Need It Like A Hole In The Head

The UKKC lists the following defects as being a problem in the Chihuahua:

  • Incorrect dentition
  • Wry jaw
  • Retained puppy teeth
  • Misplaced teeth
  • Protruding tongue as a result of incorrect teeth
  • Missing teeth
  • Incorrect bites
  • Excessively short muzzles.

You could select any one of those and feel that the poor dog would need it like a hole in the head, but that is exactly what has been added to the litany of defects for the poor Chihuahuas: holes in the head.

Our colleagues at Pedigree Dogs Exposed have alerted us to a new paper which highlights the prevalence of persistent fontanelles – holes along the suture lines of the skull that expose the encased brain. Fontanelles are normal soft spots that enable growth and birth, but that should close between 9 and 12 weeks of age.

The failure of this process is common in small dogs, especially where breeders have deliberately created domed heads and smaller and smaller dogs. Some breeders have even made a fetish of an open fontanelle in the middle of the head (designated as a molera) and supposedly designating the “purity” of the breed.

This latest finding and earlier research by the same authors shows that as many as 90% of Chihuahuas suffer from holes in the skull: the smaller the dog, the larger the hole and the larger the amount of brain area exposed. There is also an association with syringomyelia and ventriculomegaly.

The simple solution is to breed bigger dogs without domed heads and short narrow muzzles. The difficulty is in persuading the breeders and show judges – the very people who purport to uphold the best in the breed – to agree and comply.

Lucy’s Loophole

Lucy's Law posterThe so-called Lucy’s Law which banned the third party sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops from April 6th, 2020 was greeted with some scepticism by canine professionals as being unlikely to have much impact on puppy farming.

The dubious sale of puppies and kittens had already largely been via websites and social media and now it seems that the puppy farmers have found a loophole enabling them to shift their animals via pet shops anyway.

A 2019 amendment to the 2018 Regulations permitted breeders to sell puppies under a pet sales licence instead of a breeders licence if a dog was bred “overseas” and thus not under the jurisdiction of English welfare legislation. DEFRA stated that this was to ensure compliance with European Union Directives and World Trade Organisation rules.

Private Eye magazine has highlighted the continuing problem of puppy farming in the six counties of Ireland and in Eire where thousands of puppy farmed dogs are being shipped to England for sale in premises owned by the very same puppy farmers who have managed to obtain 5 star ratings as licensed breeders in their English premises.

Business as usual – unless of course the source of the problem is dealt with, namely the people who buy these dogs in the first place.

Don’t Ignore The Snore

Distressed pug In a world where some people try to designate truth as “fake news”, perhaps it shouldn’t be so shocking that some people are also unable to distinguish severe distress in dogs for “cuteness”. Then again, it’s imperative that it is shocking otherwise we can neither uphold evidence-based factual reporting or make the world better for dogs.

Just as an anorexic needs to adjust there distorted perception to realise that their image in a mirror is not, in fact, obese, owners of brachycephalic dogs need to realise that dogs that can barely survive a night of (greatly disturbed) sleep are not struggling purely for the perverse entertainment of humans.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has again highlighted the plight of these poor dogs with their Don’t Ignore The Snore campaign and a terrific video.

This video is distressing (I hope). It’s meant to be. It is of course the struggling dogs that I find distressing, but perhaps if people see humans in a similar condition it may, just may, trigger them to get their dogs treated and best of all, to stop buying them in the first place.

Can You Help The Royal Veterinary College?

Dog for sale Sales of dogs have gone through the roof during lockdown with many owners buying on impulse with little or no research. The demand for “off the shelf” dogs means that most are inevitably bred illegally and with little or no regard to welfare.

The Royal Veterinary College are undertaking a study into “pandemic puppies”.

If you purchased a puppy in 2019 or 2020, please help the RVC researchers by completing their survey and help them to improve canine welfare.

Walking The Dog

Samoyed being walked As many canine professionals anticipate a spate of abandoned “lockdown” animals with schools, colleges and workplaces re-opening, news from Europe heralds new legislation in an attempt to improve welfare.

Germany is introducing a bill that, if passed would be implemented on a state-wide basis including the following provisions:

  • Dogs must be walked twice a day for a minimum of one hour in total
  • Dogs must not be chained for long periods of time
  • Dogs must not be left alone for an entire day
  • Breeders will be restricted to a maximum of three litters at any given time
  • Puppies will have to spend a minimum of four hours a day in human company
  • Ear and tail docking will be prohibited for show dogs
  • Show dogs must display “species appropriate” behaviour.

