Tag Archives: health

Death by a Thousand Health Tests

Food for thought is always a good thing, at least in my world, it keeps my mind open to new ideas. As I’ve aged I’ve found it’s ever more important not to get stuck in my ways and thinking about what other people have to say on a topic keeps me out of ruts.  So when I read the article I’m sharing with you today about health testing, I found myself thinking. Now, a word of warning, some of my close friends would tell you, “Sally’s thinking takes some rather weird detours now and again, so when she says “I was thinking” you might wanna run for cover!”

We all talk about being a responsible breeder, and of course, we consider a part of that responsibility to be health testing of the parents. Now mind you, I’m getting to that place where I’m almost old as dirt, so I’m one of those breeders who started in the game long before the majority of the health tests of today were available. While I’m all for health testing to gain knowledge of what is in the genes I’m about to mix together, I’m also one of those breeders who will tell you to use a good ole dose of common sense when breeding. While I’d never throw health testing to the side, I am also realizing that as the population of Gordon Setters declines, so follows our number of breeding options. This is a big conundrum we face folks, and it will take dedication, smart decisions and some good old common sense to preserve the best of our breed.

Sally Gift, AZ              Photograph by Susan Roy Nelson, WY

With that said, I don’t know as I agree with everything in this article, but I do know it will give you some food for thought so I’m sharing, for your reading and thinking pleasure.  If you’d like to share your thoughts after reading this feel free to use the comment section!

Breeder On The Edge

Death From a Thousand Health Tests by Amanda Kelly

AUTHOR:  A dedicated hobby breeder in a terminally rare breed, Amanda Kelly perpetually finds herself on the edge of everything from ecstasy to bankruptcy, quitting and insanity.

I had a really interesting conversation with a geneticist the other day that got me thinking: science is offering us more and more great ways to evaluate the health of our dogs…but when does enough turn into too much? When do we cross the threshold from helpful information to complete paralysis? Or outright bankruptcy? How do we avoid both?

Prioritization
The test we were discussing is quite a new one in my breed (Toy Manchester Terriers). It is for a condition called Xanthinuria that causes dogs to form a very rare form of kidney stone. There have only been three clinically affected dogs that I am aware of (full disclosure: we bred one). After encountering the issue, a fellow breeder did a little digging and discovered that a marker associated with the condition in humans worked for our breed as well. Kudos to her for being proactive and finding out more! The American and Canadian breed clubs helped proof the test and voila, it is now available commercially at quite a reasonable cost.

When I looked at dogs in my own breeding program that came up as carriers however, I was surprised as I would have expected more of our puppies to have or be forming stones than was the case.  So, what does that say about the disease? Do all affected puppies form stones? If not, what is the rate?  I found the answers to those Qs simultaneously helpful and troubling.

Apparently, current thinking is that approximately 50% of males with two copies of the mutation form stones or have associated kidney issues, while very few females with the same status have a problem (likely because they do a better job of emptying their bladders). Now, these are just rough estimates because the disease as a whole is rare and hasn’t been extensively studied, but it does raise an important question: what are we as breeders to do with this information and associated results of the genetic test?

The Jigsaw
The simple fact is that the more tests we have, the more pieces of info we have to try and reconcile when planning a breeding. At present, Toy Manchester breeders as a group are variously clearing things like hips, patellas, eyes, thyroid, and hearts plus DNA testing for von Willebrand’s Disease, and, now, potentially xanthinuria. That’s 7 tests, some with questionable value based on anecdotal and surveillance evidence, if we’re being honest. We’re also actively working to identify a test for juvenile cardiomyopathy.

The end result of all of that testing is a ton of information, which is great from the perspective of evaluating the health of individual dogs but also creates a number of very real problems for breeders in areas like liability, reputation and cost.

In the past, these factors were certainly in play but their effects were somewhat muted. Breeders worked for years to learn about their breed and their lines so they could make informed decisions and minimize the risk of producing issues. Health tests initially concentrated on measuring phenotype as an indicator and we worked with what we had. The important thing was that we could confidently tell puppy buyers we had done everything possible to produce healthy, happy puppies and if a problem appeared we were solid in the knowledge we had used all available tools to their best advantage.

Enter the genetic test. In my breed, the first one was for von Willebrand’s Disease (a blood clotting disorder). For years this disease was monitored by assay testing that measured the actual amount of the specific type of clotting factor in the blood and projected genetic status based on corresponding ranges. It was a pain to do but everyone muddled through as it was one of the few standard health tests most breeders did in the 1980s and 90s. When the genetic marker was identified, some breeders lost their ever loving minds. Dozens of valuable dogs were promptly spayed and neutered while breeders across North America began making pronunciations about “never” breeding a carrier even to a clear.

There’s no question, needless damage was done to the gene pool — especially when you consider there had never been a documented case of a Manchester actually bleeding out because it was vWD affected (at least not one I am aware of). Eventually breeders learned how to work with the DNA results and things calmed down. Our new test allowed us to easily avoid producing “affected” puppies (i.e., a dog with two copies of the gene, not necessarily clinically affected) and, regardless of the actual effects of the condition itself, doing so quickly became “right” and “just”.  It was an approach we ourselves endorsed and followed because, after all, “responsible breeders” test.

