Is enough being done to protect dog welfare? We're saying no
'Rather than addressing the cause of the problems we're trying to fix the symptoms.'
We've long held concerns about the health and welfare of some of the UK's most popular dog breeds because of how they look - all on display at Crufts this week.
Crufts' promotion of purebred dogs is problematic for welfare
From dogs who struggle to move comfortably due to problems with their spine or hips, to those who can't breathe freely because of their flat faces; animal welfare advocates struggle to watch as dog after dog trots around the show ring.
Our dog welfare expert, Lisa Hens, said:
While we love to see the bond between dogs and their owners on display at Crufts and always enjoy watching healthy, happy dogs flying around an agility course; we find it difficult to watch as judges choose their winners with titles often going to dogs with visibly exaggerated features that are associated with serious health issues.
Is enough being done to save and protect the welfare of our dogs? We're really concerned that the answer is a resounding no.
We believe this will continue to be the case because rather than addressing the cause we're trying to fix the symptoms. Fundamentally it's breeding practices that need to be changed.
We're untied in our call for action
Ourselves and other welfare and veterinary organisations are calling for more action - more quickly - to correct many of the health problems that have been caused by selective breeding.
Approaches such as evidence-based outcrossing need to be seriously considered, and urgently. It's a very complicated issue, but only breeding dogs of the same breed together and breeding (often very) closely related dogs in order to achieve a certain look has caused high levels of inbreeding. In some breeds, this equates to the genetic equivalent of a dog produced from a grandfather to granddaughter mating!
Sadly, some of our breeds have become so inbred that there's very little room to breed away from their physical and genetic issues without introducing new genetic material, eg outcrossing. So even when responsible breeders are identifying the healthiest dogs to breed from, there may be so few that by eliminating less healthy dogs from breeding stock, genetic diversity keeps decreasing. And that can increase the risk of inherited diseases like cancer and blindness.
You can choose to support responsible breeders
We know that many breeders absolutely dote on their dogs and the responsible breeders who are trying to improve practices should be supported.
However, while there are individual breeders and clubs who are outcrossing to different breeds in order to create dogs who are less exaggerated and less inbred, we need systematic change to (as well as support for) breeding practices and standards. Ones that mean all breeders are prioritising the health, welfare and temperament of their dogs above their appearance, above tradition, above breed standards, above 'the norm'.
There's no doubt this is a complicated issue and we're not saying that outcrossing is simple, risk-free or instantaneous, but it could be the only answer. To save and protect the dogs we love, surely a different approach is required? That is, if we're serious about breeding dogs who can have a better chance of a happy, healthy life doing the things they love. If we're serious about breeding dogs for dogs, not just for us.
Find out more about the issues surrounding breeding for 'looks' on our Pedigree Dogs Health Problems page.
What we're doing to help
We're proud to promote the Puppy Contract which supports responsible breeders and gives them a tool to demonstrate the care and measures they've taken to breed happy, healthy puppies.
We're also part of the UK Brachycephalic Working Group, launched to tackle the inherent health problems associated with flat-faced dogs like French bulldogs and pugs, which have soared in popularity in recent years.
We're also supporting the British Veterinary Association's #breedtobreathe campaign which aims to raise awareness of the issues brachycephalic animals face as a result of their breeding.