All very admirable, but the agriculture ministry has already stated that it is very unlikely that individual dog owners will be policed and that an emphasis will be placed on welfare in kennels. Even if Germany puts considerably more resources into this legislation once passed than we have in the UK with similar legislation, it seems unlikely to make substantial difference.

Meanwhile, France is also anticipating a worsening of the situation that sees between 100,000 and 200,000 companion animals being abandoned annually. 60% of abandonments happen during summer holidays. In the last annual Dogs Trust Stray survey, 69,621 stray dogs were handled by local authorities in the UK, an increase of 13,578 on the previous year.

Toulouse MP Corinne Vignon has introduced a bill in he French parliament aiming to make it harder to buy companion animals and to facilitate tracing owners who mistreat or abandon them. It includes provision making identification mandatory an raise the minimum age limit for purchase
The bill would introduce compulsory tagging, as well as raise the minimum age limit of buyers. The bill has cross-party support and is expected to be passed before the endow the year.

France has clearer legislation than the UK when it comes to breeding and selling dogs. All matings have to be declared, with dogs either registered as pedigrees with the French KC or as “types”. It is possible to register a pedigree dog after puppyhood with confirmation from an expert judge and proof of testing for heritable diseases and sociability, behaviour or aptitude. However, breed registers have been closed for several breeds, including the following since 1978: German and Belgian shepherds, Dobermann pinschers, boxers, fox terriers, dachshunds, springer, cocker and American spaniels and poodles.

It remains to be seen if legislation in either country will stem the tide of back street breeders, puppy farms and illegal imports and sales. For the sake of dogs everywhere, let us hope that a solution is found soon.

Qui eripuit canis, qui eripuit?

St Bernard Rescue Dog A story broke today that a St Bernard dog, a breed famed for mountain rescue, herself needed rescuing from Scafell Pike.

The tone of the articles was relatively light-hearted but the operation required 16 members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue team to administer pain relief then carry a dog weighing 55kg for five hours over rough terrain, including negotiating a waterfall.

The dog is 4 years old. Young for most breeds but in the giant breeds with a life-expectancy that rarely breeches double figures, middle aged. A 2014 UKKC breed health survey of 65 St Bernards with a median age of 3 years found that the majority of the dogs were affected by at least one condition. There were 77 incidents of conditions overall, with a median age of onset of just 18 months. Hip dysplasia was the third most commonly reported problem. Reportedly, the dog taken off Scafell Pike was showing signs of pain and refusing to walk. Hardly surprising.

There are often people who risk rescuers’ lives by going into potentially dangerous environments unprepared, but subjecting such a dog to England’s highest mountain beggars belief.

It wasn’t always like this of course. St Bernard dogs have not been used for mountain rescue since 1955, not least because crossing with Newfoundlands in the mid-19thC and closed stud books made them unfit for purpose. The dogs in the image on the right were the St Bernards of 1929. Tragic hardly covers it.

Covid Cons

Dog for sale Just as the SARS COV-2 virus exploits weaknesses in its human hosts in order to reproduce, conmen exploit weakness, especially in times of crisis.

One of the major problems in improving canine welfare is that purchasers are still demanding that dogs be sold as “off the shelf” commodities. Puppy farming would stop tomorrow, “rescue” centres would be cleared of dogs and border control would not have to spend time trying to stop van loads of sickly puppies entering the country if only people researched and considered their purchases and recognised that it can take months and sometimes years to get a heathy, well-bred dog. Local authorities would be spared the cost of taking nearly 60,000 abandoned dogs off the streets annually and could spend those resources educating and assisting canine professionals and owners instead.

The vast majority of dogs bought and sold in the UK are either trafficked in or bought or recycled from puppy farms and unlicensed breeders. Complaints from potential owners that they are being defrauded and ripped off are coming thick and fast. Badly and illegally bred dogs are being parcelled out for thousands of pounds apiece to fuel the demand for a “lockdown” pet. Many of those who actually part with money and receive a dog may then face huge vet bills and many dogs and cats are expected to be dumped within weeks or months.

Then of course, the whole nightmare begins again for the poor animal as new owners, thinking erroneously that it is better to “rescue” their new pet rather than buy from a reputable breeder make room for more and have to deal with the consequences of bringing a traumatised animal into their home.

