Mutations in pedigree dogs 'must be bred out'

Independent report reveals 'widespread concern' from vets over unregulated puppy farms that create dogs with painful deformities

Pedigree dogs should be bred with more normal specimens to end mutations that have left bulldogs, spaniels and other species with painful abnormalities such as tiny skulls or overly jowly faces, according to a review.

In a wide-ranging report into dog breeding prompted by an undercover investigation into the Kennel Club, Patrick Bateson, a professor of zoology, found large commercial "puppy farms" were often unhygienic and tolerated disease and inbreeding, causing a range of "welfare costs" for dogs.

He recommended a new law requiring micro-chipping of all new puppies; stricter local authority inspections of puppy farms; an independent council to identify the removal of inherited inbreeding and disease; and a monitoring system based on vets' reports to catalogue unhealthy traits. He also recommended a new publicity and education campaign to inform buyers how to acquire and keep healthy dogs.

Professor Bateson, a Cambridge University academic, was asked to chair the independent inquiry by the Kennel Club and Dog's Trust, following a Panorama programme in 2008, Pedigree Dogs Exposed. The BBC show found serious health concerns caused by inbreeding, prompting the RSPCA and BBC to pull out of Crufts, the club's annual showcase. The Kennel Club introduced new standards for 209 breeds last year. In a 65-page report, Professor Bateson said interviews with vets, scientists, campaigners and breeders had revealed "widespread concern" about commercial puppy farms.

As well as exacerbating unnatural features by breeding dogs with close relatives, many failed to check for disease, keep kennels clean, care properly for puppies or socialise or exercise them properly before selling them aged six to eight weeks, he said. Some Irish puppy farms produced 5,000 young dogs a year.

"Many breeders exercise high standards of welfare, but negligent management on puppy farms is a major welfare issue as is inbreeding in pure-bred dogs," said Professor Bateson. "Fashions for extreme conformations are also a cause of welfare problems."

Many breeders requiring a licence because they bred more than five litters a year were not inspected properly because local authorities did not have the necessary expertise or resources. Breeding practices harmed the welfare of pedigree dogs, he added. Scientific evidence suggested that 86 per cent of bulldogs had to be born by Caesarean section because their heads were so large, while some King Charles spaniels suffered pain and fits because their brains were too big for their skulls.

Professor Bateson, who is president of the London Zoological Society, recommended animals should not be bred with close relatives such as parent, child, siblings or grandparent.

He suggested that a non-statutory Advisory Council on Dog Breeding draw up breeding standards that did not require extreme morphologies, or traits. He said: "Where a problem within a breed already exists, the Breed Standard should be amended specifically to encourage the selection for morphologies that will improve the welfare status of the breed."

Pointing to the slogan "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas", the professor recommended owners be given good advice on acquiring and keeping dogs, adding that in many ways the public had been responsible for allowing the existing problems.

The Dangerous Dogs Act should be amended to take action against "weapon" dogs, he added.

The Kennel Club welcomed the report, saying it had already banned mating of close relatives and was developing a database which would help breeders find healthy mating pairs.

The RSPCA said it was disappointed that the report had not recommended legal powers for an advisory council. The Chief Veterinary Adviser, Mark Evans, said: "The world has woken up to the extremely unpalatable truth that the health and welfare of pedigree dogs is seriously compromised as a result of the way they are bred. Pedigree dogs need our help and they need it now."

Disputed pedigree: Breeds' health problems

Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Breeding has left some spaniels with skulls that are too small for their brains, a condition called syringomylia. Professor Bateson said: "The eventual result is evident pain in the dogs and fitting." He recounted details given to him of an owner who took his "lazy" spaniel to the vet. The vet prescribed painkillers. The dog perked up after taking the analgesic and immediately became more playful. The expression on its face was said to have changed.

Basset hound

Many professionals insisted that pedigree breeds had not changed over the decades. Professor Bateson wrote: "Pictorial and photographic evidence does not invariably back them up." He published pictures of a basset hound more than 100 years ago and now. In the 1901 photograph, the Basset had the appearance of a normal if low-slung dog. By 2004, the animal's legs had shrunk markedly, with the belly almost appearing to scrape the ground.

Bulldog

A symbol of Britishness – and bizarre breeding. The bulldog has become vastly more jowly in the past 100 years, with large folds of flesh around its mouth. Its face is now so large that 86 per cent cannot be born naturally. Referring to pedigree dogs generally, Professor Bateson wrote: "Studies that have compared average age at death have found that cross breeds... have significantly longer average life expectancy than many pure bred and pedigree breeds."

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