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The Kennel Club’s Breed Health and Conservation Plans project

Modern day responsible dog breeders are increasingly expected to juggle many complicated issues when deciding which dogs to use for breeding. As well as considering temperament, breed type, conformation etc., breeders now have to balance the results of DNA tests and resources for assessing the risk of complex health conditions while also keeping in the mind the importance of maintaining genetic diversity within their breed (with the assistance of inbreeding coefficient calculations). Faced with such a daunting task, breeders often feel overwhelmed by which tests, screening schemes and health resources they should be using on their breeding stock.

With this in mind, the Kennel Club launched a dynamic new resource for Breed Clubs and individual breeders – the Breed Health and Conservation Plans project – in September 2016. The purpose of the Breed Health and Conservation Plans is to ensure that all health concerns are identified through evidence-based criteria, and that breeders are provided with useful information and resources to support them in making balanced breeding decisions that make health a priority.

The Breed Health and Conservation Plans will take a holistic view of breed health with consideration to the following issues: known inherited conditions, complex conditions (i.e. those involving many genes and environmental effects such as nutrition or exercise levels, for example hip dysplasia), conformational concerns and population genetics.  Among the resources dedicated to the project there will be a team with experience in clinical veterinary science, quantitative genetics, epidemiology, dog breeding, and bio-veterinary science, to enable the development of the plans.

The Breed Health and Conservation Plans project is being led by Dr Katy Evans, a qualified veterinary surgeon with clinical experience, an MSc in Veterinary Epidemiology and a PhD in Quantitative Genetics, who previously worked on Guide Dogs’ breeding programme for six years prior to joining the Kennel Club. She is being ably assisted by Bonnie Wiles who has a BSc in Bio-veterinary Science and who, prior to starting work on this project, led the 2014 Purebred Dog Health Survey. Bonnie also has years of experience in showing and breeding dogs, and is an Assured Breeder of Labrador Retrievers and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. The wealth of skills and experience in the rest of the Health Team and the wider Kennel Club will also be drawn upon.

The project, part of the Kennel Club’s wider work to improve dog health, will involve collaboration across a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Breed Health Coordinators will continue to be central collaborators in the identification and prioritisation of health concerns, but we will also draw on the knowledge and experience of breeders within the Breed Club communities and the veterinary and research community. Data from research projects including VetCompass at the Royal Veterinary College, studies into Brachychephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome at the University of Cambridge, and locomotion studies at the University of Surrey are examples of collaborative research being undertaken. Results of these and other studies will feed into the relevant breeds’ plans. Where the need for further research into particular conditions is identified we will look to support and facilitate this coming to fruition.

Sources of evidence and data being collated include the scientific literature, the Kennel Club’s 2004 and 2014 Purebred Dog Health Surveys and breed-specific health surveys conducted by the Breed Clubs themselves. Other potential sources of data are also being investigated. These will be brought together to give clear indications of the most significant health conditions in each breed, in terms of prevalence and impact. 

At the end of the first stage of a breed’s Breed Health and Conservation Plan a document will have been produced, collaboratively with the Breed Clubs, setting out all of the evidence and clear advice as to how to move forward.  This information will be made easily and publicly accessible.

The overarching aim is to facilitate a clear and defined prioritisation of health concerns, and the project will be fundamental in helping breeders to identify and prioritise health concerns, based on scientific and veterinary literature and health research.

Prioritisation will take into consideration a spectrum of evidence-based measures, recognising the impact of individual health concerns on welfare, and maximum benefit for positive change to a breed. The bespoke nature of the breed-specific health plans will include monitoring and review, so that we can ensure ongoing health needs are accommodated and reflect progress and achievements.

Key breeds have been identified as the first to collaborate on a Breed Health and Conservation Plan.   The first group of breeds (listed alphabetically) are the Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue de Bordeaux, English Setter, French Bulldog, German Shepherd Dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Otterhound, Pekingese, Pug, Shar Pei and the St Bernard. Work is well underway on the Plans for the 17 breeds in the first group and it is hoped that these breeds’ initial Plans will be complete by the end of 2017.

In time, all breeds will have a plan developed in collaboration with the Kennel Club. Breed Clubs of breeds not in the first group are encouraged to begin to prepare for their entry into the Breed Health and Conservation Plans project by gathering together any breed-specific health data, for example from health surveys or research projects they may have funded, ready for inclusion in their Plans.

Breeders have to balance DNA test results and resources for assessing the risk of complex health conditions while also thinking about the importance of maintaining genetic diversity. The Breed Health and Conservation Plans project was launched to help breeders make balanced breeding decisions. Learn more.