There is a very easy way to stop this. Plan to wait up to 2 years to get a fully health-tested dog, do lots of research beforehand, don’t buy animals advertised online and don’t part with stupid amounts of money.

If there is no one to exploit, conmen will go elsewhere. It’s up to you.

Dutch Courage

pug face measurement At last some real action on brachycephalic dog welfare. Pedigree Dogs Exposed has circulated the news that the Dutch Kennel Club will no longer issue full pedigree certificates to extreme brachycephalic breeds unless an independent veterinary check confirms that at least one parent has a muzzle of the required length. This refers in turn to legislation that introduced six new breeding criteria in March 2019 and stipulated standards for eye conformation, nostril stenosis, abnormal breathing, excess skin folds and that muzzle length must be at least one third the length of the dog’s head, with the aim to breed towards half the length of the head.

Predictably, breed clubs, with one notable exception, were outraged. All the usual eugenic protests surfaced including that from the Pug Breed Council in the UK that accused the Dutch KC of “being happy to see the demise of historic breeds that have existed for hundreds of years.” They are wilfully oblivious to the fact that these comparatively modern dog breeds have not existed in the current extreme forms for more than a handful of decades. The Pug Breed Council added that “The Dutch government’s decision is “beyond our comprehension.”

It is truly beyond my comprehension how anyone purporting to be concerned for the welfare of dogs could perpetuate the misery and suffering in dogs that so many of these breeders are producing. Breed clubs and Kennel Clubs perpetually lay the blame for poor breeding at the feet of back-street breeders and puppy farmers whilst not apparently recognising that they are at the top of this rotten tree, strutting their stuff with what the RSPCA’s then chief vet Mark Evans called in 2008 “a parade of mutants”.

Legislation forbidding breeding that compromises welfare has existed in the Netherlands since 2014 and in the UK since 2006, strengthened by the new licensing legislation that came into effect in 2018. Little if anything has changed though.

The Dutch KC is planning a separate registry for dogs that do not meet their criteria and another registry for outcrosses bred with the aim of improving the phenotype. Dogs on those registers can be tracked but will not be accepted on to the stud book or into the show ring.

About time too.

Maybe we will one day be able to see dogs that again represent a truly proud heritage. Dogs that can mate, breathe, eat and regulate their body temperature properly. Dogs that can play and sleep without collapsing. The Dutch Kennel Club seems to be taking the first steps towards that day. Let us hope that where they lead, others will follow – and that many other breeds suffering from exaggerated conformation will be brought into consideration.

Maybe one day humans will realise that these hideous neotenised, snorting animals with infected skin and grossly shortened lives are not grateful for the “care” that owners lavish upon them and, above all, that there is nothing cute about misery.

The following breeds are affected by the legislation in the Netherlands:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Boston Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Griffon Belge
  • Griffon Bruxellois
  • Japanese Chin
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Pekingese
  • Petit Brabancon
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu.

Fouling Their Own Territory

The final line up at Crufts was one of the most depressing that we have seen in a while. Puffed up and preened, the poor Old English sheepdog was as far away from guarding sheep as he could be, although at least he has an in-breeding coefficient of 0%. The Irish Setter has an in-breeding coefficient of 16.2%, 2.7% higher than the breed average; the miniature poodle 11.7%, a whopping 6.8% higher than the breed average, and the BIS winner, the wire haired dachsund 10.8%, also 6.8% higher than the breed average.

Even without this close level of in-breeding, deciding that out of approximately 20,000 entries, that an achondroplastic dog with a ridiculously elongated back is the best example of a dog makes me despair. The fact that this dog also needed to eliminate in the ring was also hardly edifying from a welfare perspective.

The BVA President Daniella dos Santos said “We’re concerned that seeing a dachshund crowned top dog at Crufts could lead to a further rise in their popularity and related increase in the health issues that can unfortunately affect these and other long and low breeds.”

However, this horse has possibly already bolted: as with other deformed phenotypes, dachsunds, and in particular miniature dachshunds have gained in popularity and seem to be almost as ubiquitous as pugs and French bulldogs, not least in the popular media.

How ironic that Vitality UK, a life insurance company, has chosen a miniature dachshund to promote their product. The BVA note that “…all six varieties of dachshunds– Standard Long-, Smooth-, and Wire-haired, and their miniature versions– [are] at risk of serious spinal and neurological issues which usually require surgery to fix. These problems may not be immediately obvious, but often cause them life-long discomfort and may need costly treatment”.

