Thursday, 11 September 2014

Vet checks - has complacency bred contempt?

These timed photographs show what the photographer who took them alleges was the sum of the vet check of the Best of Breed Neapolitan Mastiff at Richmond Championship Show last Saturday.

The photographer maintains that vet Erik D'Arcy-Donnelly never got up from his desk and that the vet check took less than two minutes, including writing the form which gave the dog a Pass.

14:15:41: Sean Platts enters the vet's office with Best of Breed Vallino Too Hot To Handle.
Vet Erik D'Arcy-Donnelly is seated at the desk
50 seconds later: vet Erik D'Arcy-Donnelly remains seated on the opposite side of the
desk to dog and owner
1 minute 6 seconds later, owner Sean Platts has emerged from the vet's office with his Pass
The vet check for the Neapolitan Mastiff covers eyes, ears, skin and a soundness check during which the vet is supposed to ask the dog's handler to move the dog up and down.

But, according to the photographer, vet Erik D'Arcy-Donnelly remained seated throughout on the other side of the desk from Vallino Too Hot To Handle and owner Sean Platts.

"I spotted Sean Platts and his dog walk from the rings in front of the trade stands towards the vet's office, accompanied by a KC official. It was a warm day and the door was open, so I thought it would be interesting to take some pictures of a vet check. To my astonishment, the vet never got up and, less than two minutes later,  Mr Platts emerged waving his Pass.  I did not see him examine the dog and there was no room inside the vet's office to move the dog. I was quite shocked by what I saw."

The video below shows vet Nick Blayney demonstrating how the vet check should be conducted. It includes a hands-on examination of the dog.

I contacted Erik D'Arcy-Donnelly - who breeds and shows Border Terriers  - to ask if he would like to comment.  I did not initially send him the pictures. His response: "I would like to reassure you that every aspect of the Veterinary Health Check for all of the Category 3 breeds on Breed Watch was carried out in full to the guidelines specified by The Kennel Club."

I then sent him the above photographs and invited him to comment further. He has not so far responded - but if he does I will add it here.

Mr D'Arcy-Donelly is also a duty vet at Windsor and Newbury Championship Shows.

The dog's owner, Sean Platts, also insists that everything was done by the book - including that the vet asked him to move the dog up and down outside the vet's office after the eyes/ears/skin check.

Mr Platts says he is pro the vet-checks in principle, although thinks they should be for all breeds.

When shown these pictures, Mr Platts says: "These pics are from when I returned to the vet's room from being outside after the movement, and in the room I'm stood waiting while the vet writes his report. So your spy was late with the camera and missed the exam and movement part."

Not so, says the photographer. "I had been there for some time with a friend who was packing up. There was no way I would have missed a Neapolitan Mastiff being moved up and down outside of the vet's office. I saw Mr Platts approach with his KC escort, he entered the vet's office and two minutes later emerged with his Pass. The KC official remained outside throughout. The vet did not move from where he was sitting at the desk and there was no room inside to move the dog. In fact, there was an obvious quiet place to one side of the vet's office which was the logical place to move the dog. It was not used for this dog."

So, what did happen here?

The exis data on the photographs confirm the timings - and although not impossible to fake, there is no reason for the photographer to have done so. The photographer says it is impossible for him to have missed a Neo being moved outside the vet's office just prior to these pictures being taken.  He explains:"I had been there for several minutes and, as a photographer, you are scanning all the time."

This is a photographer who, essentially, supports and is part of the dog show world. They sent me the pictures because they were shocked. But, of course, it’s one person's word against two others.  

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the Platts' dog would have failed her vet check. The Vallino kennel is one of the more health-conscious Neapolitan Mastiff breeders.

Does it matter if the vet check was skimped? Well, yes it does. 

The vet checks were introduced at Crufts in 2012 for the Best of Breed winners for the high-profile breeds. We know most people in the show-world think they’re pointless and offensive. And, let’s face it, they’re cursory. It's no secret that I would like them to be a whole heap more thorough.  Nevertheless, they have led to fewer dogs with obvious problems being put up and that is a good thing, despite the continuing protests.

