Notes of Meeting 24 June 2014

Present: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP, Dan O’Neill, Sheila Crispin, Carol Fowler
Guests: Dr Rowena Packer (RVC), Chris Laurence (Dog Advisory Council)
Apologies: Lisa Richards, James Yeates, Clare Rusbridge, Harvey Locke, Marisa Heath

1. Matters arising from previous meeting

Item 8: Peter Jinman offered to help to find solutions for companion animal welfare. In an email from Peter, he said he was trying to see if CAWC in some form can be reformed and has made a presentation to AHWBE. People he has consulted agreed that there should be ‘an independent body to advise on best scientific evidence and practical application as to matters that relate to the welfare of companion animals and their position and role in society.’

Key Question: Is there a need for independent advice? If there is, how can we best fulfil that need?

Item 10: Defra Code of Practice. A letter has been received from Defra which states that our suggestion for an addition to the COP for the Welfare of Dogs will be considered when the Code is reviewed. Geoffrey has offered to help with this and the Government’s delay in responding to the DAC’s Recommendations for Regulation and Legislation. He will decide the best way to do this.

Item 13: Mars/Petcare funding for DAC. Regrettably Christopher Dugmore of Mars/Petcare has, after a long delay,responded negatively to the request for funding.

2. Canine and Feline Sector Group Minutes of 8 March Meeting

We were pleased to see that this Group is now up and running and look forward to seeing some action regarding the general welfare of dogs. We noted that the composition of the Group was weighted in favour of rescue organisations and that the Chairmanship and secretariat currently reside with the Kennel Club. We hope that the future programme of the CFSG will include efforts to address the welfare issues associated with breeding, including husbandry, genetic welfare issues, conformation welfare issues and puppy socialisation. We would expect CFSG to support and promote the use of an agreed Puppy Contract and Breeding Standard.

3. APGAW Dog Welfare Sub-Group

Rob Flello, MP, has taken over from Angela Smith, MP as Chairman of the group. There is good cross party representation on the group and shared concerns about irresponsible dog ownership and ‘dangerous dogs’. Breeding issues, puppy socialisation and owner identification will also be addressed. The latter are the areas the DBRG very much hope the new group will tackle and prioritise. Four key areas have been worked out: legislation/policy; education; enforcement; resources. The plan is to devise a short term and long term strategy which will need to be agreed between the political members and core stakeholders. The strategy will then be sent to wider stakeholders for their comment and input. Those views will be taken into account in a Report which sets out the strategy in full in time for the next election and beyond.

DBRG recommends that Professor Sheila Crispin, Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding (DAC) be invited to become a member of the APGAW Dog Sub-Group. Her independent status and expertise in the area of dog breeding , health and welfare we feel would be of enormous value to this group.

4. Dog Show Vet Checks (CL)

Best of Breed Winners of Category Three Breeds at General and Group Championship Shows must pass a Veterinary Health Check with the Show Society Vet before they can enter the group competition (Basset Hound, Dogue de Bordeaux, German Shepherd, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, Pug, Shar-Pei, St Bernard, Clumber Spaniel, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow). Category 3 breeds must undergo a Vet check before their Champion title is confirmed. Vet checks were introduced by the KC in 2011 to ensure that dogs are free from signs of discomfort or suffering associated with exaggerated conformation. There is a recent example of a dog (St Bernard) which failed a vet check and then passed a check two weeks later under a different vet. That this can happen illustrates the ineffectiveness of the scheme. KC rules stipulate that no diagnostic aids may be used. The examination is a visual one to determine if on the day the dog’s health and welfare is compromised. It is not for the vet to judge the conformation and breed specific characteristics. For example, a dog may be heavily wrinkled but if there is no sign of inflammation on the day, the degree of wrinkling and susceptibility to inflammation and infection is irrelevant. For this reason we feel that the vet checks amount to no more than window dressing in an attempt to convince welfare organisations that the KC is addressing the problem of exaggerated conformation. What judges see as ‘normal’ for a breed is not necessarily normal for a dog.

