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Questions about Pedigree dogs raised by the BBC Programme 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed'

Press Release 11th Sep 08

The Kennel Club has received calls from concerned members of the public who watched the documentary on the BBC, ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’.

The Kennel Club worked with the documentary makers on the programme but unfortunately its viewpoints were not accurately expressed and it left viewers with the mistaken impression that all pedigree dogs are riddled with a wide range of health problems. This is patently untrue and anyone should be cautious of forming views about pedigree dogs as a result of watching this documentary.

We would like to use this opportunity to address some of the issues this documentary raised but, in our view, failed to answer fully.

The documentary stated the pedigree dogs are ‘falling apart’ at an alarming rate, is this true?
There are some dogs which suffer from some diseases - and the images that the documentary makers chose to use were sad and distressing – but the Kennel Club is working hard to help eliminate these conditions.

However, it has been found that 90 percent of pedigree dogs will not suffer from health problems that will have a detrimental effect on their quality of life, based on an analysis of the Breed Health Survey, carried out in 2004 by the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust. This is to date the largest dog health survey in the world, with 52,000 dogs included.

One of the results from the health survey was that just two percent of CKCS suffer from syringomyelia. This stands in contrast to the figure of one third of all CKCS that was stated in the documentary. As already expressed, we would be cautious of forming views about pedigree dogs as a result of watching this documentary.

How can the Kennel Club continue to claim that it works for the benefit of dogs after the BBC documentary ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’?
As a not-for-profit organisation the Kennel Club would like to reassure everyone about the continued efforts and real progress that has been made by both the Kennel Club and responsible breeders to further improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, which unfortunately was not represented within the programme.

So what is the KC doing to improve the health of pedigree dogs?
The Kennel Club is spending huge amounts of time, care and money to improve the health of pedigree dogs and there are three main areas that the Kennel Club is concentrating on to do this:

1. Science and Research
•   The programme drew upon a new study on dog genetics by Imperial College to underline its criticisms of dog breeding, without acknowledging the fact this study was entirely enabled by the Kennel Club as part of its commitment to health research. This research will now provide the Kennel Club with a valuable scientific platform to enlist the support of breeders in tackling key health problems where they occur.

•   Kennel Club Charitable Trust - In the last 10 years the Kennel Club Charitable Trust has given more than £1.7 million in health related grants to UK universities and research bodies, such as the Animal Health Trust. Much of this money has been used to help develop new health tests for inherited diseases, directly benefiting pedigree dogs.

•  Promoting health testing – Some examples of health testing schemes run by the Kennel Club, in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association, are hip and elbow scoring, and the eye testing schemes. The Kennel Club publishes the results of these tests and during 2007 breeders spent £1.5 million on testing under these schemes. Since the scheme began breeders have spent over £20 million on hip scoring alone.

•   Working with breed clubs to eliminate canine diseases and improve the health of pedigree dogs. The Kennel Club has worked to improve the health of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a breed focused on in the documentary, by providing grants to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club. The club has then distributed funds to the Royal Veterinary College, Cambridge University and Vet School and neurologist Claire Rusbridge to enable research into syringomyelia, a disease which the CKCS club identified as being of concern for the breed some five years ago, and in which no one is yet sure of its mode of inheritance. All of this information was omitted from the documentary.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club has itself taken numerous steps to help improve the health of the breed, from heart testing in the 1980s to running seminars and supporting and funding research into disease. For a full list and chronology of their work click here.

•   Supporting DNA tests - There are a range of DNA tests and health control schemes that now exist, thanks to advances in science and the work and support of the Kennel Club. One example of this is the elimination of canine leucocyte adhesion deficiency (CLAD) in Irish Setters that caused early death in puppies, which was eradicated through the concerted efforts of both the Kennel Club and Irish Setter breeders.

2. Responsible breeding and the Accredited Breeder Scheme
•   The Kennel Club works closely with breeders in order to safeguard the future health of pedigree dogs and it is thanks to the time, money and dedication from all involved that the health of pedigree dogs is continually improving.

•  The Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeder Scheme was developed to encourage the breeding of healthy, well adjusted puppies and over 2,500 breeders have signed up to the scheme – and the number continues to grow.

•  Accredited Breeders agree to use health screening schemes, relevant to their breed, on all breeding stock. These schemes include DNA testing, and testing for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and inherited eye conditions.

•  Additionally, Accredited Breeders will follow a number of other guidelines to ensure that their puppies are in the best possible health; for example ensuring that their breeding stock is health tested and that potential buyers see the puppies with their mother.

•  The Accredited Breeder Scheme gives buyers the peace of mind that the puppies have been bred with concern for welfare, rather than profit. The Kennel Club’s puppy finding website enables buyers to identify Accredited Breeders in their area that have a litter available. There are thousands of responsible breeders that register puppies with the Kennel Club and that follow recommended health checks and responsible breeding practices. The Kennel Club does not have legal or statutory powers to make breeders follow healthy and responsible breeding practices – but by having breeders register puppies with us, we have the opportunity to influence them and a better chance to educate and encourage them to follow the most responsible breeding practices for the welfare of all dogs.

