Pedigree is NOT perfection

My parents recently sought my advice on choosing a dog breed. By the time I had listed the breeds they shouldn’t get, there were very few options left.

In the end, they settled on a delightful liquorice all-sort mixed breed they have named Mollie, who I have only met over FaceTime so far as my parents live in Spain (gracias a Corona). She looks a bit scruffy like a border terrier, but with aeroplane ears and the markings of a Rottweiler – she is what many would term a mutt.

Pedigree is a word that has fairly positive connotations; to have a pedigree is to have a history, to have ‘impeccable breeding’. It is a sort of stamp of quality and approval. But the longer I have been a vet, the clearer it has become that a pedigree dog is, by default, usually a less healthy one.

I am by no means saying that a dog of no fixed breed is never going to become unwell. Nor am I saying that a every pedigree dog is going to live a life of poor health. But sadly many do. I know this because I treat them every day.

One way to get a rough indication of how prone to ill health certain dog breeds are, is to compare quotes for pet insurance.

I obtained quotes online on 23/08/20 from Petplan for an 8 week old female puppy named Poppy for a classic lifetime policy .

BreedMonthly Premium
Crossbreed: Jack Russell x Border Terrier£27.30
French Bulldog£136.23
Labrador Retriever£49.07
Greyhound£57.68
Shar-Pei£148.67
Dachshund£37.93
Dobermann£136.23
Cockapoo£34.04
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel£44.42
Quotes obtained from Petplan.co.uk on 23.08.2020 for a classic lifetime policy covering £4000 fees per year, excess of £110 per condition

It should be highlighted that pet insurance premiums are calculated using complex algorithms and will be affected by a variety of factors: for example a large breed of dog with an equal likelihood of falling ill as a small breed of dog will need larger doses of any medications, which will automatically mean a more expensive vet bill. Large breeds have a much shorter life expectancy than small breeds – a Great Dane will be slowing down by 5 years of age, whereas a Jack Russell might live into its late teens. Also, just because a breed is comparatively cheap to insure as a puppy, that doesn’t mean they are a healthy breed. It may be that the health issues they might be prone to develop in later life, meaning the premiums will probably creep up more steeply at an older age.

What it makes abundantly clear however is that not all dogs are equal in terms of health. Dog breeds are a product of selective breeding – humans have moulded each breed into what we want them to be primarily on the basis of appearance, as well as temperament. A dog of a specific breed has a characteristic size, body and head shape, range of coat colours and textures, which the various national Kennel Clubs will refer to as the ‘Breed Standard’, or a similar term.

Unfortunately, a by-product of selective breeding for the above characteristics is that in the cases of many breeds, we have bred for extremes of conformation which cause real suffering for the pet. And also because individuals within a breed are genetically very similar to each other, we have inadvertently arrived at a situation whereby as well as looking a particular way, each breed is predisposed to its own list of diseases, some of which are extremely prevalent.

Should our pets experience suffering as a result of our requirement for them to look a particular way? I think most people would agree on the answer being no. It’s tragic. However, the fact remains that some of the most unhealthy breeds of dog are the most popular in the UK right now – the French Bulldog has been in the top 5 for some time now .

So where is it going wrong, and is anyone to blame? The pet owners themselves who choose buy these dogs? Vets? The Kennel Club? There is no simple answer, but bringing these issues into the consciousness of everyone who cares about dogs and encouraging conversations can only be a helpful thing.

This is a subject close to my heart and one I will be returning regularly to in future posts.

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