5. Local Authorities and Dog Welfare

This item was postponed as Fiona Cooke was required to be elsewhere at the last minute. Fiona hopes to be available for our next meeting on 2 October. Some of us were able to read the Dog Rescue Federation’s(DRF) ‘National Survey of Local Authority Dog Wardens’ in advance of the meeting. We acknowledged it as an excellent document giving an overview of local authority provision for dog welfare. It is indeed a very patchy picture as we thought. The Survey makes some excellent recommendations, including a review of existing dog breeding legislation throughout the UK.

6. Brachycephalic Conference follow-up. What needs to happen now? (RP)

A large study on the Welfare Effects of Brachycephaly (short nose, short head) has been carried out by Dr Rowena Packer and colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). The study was followed up by a one day conference on 11 November 2013, ‘Building Better Brachycephalics’ to disseminate the research findings. In addition, the researchers sought the opinion of key stakeholders on the impact of breeding on the health and welfare of short-muzzled dogs.

In spite of the findings of the research and efforts by scientists as the RVC to work in collaboration with the Kennel Club and relevant breed clubs, the Kennel Club has so far not responded to correspondence

We urge the breed clubs and Kennel Club to respond positively to this valuable research and make the necessary changes to the breed standards, as well as actively encouraging breeders not to breed for an extreme brachycephalic type. This could be facilitated initially by a Kennel Club conference for the breed clubs involved.

7. VetCompass study, Purebred dog health results (DON)

The RVC VetCompass project continues to carry out a program of research using data from primary-care vet practices to examine the health of dogs in the UK. On the issue of comparative health between purebred and crossbred dogs, VetCompass has identified a significant longevity advantage of 1.2 years for crossbreds compared with purebreds (O’Neill and others 2013). However, evidence from a recently published VetCompass paper on disorder prevalence suggests a more limited health advantage for crossbreds in relation to the most common disorders of dogs (O’Neill and others 2014). The article reported that the most prevalent disorders reported in dogs attending primary-care veterinary practices in England were otitis externa, periodontal disease and anal sac impaction. Purebred dogs had a higher prevalence compared with crossbreds for only three of the twenty most prevalent disorders.

VetCompass studies are increasingly identifying breed status as more strongly associated with health than crossbred status. From a longevity perspective, breeds varied from 5.5 years in the Dogue de Bordeaux to 14.2 years in the Miniature Poodle (O’Neill and others 2013). And despite the relatively small numbers of individuals dogs analysed, breed variation was identified for five of the top 20 disorders reported in dogs (O’Neill and others 2014).

These studies emphasise that inheritance patterns of common disorders in dogs are more heavily influenced by polygenic complex traits than by monogenic simple traits and that reform should focus on improving breed health for such polygenic disorders for maximal impact.

Current VetCompass work aims to explore duration and severity of disorders as additional metrics to prevalence in order to prioritise disorders on welfare impact.

8. Dog-Ed Paper, ‘Dog health and welfare in the UK, 2014: three compelling reasons to review and regroup now.’ Philippa Robinson

Time restrictions did not allow for a proper discussion of this paper, although we agreed with its findings that the ‘demand’ part of dog health and welfare were as important as the ‘supply’ part. Somehow the message has to be communicated to prospective dog owners of the importance of choosing a dog which is healthy, of good temperament, and suitable for the owner’s lifestyle. A nationwide TV campaign and introducing such awareness into the school curriculum has been suggested. However, cost and practicalities always seem to be the stumbling blocks. This is an area in which the Government should become more actively involved. Currently, provision from dog welfare organisations such as RSPCA and Dogs Trust and local authority dog wardens, is insufficient and patchy.

Regarding reviewing and regrouping using a ‘systems thinking’ approach, we would welcome some more practical suggestions as to how this is to be achieved.

