Breeding for Genetic Health*

"In the best interest of the breed, the numbers of litters a dog sires could be limited."

by Carole Adley

*Reprinted with permission from both Sighthound Review (the article appeared in the January/February 1996 issue) and the author.

In my travels
to the shows since I became a Canadian Kennel Club Director, I have had a lot of time to talk to people in many breeds, and their main concerns are the health problems, genetic defects and longevity of their breeds. In some breeds these problems seem to have reached epidemic proportions.

It was reported in a letter in English Dog World that in a study carried out in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, 57% were found to be suffering from heart murmurs by the age of five years. In Sweden the problem is even worse, and a study there concluded that this problem probably originated from one or more of the foundation dogs in the 1920s. Many breeds have a multitude of problems, and it appears that some of the most affected breeds are those which arose from a very limited number of foundation animals.

I have been involved with Salukis for 35 years, and in that time I have seen them go from a breed with virtually no health problems and a 15-year life span to a breed suffering from frequent early sudden death from various causes (common enough to have been labeled Saluki Sudden Death Syndrome with a research fund set up) and many other health problems such as thrombocytopaenia, thyroid abnormalities and allergies.

The saluki, although a very ancient breed that spanned a wide geographical area, went through a genetic bottleneck and exists in our "purebred registered" world as a result of a handful of imports from the early 1900s and later, and although our four or five generation pedigrees may indicate that dogs may be not closely related, they are in fact descended from the same few individuals, and thus have a small gene pool. In the U.S.A. there have been numerous new imports from Arabia, not registerable of course, since they were not registered in their country of origin, but their fanciers have breed them and there are now some 200 unregistered Salukis of new bloodlines. So far, I have been told, these dogs show vigorous good health, outstanding hunting ability and longevity.

I have recently read Last Animals At The Zoo - How Mass Extinction Can Be Stopped by Colin Tudge (from my local public library) and the chapter on the theory of conservation breeding gives food for thought to breeders