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is taken under general anaesthetic, and nine specific features are assessed by a panel of experts, who then allocate a score for each hip. The higher the score, the worse the hip – a maximum score of 53 is possible
for each hip. A total score of up to 10 is suggested to indicate either normal hips, or borderline changes that are unlikely to worsen with age: the recommendation
is that “ideally” only dogs with scores up to 10 be used for breeding. Similar schemes exist in other European countries, and in the USA. Prospective purchasers should therefore ask to see the hip scores of the parents, and not buy puppies from parents where scores are high, or unavailable.
However, even though there is an indication of a positive effect in countries where the schemes have been effectively followed, these schemes have not worked as well as hoped for various reasons, including that they are voluntary, and so many breeders do not have the parents screened, and some of those that do will simply not submit the radiographs for scoring if the hips look bad. Equally importantly, radiographic changes do not infallibly predict the incidence and severity of subsequent disease, which is highly influenced by environmental factors such as feeding and exercise. Thus trying to select for healthy dogs based on phenotypic indicators has had only limited success, and most experts now agree that genetic testing is more likely to reliably identify at-risk dogs.
A rapidly increasing number of tests are being marketed for screening for genetic diseases. However many of them are poorly validated, especially for use in controlling disease at the population level. Even so, all breeders would still have to fully engage with the process, but compliance by the majority of breeders, who are not members of breed clubs, may not be likely. If consumers are driving the market for dogs and cats, it may fall to them to demand documentation that the animals they buy are free of certain genetic diseases.
Economic incentives may also play an important role both in reducing supply and demand of purebred dogs and cats that are likely to be affected by inherited illnesses. First it should, in theory, be possible for owners of dogs and cats to get a significant refund from the breeder of an animal that subsequently suffers from a specific inherited illness. Although this currently happens in countries such as Denmark, it is unusual elsewhere, yet this would give breeders and suppliers an incentive to breed healthier cats and dogs. Secondly, if inherited health problems lead to increased expense for veterinary treatments this may serve to limit demand. Some insurance companies now exclude certain inherited diseases in certain breeds from being covered, for example treatment of BOAS in brachycephalic breeds; and this may increase the demand for dogs of these breeds which are documented to be less affected by BOAS.
An Urban Experience
In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix available to solve all the problems arising from purebred pedigree breeding. However, a combination of greater awareness among potential dog and cat owners, better methods for predicting breeding related problems,
and greater pressure, including economic pressure, on breeders may serve to move things in the right direction.
References
1. Companion Animal Ethics. Chichester: Universities Federation for Animal Welfare/Wiley-Blackwell
2. A healthier future for pedigree dogs: update report. Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. London, The Stationary Office.
3. Independent inquiry into dog breeding. Cambridge UK, Patrick Bateson. 4. Prev Vet Med. 43(3): 145-158.
5. Anim Welfare. 21(1s): 81-93.
6. P L o S One 12 (2): e0172091.
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