•  Accredited Breeders agree to allow inspections of their property by a scheme representative to check that dogs are kept in suitable conditions, and also provide feedback forms for puppy buyers to advise the Kennel Club of their individual experience of the breeder and the quality of the service offered.

3. Breed standards and education
•  Fit For Function – Fit For Life - The Kennel Club runs a comprehensive education programme on health issues and its ‘Fit For Function Fit For Life’ campaign aims to end the process of exaggeration – whereby the features of some breeds, whether it be coat, weight, skin, eye formation of shortness of muzzle, have been exaggerated to the detriment of the dog’s health.

•  Educating judges - The Kennel Club runs a comprehensive training programme for judges to ensure that they award prizes only to healthy dogs.

•  Changing breed standards - Twenty years ago the Kennel Club changed many of its breed standards to remove wording that might lead to exaggeration. The breed standards are continually under review.

Does the Kennel Club support the culling of healthy puppies?
Absolutely not. The Kennel Club’s primary objective is to promote in every way the general improvement of dogs.

Legally, the Kennel Club is powerless to stop this practice, but has made it quite clear to the breed clubs that the culling of healthy puppies is completely unacceptable, and that any club promoting this practice will be deregistered by the Kennel Club.

Why doesn’t the Kennel Club refuse to register puppies from breeders who fail to follow the necessary health checks for their breed?
It is important to remember that it is only necessary to screen dogs that are being bred from, in order to ensure a healthy litter. Most dogs are kept as pets and the onus is therefore on the breeder not the owner.

However, what we do encourage all dog owners to do, is to find a breeder from the Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeder Scheme, so they can be assured that the breeders have carried out all of the necessary health checks.

The KC does not have any legislative powers but works with dog breeders to encourage and educate them about their responsibilities to screen their potential breeding stock with all available health screening programmes for heritable conditions that affect their breed, rather than to mandate such test should be undertaken.

By having breeders register their pups with the Kennel Club, rather than alienating them through enforcing draconian measures, we can easily reach them and inform them of their responsibilities. We are cautious of becoming overly prescriptive in what we expect so we do not drive people away from the KC registration system (money from which goes directly into benefitting the health and welfare of dogs).

It would be naïve to expect that mandating certain requirements would stop breeders from breeding, but it could significantly reduce the impact of the KC’s message, by drastically reducing the numbers of breeders with which we have contact, which would be of little benefit to breeds generally.

Furthermore, the Kennel Club has been advised by legal Counsel that since its registration system registers dogs, not breeders, in order to exclude a breeder from registering their litters the Kennel Club would need to follow strict disciplinary measures or else run the risk of legal challenge in refusing to register. This is why we introduced the Accredited Breeder Scheme, to have more control over breeders and provide a ‘kite mark’ for responsible breeders, who choose to follow the scheme’s requirements.

I am not an Accredited Breeder but I am a responsible breeder and carry out all of the recommended health checks. Why would I want to pay for a piece of paper telling me that I do this?
The Kennel Club recognises that there are many responsible breeders who are not part of the Accredited Breeder Scheme.

However, while some of these breeders may not need the help of the Kennel Club the Kennel Club to sell their puppies the Kennel Club does need these responsible breeders if it is to ensure the breeding of healthy dogs.

It only costs £15 to join the Accredited Breeder Scheme and this money goes back into helping dogs. The Kennel Club is a not for profit organisation.

By having people on board the scheme puppy buyers can identify one breeder from another. By the time we have most good breeders on the scheme people will be able to know who to buy from and who to avoid and so we can leave the puppy farmer, who is only in it for profit, out in the cold.

The Kennel Club eliminated CLAD in Irish Setters and Irish Red and White Setters through mandatory health testing. Why doesn’t it do the same for other breeds?
Again, we do not want to push people away from the Kennel Club by being overly-prescriptive and so outside of any control and influence that we can exert.

If we enforce testing we might be able to ensure that all dogs on our register are clean and healthy but it would also mean that there are many dogs bred outside of our control that aren’t necessarily  and that we will be able to do nothing about. This will not improve the lot of all dogs – which is our ultimate aim.

Instead we work through education and persuasion.

Why does the Kennel Club take such a softly-softly approach?
The Kennel Club has no legal standing and cannot force breeders to follow our recommendations and, we do not want to drive people away.  If we were too prescriptive it would be likely to result in a number of competing registers being established, as has already happened in the Untied States. These are set up purely for commercial purposes and not for the general welfare of dogs. By contrast, the Kennel Club is a not for profit organisation and all our money goes back into research, education and lobbying for the welfare of dogs.