And thus, the line in the sand was drawn. It’s a line we in the dog community drew ourselves and it’s one most of us dare not cross.

Unlimited Liability
The scientific advancements that brought us more genetic tests took place against an active backdrop that included the rise of animal rights, increasing anthropomorphization of pets, emergence of puppy lemon laws, and the advent of social media. Now, it may seem odd to bring those factors into a discussion of genetic testing, but they each play a very important role in describing the environment within which we are working. An environment that values reputation above all else and that pits breeding decisions against financial liability in a way many breeders don’t consider.

Any breeder with two licks of sense knows that when it comes to breeding dogs, the most important possession you have — more important than any ribbon you may ever win — is your reputation. Your reputation affects everything you do, from access to stud dogs and puppies to demand for same. In a subjective sport like ours, it can even affect your ability to succeed in the show ring.

Protecting, fostering and growing a reputation can become all-consuming. Let’s cut to the chase here: We’re operating in an environment that can make a competition out of anything — which is why sometimes reputation management, and by extension health testing, becomes as much about one upmanship and moral superiority as it is the well-being of the dogs in question. That probably explains why many of the tests done in my breed are done by rote…because they are available, not because we have objectively identified a need for them. Not because we have established that rates of thyroid problems or eye issues, for example, are any higher in our breed than in the general dog population. No, we do them because we can and because we feel (tell one another?) that we should. And why is that? It’s because we have established as fact within our community that good breeders test and bad breeders don’t. So, we all work extra hard to make sure our conduct is above reproach.

That core belief is just as strong outside of the dog community, where we have worked hard to battle animal rights messaging by establishing health testing as a key feature differentiating responsible breeders from backyard breeders. And it’s a great message — easy to understand and easy for the public to actively measure when they are talking to breeders. The trouble is, that message comes pre-loaded with expectations we can never live up to. Expectations that if you buy from a good breeder your dog will never ever have health issues. That health tested parents won’t produce problems. That responsible breeders can be God.

And therein lies the problem. The more health testing we do, the bigger the gap grows between public expectations and the reality of what we can deliver…and with it, our financial liability. Because hey, don’t forget, in addition to health testing, responsible breeders also guarantee their puppies. Whether through provision of a replacement puppy or return of purchase funds, those guarantees do carry financial risk and can’t be dismissed at the best of times and even less so as puppy lemon laws increasingly make puppy health a legal matter. So, tell me…how do you think small claims court would view a breeder that knowingly produces a problem? Or one that unknowingly produces one because they failed to use the tests available? It’s a perfect catch 22 in the making.

Risk Reduction
It’s a simple axiom that the more health testing available, the less we talk about what we’re trying to avoid producing and the more we talk about what we are willing to risk producing. There isn’t a perfect dog out there and every biological organism possesses deleterious genes for something, regardless of whether we can test for it or not.  The more tests available, the more complicated planning breedings becomes because we all naturally want to avoid the chances of producing any problem at all.  But is that a realistic goal?

What did I say we were up to in my breed – seven tests? Eight? Heck, even I lose track sometimes. And all of these tests in an era when the number of puppies being produced continues to drop at an alarming rate. Under 200 Toy and Standard Manchester Terriers “combined” were produced in North America last year, so I’m sure you can image how difficult it might be to match test results for potential breedings (particularly if we’re testing for everything under the sun). Or what the costs of doing those breedings might be as we look further and further afield, let alone the relative cost of doing the health screening to begin with in a breed with relatively small litter sizes and low purchase prices. The financials would rock your world and have you questioning my sanity, so we won’t go there other than to say red is a better quality in a new coat than a ledger (but I digress…).

I asked a few researchers and vets what they felt breeders should do with test results when there are many to consider.  The consistent response was that we need to prioritize — and that’s a completely reasonable thing for a scientist to say…and a very difficult thing for a devoted dog breeder to actually do.

Never mind the costs, appearance or liability — I genuinely don’t want to be responsible through conscious decision for producing a sick puppy. It is one thing to employ testing, tools and techniques to theoretically reduce disease and quite another to look at a plethora of results and say “This one I can live with.”

And what happens once the die is cast?  If we use Xanthinuria as an example, I could choose to breed two carriers together and test all of the puppies…but then what? Sure, knowing a puppy has two copies of the gene and is at higher risk of forming stones will be helpful to an owner who could keep the dog on a low purine diet and perhaps avoid issues altogether…but could I sell a puppy like that? For how much? Would anyone take it if I was giving it away? What level of financial responsibility do I hold if it does develop an issue two, five or 10 years down the road? What if there are multiple puppies with two copies of the gene in the litter?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ethical dilemma of the future.  Perhaps we in smaller, rarer breeds are dealing with it sooner, but it is a dilemma I truly believe every breed and breeder will face at some point.  It has the potential to be absolutely paralyzing as we seek to do the right thing in a world where that is increasingly less black and white than it seemed a few short years ago.

