Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Closed Registries Breed the Diseased & Deformed

The Daily Mail has a nice piece on Pedigree Dogs Exposed which premiers tonight on BBC One):

Vets describe how virtually all cavalier King Charles spaniels develop life-threatening heart murmurs.

And a third have syringomyelia, an agonising condition caused by them being bred with skulls too small for their brains.

Veterinary neurologist Clare Rusbridge said: 'The cavalier's brain is like a size ten foot that has been shoved into a size six shoe; it doesn't fit.

'It is described in humans as one of the most painful conditions you can have, a piston-type headache. Even a light touch - a collar, for example - can induce discomfort.

'If you took a stick and beat a dog to create that pain, you'd be prosecuted. But there's nothing to stop you breeding a dog with it.'

The programme says the drive for perfection has left golden retrievers prone to cancer, labradors with joint and eye problems, West Highland terriers beset with allergies and boxers at high risk of heart disease, epilepsy and cancer.

Pugs are so inbred that although there are 10,000 in Britain, their DNA could come from just 50.

The Pekingese's squashed face causes breathing difficulties that lead to some airlines refusing to fly them.

So serious are the breathing problems that Danny, the 2003 Crufts winner, sat on an ice pack while being photographed afterwards to stop him overheating.

To ensure desirable traits are passed on, male dogs are being mated with their own daughters, sisters and granddaughters.

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, said: 'If dog breeders insist on going further down that road, I can say with confidence that there is a universe of suffering waiting for many of these breeds and many, if not most, will not survive.'


Cait said...

I do agree that breeders need to do a better job of watching out for health and breeding AWAY from unhealthy extremes. I worry a lot about the size of the genepool in the breeds I'm involved in.

But I worry a lot too, in the short term, about how shows like this seem to drive pet owners- who are NOT researching- straight into the arms of designer-dog puppy millers, who are very keen to promote the 'genetic diversity' and 'hybrid vigor' as reasons why they 'don't need' to health test and that breeders who ARE testing are doing it because their dogs have problems- not to try and rule OUT dogs with problems. I'd much rather have an inbred dog from a breeder who tests and can tell me LOTS about that dog's ancestors and their health (and what they died from) than a completely outcrossed dog from "well, we don't know the parents of either of your pup's parents but they're healthy right now."

I also really wonder if they looked at any of the breeds which just have a genuinely small gene pool due to never being around in great numbers- breeds which have never been terribly popular, and which have really very few health problems compared to the super-popular (and well-established in the BYB and puppy mills' greedy little hands) Cavalier.

Anonymous said...

I have several vintage dog breed books from the early 20th century. Just paging through and looking at the changes in many breeds is a fascintating look to see how fad and fashion has changed most of them, and not for the better in most cases jmho. Even the grooming has become so extreme that it's sad.

M. Evans

Anonymous said...

If you find a place where we can watch this documentary online, you'll have to post it! I tried checking the BBC's site, but it said the video was only available in the UK.

Also, in response to Cait's comment: Having a long genetic history on pets is great, but I don't think that many breeders highlight the negative enough. They're blinded by a love of their breed. I mean, seriously, just read some of the standards: they're all glossy and rosy. It's like asking a parent to tell you about his child - of course they downplay the faults, consciously or not. Beyond that, does it really help much to get a dog with a known genetic history if all that history does is tell you with alarming certainty that the puppy you've just bought IS most likely going to have major, breed related issues? I'd rather chance it with a dog bred outside the AKC/Kennel Club/whatever. Then, I might get lucky and have a healthy pet.

Steve Bodio said...

John Burchard will be in that show-- I'll get a DVD ASAP.

Perhaps the best breeders of all are backyard breeders who don't breed until they have a list of good homes and place them carefully.

Anonymous said...

Just one more reason I have a dog that comes from an individual open registry. The dogs are bred to do a specific kind of work, not look a certain kind of way.

When I hear breeders wax poetic on how they breed for 'beautiful eyes' or 'perfect coat' I weep for their dogs.

It's like they're trying to breed Barbie dolls (but forgetting that these 'dolls' have souls).

Pai said...

I like the older style Basset a lot better, the modern ones look like they're melting.

Anonymous said...

I watched the program yesterday and a friend recorded is en I get it on DVD tonight, I wil try to put it online, so everybody can watch this horror!! Shameless breeders only in the game for money and fame :-(

Heather Houlahan said...

Just watched the whole thing on YouTube, where someone has posted it in six ten-minute segments. Outstanding.

Did not see John Burchard, which disappointed me.

It is hard to watch the Cavalier writhing in pain, the boxer seizing, the show-shepherd trying to walk. (They should have shown the working shepherds moving, not just a still photo.) The Peke is the stuff of nightmares.

The breed-blindness of "fanciers" is an astonishing thing to confront. Watch the basset and GSD judges try to maintain their tissue-paper worlds when confronted by a normal person.

I know that many will dismiss this as an "animal rights" attack on purebred dogs.

The viewpoint of the producers was clear to me -- not only individual animal welfare, but the existence of these breeds is at stake. And they take the stance that the breeds, as such, are worth saving.

I'd have liked to see ten minutes on the Way Forward (other than just doing genetic tests on show winners and forbidding close inbreeding.) Open registries, performance requirements, lower age limits, abolishing shows in favor of breed surveys -- so much that can be done.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the kind comments...

We did interview John B, who is wonderful, and one of the salukis you saw in the film was related to his (and in fact, John was with us when we filmed them). We hope to feature him in the international version. Lovely John burst into tears when he saw the footage of the GSDs.

I also would have loved to have included 10 minutes on the way forward, and it's a valid criticism that we didn't. But to do this would have meant dropping one or more of the stories which illustrated how serious the problem was. And, hey, if inbreeding, popular sires and selection for beauty over health have caused the problems, it's pretty obvious what needs to be done.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Steve Bodio said...

Jemima-- will it be possible for us to get DVD's, or, better, one for the international version? (John knows haw to contact me.)