Should unhealthy dogs be allowed to win at dog shows?
Breed standards are a blueprint for a healthy dog and that is what dog shows are designed to reward.

The Kennel Club absolutely refutes that it would put ‘looks’ above the health of pedigree dogs, in fact we actively discourage the exaggeration of features in any breed.

The standards have been, and will continue to be amended, when necessary to ensure the breeding of healthy, well-conformed dogs.

Dog show judges are also educated to judge to those standards ensuring that dogs with obvious problems that could affect their quality of life do not win, and that the rewards go to fit, healthy dogs. All of this of course is dependent on the responsibility of breeders and owners.

It would be short sighted, and counterproductive, to penalise individual dogs and their owners, where a condition which does not affect the dog’s quality of life was used to stop it participating in a dog show. While responsible breeders are working hard to eradicate known problems through careful breeding, this cannot be done overnight. Our aim must always be to assist breeders through our health schemes and initiatives such as the Accredited Breeder Scheme to screen and breed for the eradication of known health problems.

Is the Kennel Club only concerned with pedigree dog shows?
The Kennel Club is involved in all aspects of dog ownership.

There are many other shows in addition to breed shows that the Kennel Club licences, including Companion Dog Shows, agility competitions, heelwork to music, flyball competitions and Scruffts, which is a competition for crossbreeds only.

In addition, the Kennel Club works on numerous campaigns and initiatives to improve the every day life of dog and dog owners, including its Open for Dogs campaign, and our ongoing campaign against the use of electric shock collars.

Do KC breed standards make for healthy dogs?
The breed standards are actually the blueprint for a healthy dog. All breed standards were reviewed 20 years ago and remain under review to ensure that dogs that are bred to resemble the characteristics in their ‘blue print’, will be healthy. It is when characteristics become exaggerated that health problems can occur. However this is something that the KC does not encourage and actively educates people against doing as part of its ‘Fit For Function, Fit For Life’ campaign.

What is the Kennel Club doing to adjust breed standards so that exaggerated features are discouraged?
The Kennel Club made the first major changes to the breed standards some twenty years ago to address health concerns.  It continually revisits them to ensure that that the wording does not encourage exaggeration. The breed standards are on our website.

The Breed Health and Welfare Strategy group was set up to work closely with breed clubs to ensure that they are breeding healthy dogs. One example of an achievement of this group is when the Bulldog breed council introduced health screening for their breed, which is carried out by around 50 vets up and down the country.

If any breed club requests a change to their breed standard this goes to a committee, which includes a vet and the vet has the final word on any changes to ensure that it cannot result in health problems.  In addition all breed standards now include a clause which states that “Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog”.

Are there certain pedigree dog breeds that are unhealthy?
We don’t say that the human race is ‘unhealthy’ because some people get certain diseases or illnesses – and it is the same with animals. There are no ‘unhealthy’ breeds but there are some breeds in which certain conditions tend to surface more often. The KC’s breed health survey, the biggest health survey of pedigree dogs in the world (60,000 dogs), uncovered a number of problems and as a result, the KC has put schemes (see below) in place to assist breeders in breeding healthy animals.

Why doesn’t the Kennel Club ban inbreeding?
There is a difference between ‘in’ breeding and ‘line’ breeding.   Inbreeding was practiced in Victorian times to produce a particular breed, however, it is now uncommon.

Line breeding is very different and is where animals are bred for particular (healthy) characteristics. If a dog is line bred it may appear more than once in a pedigree and so names within generations will be repeated. That does not mean that the dogs are likely to be unhealthy.  That is far from the case.

Responsible breeders have an intimate knowledge of the dogs that appear in pedigrees – they use that knowledge and their experience to breed for positive traits of health, character and the breed standard.

The research by Imperial College, which was supported by the Kennel Club, showed that inbreeding coefficients were not high as a result of incestuous matings – this is actually very rare.

Does inbreeding cause inherited disease?
The gene mutations that result in inherited disease occur at random and are fairly rare events. We know from experimental data that certain kinds of chemicals can cause DNA damage resulting in the mutation of the gene involved. Some of the inherited diseases that we recognise today will have resulted from such insults, but probably most result from errors in copying DNA that have gone undetected. So, inbreeding per se does not cause genetic mutations, as far as we know. However, we have already seen that many of the inherited diseases in the dog result from recessive mutations; an affected dog will have two copies of the recessive mutation. However, the carrier dog, that carrying one normal gene copy and one mutant gene copy, will be clinically normal. Inbreeding to such carrier dogs will result in a rapid build up in the frequency of the mutant gene such that eventually affected dogs will be produced. Inbreeding therefore does not cause a mutation that results in an inherited disease, but once such a mutation has occurred, inbreeding will increase the frequency of the mutant version of the gene in the breed far quicker than other more random breeding programmes.

Dogs - (Correct at time of publication) for more information contact the Kennel Club tel: 0870 606 6750

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