The most common problem is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which causes early degenerative changes in the discs that act as “shock absorbers” for the spine making them prone to herniate and calcify and resulting in the spinal cord compressing.

This is extremely painful for dogs and they may yelp, show a hunched back with the head down, shiver, pant, refuse to move or be unable to jump or negotiate stairs. It progresses to difficulty in walking with poor control of the hind limbs and ultimately, complete paralysis. Severely affected dogs have a paralysed bladder and may be unable to urinate and/or dribble urine. Completely paralysed dogs have no bladder function and lose the ability to feel pain.

Dachshunds are 10-12 times more likely to suffer from IVDD than other dog breeds. At least 20% of all dachshunds will show clinical signs of this disease. The median age of onset of disease is between 5-7 years, with the Standard and Miniature Smooth Haired and the Miniature Wire Haired having the highest prevalence.

Even if the BIS winner is not affected, how does promoting this type of extreme physical distortion promote canine health?

I Love Lucy

Much has been made in the press in the last couple of days about the passing of the so-called “Lucy’s Law”, with headlines trumpeting that puppy farming has now been banned.

Except that it hasn’t.

As anti-puppy farming campaign C.A.R.I.A.D state, this latest legislation just has the potential to cut off part of the supply chain, because what it actually prohibits is the sale of puppies and kittens via third parties. The only sales that will now be legal are those made directly by the breeder, subject of course to other legislation such as licensing and the sale of animals at the permitted age.

All well and good but in many ways, it changes nothing, other than making it a fraction harder for puppy farmers and back street breeders to organise their supply chain.

  • It is already illegal to import or sell puppies under 8 weeks old
  • It is already illegal to important puppies that are not suitably vaccinated with the appropriate accompanying documentation
  • It is already illegal to falsify paperwork, including PET passports, health records and pedigrees
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies when they have not been seen with their mother
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies without providing a socialisation plan

So what?

Puppies are still being imported in huge numbers, sold under age and/or with fraudulent or no paperwork, sold without a socialisation plan and sold when presented without their mother, either on their own, because the sellers claim that the bitch died or when they use a substitute bitch.

The percentage of owners that are aware of the existence of the AWA 2006, never mind their responsibilities under just this piece of legislation is small and has been decreasing since 2011.

Go out onto any street and count how many dogs are off lead alongside a road. Some of them wil have no collar either and, even if they have, it may not have a legal tag attached. Some will not be microchipped and of those that are, some will not have kept the database up to date. Many will be boarded in establishments without licences, many will have bought form breeders without licences.

All of this is illegal.

Very little is actually done about it though, because there are no resources made available to educate the public or to police the legislation.

Much of the legislation is confusing, even for professionals, and there is evidence to suggest that practitioners are not interpreting or implementing the legislation consistently.

Far too much is left to local authority discretion. DEFRA noted in <a href=”https://www.local.gov.uk/guidance-dog-control-and-welfare-police-and-local-authorities” target=”_blank”>a 2017 report</a> that “Reference was made to a lack of certainty in some areas over the split of responsibility between police and local authorities with respect to dog control issues. Varying degrees of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or engagement on dog control between local authorities was highlighted as an issue. Resourcing was identified as a challenge against a background of a high number of cases.”

Licence fees and fines vary widely, leaving both responsible practitioners and miscreants at the mercy of a post code lottery.

It is in this context that “Lucy’s Law” needs to be seen, because tragically, there are going to be very many more dogs that continue to suffer as Lucy did unless a radical shakeup is made of the welfare priorities for local and national government.

The Kennel Club need to actually dedicate themselves “to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs” by not continuing to register puppy-farmed dogs, expelling members such as Eric Hale, actually doing something radical to stop in-breeding  (commissioning studies is all well and good but any idiot can tell the KC why so many German Shepherds can’t walk properly or brachycephalic dogs breathe) and the stop supporting the breeding of thousands of dogs with appalling conformations.

Puppy farming could be ended overnight without the need for legislation and the consequent expense of policing it because all it needs is for people to:

  • Stop buying puppy-farmed dogs
  • Stop taking in dogs because they pity them and thinking that they are rescuing them rather than leaving space for the next one
  • Stop expecting to be able to buy dogs off-the-shelf
  • Stop buying dogs from websites such as Pets4Homes and Gumtree
  • Stop buying dogs from back street breeders
  • Stop buying dogs from breeders without having checked and cross-checked their licensing status.