Science

Inbreeding of “man’s best friend” causing serious health problems

In the UK, 24 per cent of all households own a dog. That’s around 9 million dogs, making them the most popular pet per household in the country. This number is even higher in the USA with 37-47 per cent of all households owning a dog.

Between one-third and a half of dogs are “purebred”. Purebred dogs are breeds that are the result of selective breeding where the dogs are bred for specific traits. Often the parents of the dog are closely related. These pure breeds tend to be “fashionable” dogs such as Bulldogs and Bassett Hounds. These are the sorts of breeds that are seen at dog shows and are sold to people for extortionate prices. However many owners of these fashionable breeds end up with soaring vet bills due to the dog getting numerous ailments.

There are a variety of troubling problems that affect dogs that have been pure bred. Bassett Hounds are prone to ear infections, glaucoma and mobility loss in later life. Boxer dogs often get respiratory distress due to their flat face, heart defects and are very prone to cancers and epileptic seizures. Even German Shepherd’s can have illnesses such as cataracts, haemophilia, pancreatic disorders and leg pain.

The UK Kennel club was founded in 1873; it is the countries’ governing body for dog shows and operates the national register of pedigree dogs. Puppies can only earn kennel club certification is their lineage back to the club’s original group of dogs can be traced, meaning there is a “closed gene-pool”. This is where issues arise.

One of the biggest areas of concern for this is dog shows, such as CRUFTS. According to the RSPCA, in order for a dog to be entered, it must be registered with the Kennel Club, conform to written breed standards and be pedigree. For a dog to be pedigree, both parents must be members of the same single breed. They believe that these requirements inevitably lead to inbreeding, the dogs from the “closed gene pool” experiencing many health problems. Pedigree dogs have been bred for shows to emphasise certain physical features. These features can be so extreme that they cause severe pain and suffering. A recent scientific study showed that all of the 50 most popular dog breeds have a physical aspect that can cause suffering. In addition, this lack of genetic diversity has increased the risk of inherited diseases.

The RSPCA recognises that some dog breeding is a welfare concern in this country and has taken action in giving a clear message that it doesn’t accept it. in 2009, they pulled out of supporting CRUFTS and they funded a “VetCompass” research project into disorders in dogs at the University of Sydney, Australia.

With the issue of unethical dog breeding becoming exposed in the public eye, more action is being taken to ensure that this malpractice is controlled. The RSPCA now offer a service to help potential dog buyers choose a dog that has been bred ethically with the best possible chance of being fit and healthy.

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