Pedigree Dog Health Issues
Our recent update on Fat Labs at Westminster once again proved to be a lightning rod for comments and complaints about pedigree show dog health. And it wasn’t limited to the overweight Labs, we heard from many purebred dog owners, some who show their dogs and some who refuse to because of unhealthy expectations. But, a common complaint was that judges are rewarding the extremes of their breed. Rewarding these extremes perpetuates the exaggeration of unhealthy features and poor genetic practices. It seems that to some, function and health is no longer as important as appearance.
There is a growing problem in the purebred dog show world and the sooner everyone involved acknowledges it, the sooner it can be addressed and hopefully turned around. Obviously, there are many conscientious breeders out there who put the health of their dogs above anything else. But what we’ve seen in the shows and heard in feedback and comments, is that there seems to be a certain myopic vision on the part of some breeders and a refusal to acknowledge that there is a potential issue. While a majority of dog owners and dog lovers easily see the problem, some breeders believe that the overweight or physically exaggerated dogs that often represent the various breeds in the show ring are perfectly fine and healthy.
We see two aspects of breeding, raising & showing dogs that contribute to the problem:
Breeding & Genetic Issues
One major issue is breeding dogs with genetic health issues without proper screening, or breeding them even when the health issues are known but breeding them to dogs ‘strong’ in that area thinking somehow that balances out the bad genes. Too bad there’s no guarantee that the ‘good’ genes will win out in the genetic lottery of mating. This affects many breeds with known issues, such as:
- Dalmations and deafness;
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and their brain disorder, Syringomyellia;
- Golden Retrievers and cancer;
- Pugs, Bulldog and other short-nosed breeds with Brachycephaly.
Unfortunately, the list of purebred dogs with genetic health issues is much longer. Passing along these deformities and diseases through close-breeding will not improve the strain and produce strong, healthy purebred dogs, it will eventually destroy them.
We heard from German Shepherd owners who are dismayed at the appearance of GSDs in the ring, the sloped back, hocks bent so badly they are practically walking on them and sunken shoulders. These dogs have been breed specifically to look like this, but it’s not a healthy conformation. Do you see police dogs that look like this? Of course not. GSDs were meant to protect, to run fast and be strong defenders – these dogs are anything but that. Where are the Rin Tin Tins of 2015?
Similarily, Bulldogs have been breed to be wider and wider with bigger hips and bigger heads. It has progressed so far that now most purebred Bulldogs are no longer able to breed or give birth without assistance. How is that normal and healthy? Without human intervention, the Bulldog in its current form, would become extinct.
Nutrition, Diet & Exercise Issues
In addition to the hereditary issues that can be passed on in careless breeding programs, there are health issues that dog owners unintentionally create based on what they feed and how they exercise (or don’t exercise) their dogs. We heard from MANY Labrador owners who want to show their perfectly normal, healthy and well within conformation standard Labradors only to be told they are too thin and that they need to “fatten” them up.
Here’s a photo of Cash, one such dog who’s owner has been told many times that he is too thin. Does he look thin to you? He looks like a healthy specimen of a Lab, one that can run and hunt with you all day – which is exactly what Labradors are supposed to do. Cash is also within height limits, actually at lower end of the 22 1/2″ – 24 1/2″ standard and is within the proper weight standard. Interestingly, his owner says he towers over other male dogs in the ring – how can that be if he is on the low end of the standard? Why are dogs shorter and heavier than he winning and he being told to fatten up? Shouldn’t measurements be required?
It should also be noted some of the common hereditary issues Labs see, like hip dysplasia is made worse by being overweight and under-exercised. That alone should be a factor for keeping your dogs as lean and fit as possible. What is the obsession with extra weight on Labs?
This mentality of “fatten” them up is heard by other breeds as well. Here’s an example of a healthy and fit female Bulldog. The dog is within height/weight standard for the breed, but her owner has been told that she appears to be “starved” and needs to add weight if she wants to win. She has also been faulted for “bad hips”, but has passed both BVA and PennHip hip dysplasia tests. What’s bad about them – the fact that they are not over-sized?
We heard from Rottweiler owners who are told the same thing – “fatten them up”, “put more weight on them”. Why is that a good thing? What is this obsession with beefy dogs, why can’t a dog be at a healthy weight – or even on the thin side? It’s more healthy for the dog and leads to a longer life – isn’t that preferable than a few medals?
Our main goal by writing these posts is not to criticize pedigree dogs or breeders, but rather to open dog owner’s eyes to the fact that the dogs that they see in the show ring are not necessarily models of good health. If your dog doesn’t look as big and hefty as the Best of Breed Lab, or have a great big huge head or a squished face like the winning Bulldog or that winning Pug, well, that might not be a bad thing.
We also want to note that we are not Animal Rights Activists, nor are we professional breeders. We don’t hate purebred dogs, we have two Labradors ourselves for goodness sake. What we are is dog lovers. We are also fitness and health advocates and are passionate about helping pet owners keep their pets fit and healthy, which studies prove can extend the pet’s life significantly. And isn’t that what it’s all about – a long and healthy life for your pet?
What can be done about this? Unfortunately, until the breeders, judges and AKC take note we can only voice our concerns and try to educate others about the issue. We are encouraged that the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom has taken to heart the public outcry from UK dog owners as a result of the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed which aired in 2008. The concerns raised by that documentary are identical to the issues we see in American dogs. Unfortunately, the American Kennel Club has not attempted similar actions with their breed clubs, judges and members. Some may consider the AKC to be ‘just a registry’ but the fact is they certify the AKC show judges and could work with the Breed Clubs on instituting health standards and testing in a manner similar to the Kennel Club. It will take many generations to correct these issues, just as it took many generations to create them, so the sooner we get started the better.
As a final note, we encourage comments on our posts but expect that feedback and comments to be respectful and productive. Disagreeing with our opinion is fine, it is after all our opinion, but name calling is counterproductive and doesn’t advance the discussion.
References and Further Reading