As Caroline Kisko says in the video above, the vet checks are intended as independent confirmation that winning dogs are sound in body; designed to reassure those outside of the show world, not those within it.  

As such, it's important that they are always conducted with the utmost care.

Breathlessness: not wagging but drowning

New report suggests that for Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and other brachycpephalic
breeds, fighting for breath can be as unpleasant as drowning
Struggling to breathe can cause animals significant suffering, says a new paper from researchers at Massey University in New Zealand.

This might seem obvious, but breathlessness and its specific welfare impact on animals has not been well-articulated in the veterinary literature before. 

"Breathlessness, in its various manifestations, has been studied extensively in human beings who report that it can be extremely unpleasant and distressing," say authors Ngaio Beausoleil and David Mellor.

"At least three qualitatively distinct sensations of breathlessness are recognised in human medicine – respiratory effort, air hunger and chest tightness... Each one occurs in a variety of pathological conditions and other situations, and more than one may be experienced simultaneously or in succession. However, the three qualities vary in terms of their unpleasantness, with air hunger reported to be the most unpleasant."

The authors found that brachycephalic airway syndrome in modern dog and cat breeds "increases respiratory effort at rest and likely leads to air hunger during exertion" - in other words,the most unpleasant kind of breathlessness reported by humans.

"Air hunger is the sensation experienced at the end of a long breath hold. It is often described as ‘increased urge to breathe’, ‘shortness of breath’, ‘needing more air’, ‘unsatisfied inspiration’, ‘smothering’ or ‘suffocating’. It is always reported to be unpleasant, and even moderate air hunger is more unpleasant than maximal respiratory effort ."

Indeed, the authors put the welfare impact of severe brachcypehalic airway syndrome in the same category as drowning or being deliberately asphyxiated.

While this paper explores the issue of breathlessness across the board (i.e.not just due to conformation), the authors are currently preparing a second paper exploring the extent and impact of brachycephalic airway syndrome on welfare in dogs and cats.

Hopefully, this will increase the pressure on breeders, Kennel Clubs and dog owners blind to the problem in pursuit of a distorted sense of "cute" to take the issue more seriously.

Watch this space...

"Introducing breathlessness as a significant animal welfare issue" by NJ Beausoleil and DJ Mellor, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, July 2014.

Join in the discussion on the new Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook page.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The truth behind the Cambridge "very large cat"

The media loved the story recently of YoYo, the Basset Hound, who had circumvented rules banning dogs at Selwyn College, Cambridge by being classified as a "very large cat".

Nothing like a bit of good-old fashioned British eccentricity.

There's been a few sniffy comments , though - with several people suggesting the dog is a cross, not a purebred Basset.

But I can exclusively reveal that YoYo is the real-deal. She is a retired working pack hound from the wonderful Albany Bassets  - a dog who has as much right to be called a Basset as any of the baggy, saggy show dwarves who trip over their own ears.

Although, actually, YoYo was retired and re-homed because she is a little long in the leg, even by Albany standards where the hounds are much more athletic than their show cousins.

"She was a lovely hound, very well behaved and an excellent working hound," says the Albany's Alison Jeffers.

"The only reason we re homed her was because she is taller in the leg than the majority of our hounds and therefore too fast. We try and keep a very level pack so when out working, they all stick together and work as a team. Slower or faster hounds have to go, the outcome is to become a pet dog!"

Here's YoYo in her working days.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Friday, 25 July 2014

Scotties - cramping their style

There has been a massive interest shown in Scottish Terriers following the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony earlier this week which featured several Scotties.

According to the Kennel Club, searches for the breed on its Find a Puppy service were up nearly seven-fold in just 24 hours - from 93 searches on Tuesday July 22 to 607 the following day.

Only 339 Scottie puppies were registered with the KC in the first half of 2014 so it will be interesting to see how breeders rise to the swell in interest in the next year or so.

