentum is maintained.

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