The United Kingdom is host to arguably the world's best-known dog show – Crufts. This year, worldwide controversy has arisen over the German Shepherd best of breed winner. The bitch that won had a heavily sloping back and appeared to have trouble using her hind legs. Similar questions about the health of winning show dogs was raised in 2012 when independent veterinarians disqualified nine out of fifteen best of breed winners because they had breed characteristics that were detrimental to their health.
We hope such incidents are going to drive change in the pedigree dog world, and result in pups that are more functional as well as good looking. However, it does raise concerns amongst potential puppy buyers – what do they need to look for if they want to buy a purebred pup, and where do they find the information they need to make the right choice?
In 2012, the United Kingdom Kennel Club established the Dog Health Group to develop strategies for ethical breeding and health promotion. This group issues an annual report that monitors disease statistics in individual breeds to assess their overall health and any improvements that have occurred. Over the years, the number of dogs being tested has increased, and in nearly every instance, the incidence of genetic disease has reduced.
The Annual Health Report evaluates the results of testing for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, eye disease, and DNA status. Results for each year are calculated as the average of the previous five years' results. Some of the improvements that have occurred, as outlined in the 2015 report, are as follows:
In almost all breeds tested, the median hip score has decreased. For example, the German Shepherd has had a significant drop from thirteen in 2001 to eleven in 2015. Even more impressively, the scores for the Newfoundland have improved from 16 in 2001 to 10 in 2015. In the Samoyed breed, there has been no change over the years and one has to be concerned about the slightly worsening score in the Tibetan Terrier from ten to eleven.
The statistics for elbow dysplasia are becoming more accurate because as the years have passed, more and more dogs have been tested. In 2001, just over 500 dogs were evaluated but in 2015, the numbers had increased to over 4000. At the same time, there were impressive improvements in the test results. In 2015, just 16% had elbows graded greater than 0, which is down from 24% in 2001.
A number of genetic eye diseases occur in our canine companions, including progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma, and congenital hereditary cataracts. The number of affected dogs has halved in the period from 2001 through 2015, with the incidence of glaucoma being the lowest ever recorded. 22 dogs tested positive in 2015, down from 69 in 2008.
The United Kingdom Kennel Club has a number of DNA testing schemes based on the genetic diseases that are prevalent in any given breed. This helps breeders to better plan their matings to result in a reduced incidence of these diseases in future generations. In 2015, over 6000 individual dogs had their DNA tested which showed that almost 80% were free of the genes associated with hereditary disease. There have been fluctuations in this statistic over the years, from a high of 85% in 2006 to a low of 71% in 2011. Research is continuing, with the Kennel Club developing new DNA tests for more genetic diseases and evaluating the heritability of mast cell tumors.
Other kennel clubs also monitor canine health. The American Kennel Club has a database of test results maintained in conjunction with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. While an annual report isn't published, the website can be searched for the incidence of a particular genetic disease in a specific breed.
If you're in the market for a purebred puppy, these websites and reports are a great source of information. You will be able to identify what genetic diseases are present in the breeds you like, and how common they are. This allows you to speak with breeders about their dogs and make a more informed choice as to which puppy to buy. Keep in mind that some genetic conditions, such as hip dysplasia, are multifactorial and things such as environment and nutrition can play a role in the development and severity of a disease.