Says the KC's Caroline Kisko:

“The breed are affectionate and cheerful, equally happy to go for a nice long walk or to curl up in a favourite armchair, as well as being very loyal and protective of the family. We are glad that the interest in the breed has been so tremendous, both on social media and the Find a Puppy service and we hope that they continue to keep the nation’s attention.”
The KC urges those who want to find out more about the breed to visit the Breed Information Centre on the Kennel Club website.

Unfortunately, there's nothing there on this breed's health - and the UK breed clubs also offer next to no health info, although I did find this rather dismissive report on the findings of the KC's 2004 Health Survey on the Northern Scottish Terrier Club's website (see here).  There is mention of an ongoing breed survey - but no reports available online.

The PDE Blog advice? Never buy a breed that has a condition named after it. And in this case it's a movement disorder called Scottie Cramp. Here's what it looks like.

Actually, Scottie Cramp is neither progressive nor life-threatening. The cancer that blights the breed is, though. The 2004 KC survey found that almost half of Scotties died it, and one US survey found Scotties suffered 20 times the average rate of bladder cancer. Oral melanomas are another problem.

This dog here, meanwhile, displays another Scottie genetic glitch - cerebellar abiotrophy. (NB turn the sound down - the music is hideous). This condition looks similar to Scottie Cramp but it's progressive.

See for more info on this and Scottie Cramp.

Then there's the bladder stones and the Cushing's. And the fact that the 2004 KC survey found that they had the fifth highest rate of C-sections - around 60 per cent of pups are not delivered naturally, the worst of all the non-brachy breeds.  Bitches commonly suffer from dystocia.

All contribute to a longevity that is poor for a Terrier (10.5yrs). And on top of all that, it has a high-maintenace coat. Today's Scottie is a hirsute little dog.

It wasn't always the case. Here's how the breed changed for a sturdy, workmanlike terrier into a short-coupled hairdresser's dog. (Pictures plundered from the ever-wonderful Pietoro's Historical Dog Breed Pictures


Ch Tattenham Treat - 1920
Ch Nortley Pilot - 1934
Best of Breed, Crufts 2010

Related post: "And while on the subject of Scottish Terriers"

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Myths, mutts and misrepresentation

This headline, when it appeared in April 2014, was the best bit of news the purebred dog world had received since Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

It was a report on a new paper from the terrific team at VetCompass looking at the most common disorders in UK dogs. (You can read the whole paper here).

The Telegraph article quoted the paper's main author, Dan O'Neill: “My hypotheses was that crossbreeds would have a lower prevalence of common disorders than purebreds," he told them. "But the overwhelming evidence for that has not been proved."

The Kennel Club was delighted. “The view of the researchers, which we would heartily endorse, is that crossbreeds are not healthier than purebreds," said the KC's Caroline Kisko, who went on to claim: “Over time, we would expect purebreds to go ahead of crossbreeds, because of the amount of research going on into their pedigrees, helping you to get away from health problems.”

As you might imagine, the dog press fell on the report like a pack of hungry wolves.  This from Lee Connor in Dog World (in an article entitled "Don't let untruths go unchallenged") was typical.
"So, that’s that then, the ‘hybrid vigour; lets mix it all up’ theory has been well and truly exploded. Can we now expect apologies from the BBC and from those who likened our breeders and our world to that of the Nazis and the Eugenics movement? Will we now get a big ‘I’m so very sorry, we were wrong’ from the celebrity vets and the RSPCA who have for over a decade championed the mongrel and the designer dog crosses as a healthier, more intelligent pet alternative to the purebred?
In the US,  Dog News claimed too that the paper debunked "the mother myth of them all".


The new paper has even been mustered by Philippa Robinson from the Dog-ED initiative as evidence that the dog-breeding reports that followed Pedigree Dogs Exposed were unfair to the Kennel Club. (See that article here.)

But, of course, this is a classic case of wild over-interpretation by the purebred lobby desperate to counter the evidence that the way we breed dogs within the Kennel Club system is harmful to dogs.