9. Effective Population Sizes (EPS) (Ref Jemima Harrison’s blog, ‘Breeds in danger of extinction.’

Concern was expressed that many of our dog breeds have effective population sizes below 50. EPS is the measure of how many individuals are contributing genetically to the population and is a measure of the size of the gene pool in any UK breed. Work being carried out at the Kennel Club’s Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust have found that 40% of the breeds analysed so far have effective population sizes below 50, which is the minimum size recommended in order to manage the effects of inbreeding and maintain a viable population.

The figures for individual breeds have yet to be released by the Kennel Club in spite of (or perhaps because of) the alarming nature of the Genetics Centre scientists’ findings. For the breeds concerned, we feel that measures should be taken immediately to raise the EPS. Measures such as, reducing the relatedness of individual dams and sires, limiting the number of offspring contributed by individual sires, making use of overseas bloodlines, outcrossing to a related breed.

10. Institute of Canine Biology (ICB) online group

The ICB exists to promote the importance of genetic diversity within dog breeds. It has recently set up an online group, run by Dr Carol Beuchat, to teach breeders, breed clubs and others, the basics of population genetics and breeding dogs for health.

We felt that the ICB was making a valuable contribution to the ethical breeding debate. We welcomed the application of 21st century population genetics to breeding practices and see it as a way forward for kennel clubs and breed clubs worldwide.

11. Press release / Publication of DBR Notes on Cavalier Campaign website

The Press Release will be sent out after the APGAW meeting on AHWBE and CFSG unless anyone objects.

12. Updates

Breeding Standard: Much of the principle has been agreed between the Assured Breeders Scheme Standard and the DAC Breeding Standard. A key meeting is being scheduled for the working group to finalise matters. However, finding a single set of words will be challenging.

Puppy Contract: Florence Bowman, BVA AWF (British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation) and Lisa Richards, RSPCA are meeting with Bill Lambert, KC, and legal teams in early July, to discuss the KC’s comments. BL requested the meeting. LR will have more to update following this meeting.

BVA /KC Heart Scheme: the Cardiovascular Society met at the BSAVA Congress to review the research document and have come up with a number of recommendations. These remain confidential at the moment. The ball is now in the court of the KC. CF will write to the KC asking them what their plans are for progressing the scheme with the BVA.

BVA/KC CMSM Scheme: In the Cavalier Club’s recent Health Report, it states, ‘The Club has raised its concerns with the KC regarding the KC/BVA CMSM Scheme in its present format and are awaiting an update. CF will write to the KC for their comments on this.

Welsh Assembly Regulations on Dog Breeding: were laid before the Assembly on June 24 2014

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel DNA Study: Dogs Trust has awarded a grant of £138,500 to Dr Clare Rusbridge and Penny Knowler for the study, ‘Identification of gene(s) predisposing to SM associated withCM-like malformation in CKCS.’

Puppy Farm Debate: date still not set for the parliamentary debate on puppy farming

13. APGAW Meeting 1 July: Animal Health and Welfare Board (AHWBE) and Canine and Feline Sector Group

We will prepare some questions for this meeting.

14. Future dates

Tuesday I July APGAW meeting : Animal health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE): How can APGAW and other welfare organisation work with AHWBE? The role of the Canine and Feline Sector Group

Tuesday 2 December 2014 APGAW meeting Dog Update

February 2015 (no firm date set) Second EU Conference on Dog and Cat Welfare, Rome.

February 14-15 Second Dog Health Workshop, Dortmund, organised by the German Kennel Club

15. AOB

A Health Strategy for the Kennel Club. This is currently an internal Kennel Club document prepared by Nick Blayney and Aimee Llewellyn. We look forward to its publication.

16. Date of next meeting

Thursday 2 October 2014, Portcullis House, 12.00 – 14.00

Notes written by Carol Fowler


O’Neill, D. G., Church, D. B., McGreevy, P. D., Thomson, P. C. & Brodbelt, D. C. (2013) Longevity and mortality of owned dogs in England. The Veterinary Journal 198, 638-643

O’Neill, D. G., Church, D. B., McGreevy, P. D., Thomson, P. C. & Brodbelt, D. C. (2014) Prevalence of disorders recorded in dogs attending primary-care veterinary practices in England. PLoS One 9, 1-16