The welfare of show dogs & the role of the vet
This is what I want to cover. You will notice that I have not put legislation on here that’s because I have only got 10 minutes and I could spend an entire 10 minutes winging about the state of legislation and its poor enforcement. So I want to concentrate really on the veterinary aspects of improving pedigree welfare.
Little bit of background first. Firstly we can’t even decide how many dogs there are in this country and this I think raises a significant issue about a whole level of surveillance of disease but there are roughly 8 – 10 million dogs. If life expectancy is something like 10 – 11 years that means there are 800,000 puppies coming into the dog population every year. Of which only 200,000 are registered by the Kennel Club. And if you accept that that’s the basis of breed standards then you could start to argue that the Kennel Club influence on the way dogs look is not perhaps as great as you might think at first glance. When you then take into account the Kennel Club’s view that only 1% of dogs are actually shown in a show ring you might think that the Kennel Club has even less influence over what ends up on your consulting room table.
I would suggest that actually those 1% that are shown actually represent at least the 200,000 and represent the public view of what the average dog breed should look like.
There are also of course now increasingly since the change in legislation at the beginning of last year the influence of dogs being imported into this country from overseas. And we really have no idea what those numbers are. We do know what many of the health risks are. What we don’t know is what their influence might be on the whole issue of confirmation.
Little bit of history then perhaps this started off with a paper by McKrievy and colleagues in animal welfare talking about the health and welfare influences of confirmation in pedigree dogs. Cork then Companion and Animal Welfare Council picked this up and produced a report on breeding and welfare which didn’t just cover dogs it covered all species. Emma Milne then picked it up at AWF when she talked about designer animals or breeding for welfare. And of course she then inspired Jemima Harrison to pick up her television camera and go out and produce ‘Pedigree dogs exposed’ which is really what raised the public profile of this as an issue.
Following that there were a number of reports associate parliamentary group on animal welfare, the RSPCA and the independent report from Professor Sir Patrick Bateson. And those led to the formation on the advisory council of the welfare issues of dog breeding. I think you will gather from the title that actually there was considerable negotiation around the formation of the advisory council and nobody in their right mind could have sat there and thought up a title like that.
So what is a Breeds Standard? Well here are a couple of quotes from the Kennel Club website which essentially tell you that they are a description in words of what a dog should look like and to a certain extent how it should behave as well. The standards were reviewed following pedigree dogs exposed in 2008. All of the breeds 209 or 210 breeds were reviewed at the time and the aim was to produce them fit for function, fit for life. Now that in my mind raises a question particularly about behaviour as well as about confirmation. Is a border collie actually fit for function and life on the 25th floor of a block of flats – I would suggest it probably isn’t. So there are other influences in this as well as some simple confirmation.
The review intended to reduce the number of exaggerations that there were in breeds because that had been the basis of a lot of the adverse comment that there had been. There was veterinary input into it and so we as a profession had some input into how these standards came out.
So let’s have a look at a standard. Well there is a picture of a pug from the turn of the 20th century, grateful to Emma Milne for the picture. I can assure you that is not Emma in the picture. The one on the left that is. I did promise you a derogatory remark. And that is what we end up with today. And you can see the significant difference in those two animals both called pugs. What does the pug standard actually say? Well there it is. What’s interesting I think in this and this is something that has come up since the review of standards, if you look at the last couple of sentences – eyes or nose never adversely affected or obscured over the nose, pinched nostrils and heavy over nose unacceptable and should be heavily penalised. So you can argue that the Kennel Club has actually tried quite hard to influence breeders of pedigree dogs to produce less exaggeration and to take some view of the confirmation of the dogs that they breed.
So how is it that we still see on our consulting room tables on a daily basis dogs like this? Well what are the influences that we need to change? Well of course the breed standard and one could argue that actually breed standards need to be more precise, need to be more clear about what is and what should not be in the confirmation of a dog. And perhaps a little bit more influence on its behaviour.
If you change the breed standard you should at least in theory change what breeders start to breed to. But when you look at some of the breeds and look at their effective population sizes there was a paper a couple of years ago that showed the effective population size of a West Highland White Terrier was only 50 individuals. So breeders have some difficulty in changing the confirmation of the dogs that they breed unless they are prepared to outcross and out crossing of course if you outcross two pedigree dogs it becomes non pedigree and so you then have to wait a number of generations before those dogs can then be shown again and they still have to comply with the breed standard.
Above all we have to influence judges at dog shows. Breeders are far more in my view influenced by what the judge puts up at a dog show than they are by what he has written on the breed standard. And due credit to the Kennel Club they do look at what dog breeders put up and they look at the confirmation of those dogs and if judges are consistently putting up dogs with very exaggerated confirmation then there will be some comment about it. But we’ve all seen the sort of GSD’s that get put up these days with these horrible sloping backs that I don’t think can conceivably be right.
We as veterinary surgeons should have significant influence on the confirmation of dogs. My question is whether we do. We should be reporting surgical modification wherever that affects the confirmation of the dog. If you ask the Kennel Club a very small proportion, single digit proportion of reports that they get for modifications of confirmation come from veterinary surgeons. The other 90% come from breeders. Why as a profession are we not reporting these? We should reporting caesareans. Again a very small proportion of reports come from the profession, they come from breeders. We should be reporting these. Now you can argue that actually what happens with the information at the end of the day, is it really worth me reporting it? I don’t believe that’s a valid excuse for us as veterinary surgeons not to do so.
Perhaps a little bit of light on the horizon are Vet Compass and Savsnet and due credit to BSAVA for funding Savsnet because both of these systems in the long run will provide us with much better information about the incidents of some of these confirmation defects that we see so frequently.
One of the accusations raised quite frequently in the media is that well of course vets don’t worry about this they make money out of all these confirmation problems that they have to put right don’t they. I sincerely hope that is not right but it is levelled at us as a profession.
So what could we do? Well the Advisory Council and I admit to being a member has worked quite hard on some priority issues and if you want to look at them they are all on the website. But we’ve looked at ocular problems linked to head confirmation a major cause of welfare issues in dogs. We’ve looked at breathing difficulty linked to head confirmation again the short nose breeds a major issue on welfare. AWF worked with the RSPCA to produce the puppy information pack and the contract and if you look at the puppy information pack and I hope you are encouraging your clients to use it there is a lot of background information about the genetics of the puppies they are producing.
The short breeder scheme, Kennel Club is now UCASS accredited. The Advisory Council has had a number of meetings with the Kennel Club and we hope they are going to be some modifications to that standard to make it more or less equivalent to the standard for breeders that the Advisory Council produced.
And of course the Kennel Club has even produced the high profile breeds vet checks. Introduced at Crufts last year when half a dozen best of breeds failed and didn’t get in to the best in show or into the group even. Those are the high profile breeds and they are the sort of breeds that one would expect – the short legs, the flat faces and so on.
Now as a show vet I’m asked to look at these dogs and to say whether there is anything which on that day I consider is affecting their welfare. And so as a show vet I look at all these 14 breeds, best of breed winners. Should be the pinnacle of their breeds. So what point does exaggeration produce a potential welfare problem. And I am grateful to Sheila Crispin for these slides. Where along that line do you say enough is enough? The right hand end certainly. And when as a show vet I am faced with a dog like that, if that dog has no sign of soreness of its conjunctiva, has no epiphera I have to pass the dog. Is that really what we should be asking show veterinary surgeons to do?
So in summary then this is a long standing problem, there is nothing recent about it. The influence of breeds standards is there and it is significant. The influence of showing of the veterinary profession and of independent advice will in the long term I hope improve the situation. We have made some progress but by gum is there a long way to go.