The RSPCA is calling on breeders to act now to protect the health and welfare of some of the UKs most popular breeds of dogs.
From dogs who are at high risk of problems with their spine or hips, to those who can’t breathe freely because of their flat faces, animal welfare advocates struggle to watch as dog after dog in the show ring at Crufts is celebrated for having physical features that are associated with serious health issues.
Animal welfare charity, the RSPCA is calling for approaches such as evidence-based outcrossing to counteract the dangerous effects that have been caused by selective breeding.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Hens, said: “Like all animal lovers we love to see the bond between dogs and their owners on display at Crufts and always enjoy watching healthy, happy dogs flying around an agility course; but we find it difficult to watch as judges choose their winners with titles often going to dogs with visibly exaggerated features that are associated with serous health issues.
“Is enough being done to save and protect the welfare of our dogs? We’re really concerned that the answer is a resounding no. We believe this will continue to be the case because rather than addressing the cause we are trying to fix the symptoms. Fundamentally it is breeding practices that need to be changed.”
The RSPCA and other welfare and veterinary organisation have long called for more action – more quickly – to correct many of the health problems that have been caused be selective breeding.
It is 11 years since the BBC investigation into selective breeding in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which brought the issues to the public attention, but the RSPCA feels that too many welfare problems persist.
Approaches such as evidence-based outcrossing need to be seriously and urgently considered. It is a very complicated issue, but only breeding dogs of the same breed together and breeding often very closely related dogs in order to achieve a certain look has caused high levels of inbreeding. In some breeds this equates to the genetic equivalent of a dog produced from a grandfather to granddaughter mating.
Lisa continued: “Sadly, some of our breeds have become so inbred that there’s very little room to breed away from their physical and genetic issues without introducing new genetic material, such as outcrossing. So even when responsible breeders are identifying the healthiest dogs to breed from, there may be so few that by eliminating less healthy dogs form breeding stock, genetic diversity keeps decreasing. And that can increase the risk of inherited diseases like cancer and blindness.
“We know that many breeders absolutely dote on their dogs and the responsible breeders who are trying to improve practices should be supported. While there are individual breeders and clubs who are outcrossing the different breeds in order to create dogs who are less exaggerated and less inbred, we need systematic change to breeding practices and standards so that all breeders are prioritising the health welfare and temperament of their dog above their appearance above tradition, above breed standards, above ‘the norm’.”
Lisa added: “There is no doubt this is a complicated issue and we’re not saying that outcrossing is simple, risk-free or instantaneous, but it could be the only answer to improving the health of pedigree dogs. To save and protect the dogs we love, surely a different approach is required if we’re serious about breeding dogs who can have a better chance of a happy, healthy life doing the things they love and if we are serious about breeding dogs to be dogs, not just for us.”