Sunday, January 31, 2010

Purebred dogs and Disease. Veterinary responsibility?


A couple of  recent posts at Terrierman's Daily Dose makes some good points about the shared responsibility which the veterinary profession holds along with kennel clubs and dog breeders for the health problems that are all too common in many breeds, and are due to breeding (inbreeding) practices which result in horrendous problems directly related to the resulting anatomical and genetic train wrecks that define many purebred pets.
Terrierman's blog and website are worth a look for a perspective on working dogs and  the few breed organizations which actively try to limit and/or discourage the type of inbreeding that is all too common, and perhaps nearly universal in kennel club "show" breeds.

The involvement of the AKC and prominent breeders with the AVMA and some veterinary schools is another area where scientific evidence is falling short in the world of veterinary medicine. Organized veterinary medicine has been strangely silent on the problems associated with the inbreeding of pedigreed dogs. Terrierman seems to have a valid point that financial interests (support of veterinary schools, the AVMA, providing pet insurance, etc) by kennel clubs is suppressing criticism of bad breeding practices by the veterinary profession as a whole.

I think that changing current breeding practices has the potential to improve pet health more than nearly anything other than the development of effective vaccinations did. Many common problems in purebred dogs and cats have dramatically different incidences in different breeds, suggesting strong genetic influences on these diseases. Scientific veterinary medicine can and should encourage kennel clubs to change current breeding practices which result in so many unhealthy dogs being sold to the public. It is also interesting that the AKC pet insurance automatically excludes "any congential/inherited condition" from coverage, while encouraging breeding practices which lead to exactly these problems.

Another interesting aspect of this subject which seems to tie into this topic is the promotion of unproven therapies (Complementary, Alternative and Integrative medicine) by many breeders and in some of the AKC publications. I wonder if the seeming affinity of kennel clubs for CAM is a little extra smoke and mirrors to distract people from the real causes of so many of the problems in purebred pets. These therapies are indeed often promoted in publications such as Veterinary Economics as a good way for veterinarians to increase their income. While I don't agree with Terrierman 100% on his recommendations on vaccination (he goes a bit farther than current evidence would indicate, but not by a whole lot) and a few of his other medical advice, I understand where he is coming from and that his recommendations are a response to many veterinarians who make decisions on vaccine frequency, parasite control, etc. based on what is best for their income, not necessarily what the evidence supports.

I think kennel-club endorsed breeding practices are indeed an area in which the science and evidence based veterinary community could make a difference in the lives of animals and the practice of veterinary medicine.


  1. I know many breeders who embrace the woo, big time. It's not uncommon for a breeder to require certain feeding and vaccination regimens of their puppy buyers, or the warrantee in their contract is void. I think this is a way to avoid taking responsibility for, not necessarily the gross genetic problems like PRA, hip dysplasia, etc., but the smaller ones, like allergies, digestive problems, and the like. When a pup comes up with problems, the breeder immediately accuses the puppy buyer of causing the problem by not feeding the proper food, or over-vaccinating. It is a way to absolve the breeder from responsibility for a bad breeding decision.

    The problems with purebred dogs go far beyond just inbreeding and it's associated affects, which many breeders do not even recognize. I am on a large (3000+ people) dog breeding mailing list, and not a month goes by without a discussion about low libido in male dogs, bitches who must have supplemental progesterone to carry a litter to term, small litter sizes, poor conception rates with natural breeding (one woman's dogs had only a 50% conception rate with natural breeding.) Many of these people see vets that are specialists in reproduction, and things like putting every bitch on antibiotics at the start of her heat until after the breeding, putting every bitch on thyroid supplementation regardless of whether they are low thyroid or not, doing only AIs (no natural breedings), performing C-sections even if they are not needed in order to increase the puppy survival rate, etc. are common practice. I see people who regularly breed dogs with environmental or food allergies (with the excuse that the problem is under control with drugs or special [read: expensive] food, so therefore, it's not a problem), or recurrent gastrointestinal issues, or just plain poor doers. All the time. They will take the offspring of such a dog and breed it to 'continue the line.'

    Not to mention that the culture of dog breeding is extremely bizarre and messed up, and this actually takes it's toll on the dogs. So called 'reputable' breeding is heavily slanted towards show dogs. Dogs that don't 'meet the standard' are removed from the gene pool. Relatively few dogs from each generation go on to be bred. Breeding for the pet market is heavily frowned upon. Breeding too often (in some breeds this would be more than once every four or five years) is also frowned upon. I could go on and on.

  2. Yes, the breeder culture is bizarre indeed. I saw a lab puppy last week where the owners were told not to allow ANY running for the first year, or she could not guarantee the puppy. I have no idea how you prevent a puppy from running at all for the first year. and I think it is ridiculous anyway. Unfortunately, I almost never get to talk to owners like this before they get a dog from a breeder like this. It does give me a chance to talk about these issues a little though, and hopefully people will gradually become more aware of these types of problems.

  3. Absolutely spot on post. The problem of genetic disorders, including seemingly obvious problems such as not being able to breath or give birth without surgery, is a glaring example of a major health problem in companion animals that gest very little attention for political reasons. Even the most responsible breeders I interact suffer from cognitive dissonance and will go to great lengths to find any other explanation for a medical problem rather than admit it is due to breeding standards and practices.

  4. I recently had a long, interesting conversation with my vet about the breeder issue. She said her worst clients are the ones who buy a dog that is a genetic disaster from a breeder and then refuse to listen to any of her advice on how to treat the dog. They refuse vaccinations, won't change foods without the breeder's permission, don't get the dog adequate exercise because the breeder told them it would hurt the dog, etc, etc, etc.

    Lately it seems like all the vets in my area are being taken over by woo just a much as the breeders though and it upsets me. One vet I had considered using recently put up signs advertising that they now have acupuncture available.

    I've made it a point to tell my vet that I appreciate that they don't try to peddle unproven "alternative" stuff to me.