Aha, but you would say that, wouldn't you?

Well yes, that would undoubtedly be my default - and that's because there is just so much evidence that reform is needed if we're going to keep our purebred dogs safe for the future. Nevertheless, having based my stance on evidence, I have got to be open to new evidence even if it doesn't concur with my world view.

So did this paper provide it?

Let me walk you through it and you can make up your own minds.

What is VetCompass?

VetCompass is a UK veterinary surveillance scheme set-up after Pedigree Dogs Exposed - a joint initiative between the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Sydney. Today it pulls data from 100 primary care veterinary practices in the UK representing around 150,000 dogs.

As such, it is an amazing epidemiological resource. No bones about it, you can trust the data.

What was this paper all about?

The paper looked at a random sample of 3,884 dogs to establish the 20 most common disorders in dogs. Here's what it found.

In three of these was there a statistically-signifcant crossbreed advantage - otitis externa (ear infections), obesity and skin mass. And there were no conditions in which there was a statistically-significant purebred advantage.

As the paper explained: "Purebreds showed significantly higher prevalence values for 13 of the 84 (15.5%) disorders and syndromes evaluated. No instances were identified in which prevalence values were significantly higher in crossbred than in purebred dogs. "

So, overall, crossbreeds were found to be healthier (albeit not overwhelmingly healthier). And yet, inexplicably, the headlines claimed that the paper showed that purebred dogs were just as healthy as mutts and that hybrid vigour was a myth.

What the press picked up on was the fact that the authors said they had hypothesised that there would be a more significant difference.

But, actually, it is pretty obvious why there wasn't.

Take a look at that list of disorders again.

As the paper states: "The most prevalent disorders identified in dogs within the current study were complex disorders that have multiple interacting environmental and genetic casual factors."

In fact, some of these conditions don't have much if any genetic component (overgrown nails/obesity/diarrhoea/obesity/laceration/dog bite injury etc). And of the ones that do, most have a moderate to high environmental component.

There is likely to be a genetically-mediated breed predisposition to periodontal disease, for instance - but we also know that diet and dental hygiene plays a huge role in whether or not dogs' teeth rot. Even with degenerative joint disease - which we know is under enough genetic control for selection against it to be reasonably successful - exercise, diet and traumatic injury play their part.

The condition where the greatest difference was seen was "skin mass". Here, crossbreeds were much less likely to suffer than purebred dogs (more than 50 per less in fact - 1.5% as opposed to 3.2%) but given that the category includes much more than just cancer (abscesses, granulomas, cysts and other indeterminate skin lumps too) it's not really possible to make much of a claim either way for that, either.

Clearly, what the paper showed is that the most common disorders in dogs are pretty common across the board (although there were a few interesting breed differences - see below). No big surprise. Dogs are dogs are dogs - fed by overindulgent owners who don't know how to trim nails... prone to cutting their pads on glass.. likely to catch bugs or scavenge something disgusting that will make them vomit.

The authors, too, are concerned about the interpretation of their paper. To help counter the misreporting, they have just produced an infographic aimed at the hard-of-reading.

So what did the paper say about hybrid vigour?


Hybrid vigour- or heterosis - is a phenomenon that occurs when you cross two inbred strains of plants and animals to create offspring that are often superior than either parent - more robust, bigger, stronger, more fertile, more fecund and longer-lived.

None of these traits was measured in this paper. It did not look at the severity or duration of disease, for instance, or at survival times for the more serious conditions .

In fact, while hybrid vigour has been very well documented generally, it hasn't been studied much in dogs - and neither has what many refer to as its opposite: inbreeding depression. No one, for instance, has looked at what happens to litter sizes or neonate mortality as inbreeding increases (although there is some anecdotal data).

But there is some longevity data - and most recently from the same team behind the disorders paper paper.  Last December,  VetCompass published a paper looking at longevity and mortality of owned dogs in England and what it found was unequivocal. Although Miniature Poodles, Border Collies and Jack Russells lived the longest, overall, crossbreeds lived 1.1 years longer than purebreds - around 10 per cent longer. This echoes most other studies.

