Report recommends tighter dog breeding regulations
Thursday 14 January 2010
All puppies should be microchipped and new owners should insist on seeing them with their mothers as part of efforts to crackdown on bad breeding practices including dog "farming", a report recommended today.
The independent inquiry by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson called for changes in the law to include a requirement for all puppies to be microchipped before sale, which could help trace bad breeders.
And he called for changes in the Dangerous Dogs Act - which only focuses on certain breeds - to allow authorities to take action on all dangerous individual animals to stop dogs being bred and reared as "weapons".
The inquiry, funded by the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust, looked at the issue of dog breeding in the wake of a BBC documentary which claimed pedigree dogs bred for shows were suffering a high degree of genetic illness.
Prof Bateson said inbreeding in pure breeds, breeding dogs for specific looks or extreme characteristics such as wrinkly skin and negligent management of "puppy farms" were all major welfare issues for dogs.
He warned that inbreeding among pedigree animals led to inherited diseases, made it harder for them to reproduce and lowered their immune system - making it more likely they would develop diseases such as cancer.
His inquiry called for a non-statutory advisory council on dog breeding which would look at the problems of inherited diseases and inbreeding, and produce advice on breeding strategies and priorities for scientific research.
The study also said a computer system should be developed to collect anonymous diagnoses of inherited diseases from vet surgeries to see how prevalent different conditions were in various breeds.
The report urged changes in the law to make microchipping all new puppies a requirement under the Animal Welfare Act and to bring in a statutory code of practice for breeders.
And Prof Bateson called for a more robust "accredited breeder scheme", which Crufts organisers the Kennel Club already runs, under which breeders have to run tests on parent dogs to make sure their offspring will not be at risk of inherited diseases.
The accredited breeder scheme would also enable prospective owners to view their new dog with its mother before buying.
Prof Bateson said there should be a public awareness programme - which he suggested could be fronted by a celebrity such as Joanna Lumley - to help the six million dog-owning households in the UK use their purchasing power to improve welfare for dogs.
Prof Bateson's inquiry took written evidence from breed clubs, breeders, vets, animal welfare charities and pet owners, interviewed more than 50 people and visited four dog shows.
The Cambridge University professor and president of the Zoological Society of London said there was widespread concern about so-called puppy farming, in which dogs are treated as commodities and are mass-bred for sale, often online.
In Ireland, there are puppy farms selling to the UK market which can produce 5,000 young dogs a year, while the industry in Britain is centred in Wales.
The problems associated with these puppy farms include poor care of the mothers, poor hygiene and health standards, puppies not being vaccinated, cared for or socialised properly and being sold too young, the report said.
Many breeders requiring a licence - those which breed more than five litters a year - are not inspected properly because local authorities "don't have the expertise or resources to do the job properly", he said.
He urged the British Veterinary Association to compile a list of vet practices which were prepared to carry out inspections.
He said: "I must stress many dog breeders exercise high standards of welfare, are passionate about breeding dogs properly and take great care to make sure they go to good homes."
But he said many breeders were receiving poor or no advice on breeding, dogs were being bred with relatives too closely related and animals were being sold to members of the public whose lifestyle did not suit that type of dog.
And he said there were some breeders of "questionable status", prompting the need for an upgraded accredited breeders scheme to be implemented quickly.
He said the ID number of microchips should be recorded on registration documents, health test certificates and even a "contract of sale" that could be drawn up between the buyer and seller - although he said he was not sure whether such a contract could be binding.
He warned that some dogs were being bred and reared as "weapons" and said the Dangerous Dogs Act was not currently working - with the number of injuries to humans on the rise.
The Act was limited to a certain number of breeds, while other unlisted breeds were equally dangerous and individual animals within the listed breeds were not a threat.
He said the law should be amended to focus on individual animals which had been shown to be dangerous, but admitted legal changes would be slow in coming in the face of a general election and the economic concerns of government.
On the issue of pedigree dogs - which are found in three-quarters of dog-owning homes in the UK - he said current breeding practices imposed welfare costs on individual dogs.
For example, some 90% of bulldogs cannot give birth without Caesarian section while King Charles' spaniels can suffer from syringomyelia, in which they have brains too big for their skulls causing them pain and fits.
He said animals too closely related should not be bred, adding: "It's certainly unacceptable to breed parent and child, siblings or granddaughter and grandfather."
Breed standards should be amended to avoid selection of extreme characteristics and judges in dog shows should focus on healthy dogs, he said, while the shows themselves could be use to educate the public.
And, pointing to the well known slogan that "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas", he said: "Members of the public should be given as good advice as they can get on how to keep a dog.
"They should take the trouble to get the right kind of advice, should insist on seeing the puppy with its mother, should insist on it being microchipped and make sure the parents have been properly health checked."
And he said: "In many ways the public has been as responsible as anybody for allowing this to continue, they have bought puppies without thinking about it, and then dumped them in ways that are sometimes unspeakable."
The report said that, if the Kennel Club was unable to upgrade its accredited breeder scheme promptly and no other body could step in, a new programme should be implemented under the auspices of the advisory council.
The advisory council should also give guidance on breed standards revisions and, where a welfare problem already existed, the standards should be amended specifically to select physical features which will improve the dog's welfare.
It is expected that the various organisations involved in dog breeding will have to contribute to funding the board, while pet insurance companies could help fund the computer system to monitor inherited disease, it was suggested.
Caroline Kisko, spokeswoman for the Kennel Club, said the organisation welcomed the report's recognition that it had made a good start in its efforts to "unite responsible breeders" within its accreditation scheme.
The club also said it had banned mating of close relatives and was developing a new database which would help breeders find suitable, healthy mating pairs and give a better picture of the health of pedigree dogs.
Ms Kisko said: "The report recognises that 'dog showing and judging are a powerful lever for change' and the Kennel Club is dedicated to ensuring that only the healthiest dogs are rewarded at shows.
"Public education is vital and all dog welfare organisations must continue to work together to ensure that people know what to look for when buying a dog," she added.
The RSPCA said it was disappointed that Prof Bateson had not recommended the advisory council should be given powers to make it effective.
The animal welfare charity also said it was already working with the University of Sydney and the Royal Veterinary College on a three-year research project to create a new electronic system for collecting, analysing and reporting data on inherited disorders in both dogs and cats, which would help monitor progress.
Chief veterinary adviser Mark Evans said: "The world has woken up to the extremely unpalatable truth that the health and welfare of many pedigree dogs is seriously compromised as a result of the way they are bred. Pedigree dogs need our help and they need it now."
And he said: "We agree with Professor Bateson that consumer pressure is the greatest lever for change.
"The way to solve this is through people power. Changing the industry will take some time, but the public can start to demand better quality animals that are in good health right now."
Richard Dixon, president of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, said: "Vets are at the forefront of advising potential dog owners and breeders about the health and welfare issues involved with breeding.
"We hope that the public attention given to Professor Bateson's report will remind people to always seek advice from their vet before buying a puppy and never buy on impulse.
"If the dog-buying public is properly educated to make the right welfare choices they will turn their backs on puppy farms and bad breeders."
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