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The Kennel Club investigate levels of inbreeding in pioneering research

14 April 2016    10:00
 

The Kennel Club has analysed extensive data from its pedigree records to launch ground-breaking research that will help breeders to improve genetic health and protect the future of our favourite dog breeds.

The 35-year review, which is the most comprehensive research project of its kind, analyses Kennel Club data from 1980 to 2014 for all 215 recognised pedigree dog breeds and, where numbers allow, calculates the rate of loss of genetic diversity within each. This is quoted as the Estimated Effective Population Size - an important descriptor of the sustainability of a population.

The research shows that, since 2000, the rate of inbreeding has declined or slowed down in the majority of breeds to sustainable levels, meaning that the future is brighter for many breeds - including some of the UK's vulnerable native breeds whose lack of popularity and low numbers are a concern.

Pedigree dogs have many advantages because we know their ancestry and can predict the way that they will turn out, but it also means that they tend to have a more closed gene pool. Therefore, the rate of inbreeding has to be managed at sustainable levels to ensure genetic diversity is preserved, as the lower the genetic diversity the greater the risk that certain health conditions will begin to surface.

All animals in a population will have ancestors in common, meaning a degree of inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity is inevitable. This can be made worse by selection for positive and predictable traits (including temperament and health), meaning that the rate of loss of genetic diversity must be balanced at sustainable levels to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding, while still allowing for selection to avoid known inherited diseases.

The slowing down of the rate of inbreeding coincides with advances in science that have enabled the Kennel Club to develop its online Mate Select tool, where breeders can look at the genetic risk associated with a potential mating, and also the relaxation of Pet Passport rules enabling foreign, and potentially more distantly related dogs, to be brought into the country more easily.

The Kennel Club will use the research to help breeders develop strategies that will help them continue to prevent the decline of genetic diversity on a breed-by-breed basis.  Breeders can now review the unique situation for their own breed and, using this information and tools such as Mate Select, they can decide how best to preserve genetic diversity, not only for the health of their next litter of puppies, but also for the health of the breed population as a whole.

A peer-reviewed paper outlining general trends and points of interest is available from the online journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology (www.cgejournal.org) and reports for the 215 breeds are featured on the Kennel Club website as well as a Q&A document and infographics.

 

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