The authors concluded: "The findings... support the concept of hybrid vigour in dogs" - as noted on another infographic they've just released.

In conclusion...

This is a good paper in many respects. It highlights, for instance, just how common ear infections are in dogs and it suggests that we we should expend more energy working on the 'less sexy' disorders because of their high prevalence.

It also highlighted some hitherto unknown and interesting breed differences: Cavaliers, for instance, were found to suffer from a high rate of anal sac impaction - another 'low grade' problem that might not make headlines but is nevertheless significant because of the number of dogs involved.

But did it tell us that purebreds are "as healthy as crossbreeds" - or that hybrid vigour is a myth?

No, it didn't.

Most importantly, the over-arching scandal in dogs remains the breed-specific disorders that plague individual breeds as a direct result of the way we breed dogs under the current Kennel Club system:

• selection for looks over health and function
• inbreeding
• popular sires
• the damaging obsession with purity for purity's sake
• the myth that you can health-test your way out of trouble

And this is why...

• 30 per cent of Shar-pei suffer from Shar-pei Fever.
• 50 per cent of Cavaliers have a heart murmur by the age of five
• more-than 50 per cent of Flatcoats are dead from cancer by the age of 8/9.
• a horrific number of Dobermans drop dread from dilated cardiomyopathy
• so many Pugs and Bulldogs have to fight for air their whole lives

...etc ad nauseum

None of these conditions featured in the Top 20 Disorders list because they get lost in the numbers when you lump all breeds together.

But no one other than a fool would suggest that they don't matter because it turns out that - overall in dogs - the most common problem is an ear infection.

The authors stress that they think we would be better served looking at individual breeds rather than getting too hung up on the crossbreed v purebred debate - and I agree, although only partly. And that's because the evidence that crossbreeds live longer and are healthier overall (even if only marginally when it comes to the most common disorders) is important. 


Because understanding why - despite all that selection in purebreds, despite all that health-testing - is critical to improving purebred dog health, to safeguarding the breeds we love for the future.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Dutch KC introduces tough new rules for Bulldogs

No sex please... I'm Dutch
Congratulations to the Dutch Kennel Club which has just introduced new breeding rules for Bulldogs that cover conformation, fitness and inbreeding.

Most notably, Bulldogs have to pass a fitness test before they are bred.

This is in contrast to the Kennel Club in the UK, the dog's country of origin. Here, there are no mandatory tests for the breed, not even under the KC's 'elite' Accredited Breeder Scheme. The KC merely suggests that Bulldogs undergo an assessment by a bulldog-friendly vet. As of April 2014, this assessment has a pass or fail - but KC registration of Bulldog pups is not dependent on it.

The Dutch KC's move is in response to loud calls calling for a ban on breeding Bulldogs in the Netherlands - loud enough to force the Dutch KC and Bulldog clubs there to act, or otherwise face losing the breed.

But whatever the reason, it's tentatively good news.

As of June 1st, the Dutch KC will only register Bulldog pups if the dam and sire have had a fitness test that requires all breeding Bulldogs to have walked 1km within 12 minutes and recovered from the exertion within a few minutes. (And yep, my dogs could walk 1km in two minutes and their heart-rate wouldn't budge... but still... it's something).

Other requirements for registration demand that the breeding stock:

• has a clear ECVO eye-test
• been judged conformationally suitable for breeding by a judge
• has had patellas tested (only grades 0, 1 + 2 allowed for breeding)
• been DNA tested for HUU
• has had a maximum of two C-sections (this is the same as the UK Kennel Club)

In addition, there is ban on not just first-degree relative matings, but half-sib and grandparent/grandchild matings, too. Also, no dog is allowed to sire more than 15 litters. The limit for bitches is three litters. This will help slow down the rate of gene loss in the breed.

The full guidelines can be found here

Prediction? The world is not going to end. 

1/7/14: edit to correct on number of C-sections allowed