I don’t know exactly how we can or should approach it — perhaps I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me. I suspect that monitoring of actual breed health through health surveys and breeders sharing information on what they are seeing will be increasingly important if we wish to prioritize according to real information. And I do know that one of the things we absolutely must do is change how we discuss health testing. The way we talk about each other (oh Lordy, put a star next to that one!) and to each other as well as how we portray ourselves to the public. Just as important, we have to think about health tests and results holistically in the context of our breed and gene pool. In our rush to erase problems through testing, we are shown again and again that the devil we don’t know is often worse than the devil we can test for.

What To Do?
This article isn’t intended to form the cornerstone of a campaign against health testing. Far from it. I truly believe we need to use the tools available to us, particularly if they are able to help us avoid devastating issues facing our dogs and puppies. In fact, I and others in my breed have worked hard for more than a decade to see a genetic test developed for juvenile cardiomyopathy because it is a brutal, deadly disease and I want all of us to have a tool that will allow us to make informed choices and stop guessing at how to avoid it.

But I’m also a realist. Health management is a tough nut to crack even for trained geneticists let alone the average breeder doing their best to navigate an increasingly complex and technical landscape. Giving us the test results is the easy part, it seems — figuring out what to do with them is our next great challenge.

Small Population Breeds and Issues of Genetic Diversity

bell-jerold-1520260577 By Jerold s Bell DVM, Clinical Associate Professor of Genetics, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

(This article was originally published in the March 2007 AKC Perspectives Delegates Newsletter.)

Issues of genetic diversity are a concern to dog breeders, and this can be especially so for breeds with small populations. The concern is whether there is enough genetic variation within a breed’s gene pool to maintain health and vitality. Breeders should be concerned about genetic diversity, because there are examples where damage has been done to a breed due to breeding practices. Restriction of genetic diversity can also occur in large population breeds.

All genes come in pairs: one from the sire and one from the dam. Each gene in the pair is called an allele. If both alleles in a pair are of the same type, the gene pair is homozygous. If the two alleles are different, the gene pair is heterozygous. While each dog can have a maximum of two different alleles at a gene pair, many different alleles are potentially available to be part of the gene pair. The greater the number of alleles that are available at each gene pair (called genetic polymorphism), the greater the genetic diversity of the breed.

If there is no breed diversity in a gene pair, but the particular homozygous gene that is present is not detrimental, there is no negative effect on breed health. The characteristics that make a breed reproduce true to its standard are, in fact, based on non-variable (that is, homozygous) gene pairs.

The origins of the breeds have a lot to do with genetic diversity. A breed established with a working phenotype tends to have diverse founder origins, and significant diversity. Even with substantial population bottlenecks, the breed can maintain considerable amounts of genetic diversity. This was shown in a molecular genetic study of the Chinook breed, which was reduced to 11 modern founders in 1981. Breeds established by inbreeding on a limited number of related founder individuals could have a reduced diversity. Many breeds have also gone through diversity reducing bottlenecks; such as occurred during World War II. For most of these breeds, their gene pools have expanded through breeding for many generations, resulting in a stable population of healthy dogs.

There are two factors that must be considered when evaluating genetic diversity and health issues in a breed; the average level of inbreeding, and detrimental recessive genes. With a small population, there is a tendency to find higher average inbreeding coefficients due to the relatedness between dogs from common ancestors. There is, however, no specific level or percentage of inbreeding that causes impaired health or vigor. The problems that inbreeding depression cause in purebred populations stem from the effects of deleterious recessive genes. If the founding population of a breed produces a high frequency of a deleterious recessive gene, then the breed will have issues with that disorder. This can be seen as smaller litter size, increased neonatal death, high frequency genetic disease, or impaired immunity. If these issues are present then the breed needs to seriously consider limited genetic diversity.

The issue of high average inbreeding coefficients is one that all breeds go through during their foundation. As the population increases and the average relatedness of dogs goes down (based on a fixed number of generations), the average inbreeding coefficient for the breed will go down. The effect of initially higher inbreeding coefficients in small population breeds will depend on the presence of deleterious recessive genes that will be expressed when homozygous.

Some breeders discourage linebreeding and promote outbreeding in an attempt to protect genetic diversity in their breed. It is not the type of matings utilized (linebreeding or outbreeding) that causes the loss of genes from a breed gene pool. Rather, loss of genes occurs through selection: the use and non-use of offspring. If a breed starts limiting their focus to breeding stock from a limited number of lines, then a loss of genetic diversity will occur.

The process of maintaining healthy lines, with many breeders crossing between lines and breeding back as they see fit, maintains diversity in the gene pool. If some breeders outbreed, and some linebreed to certain dogs that they favor while others linebreed to other dogs that they favor, then breedwide genetic diversity is maintained. It is the varied opinion of breeders as to what constitutes the ideal dog, and their selection of breeeding stock based on their opinions, that maintains breed diversity.

The most important factor for diminished genetic diversity in dog breeds is the popular sire syndrome. The overuse of a popular sire beyond a reasonable contribution through frequent breedings significantly skews the gene pool in this direction, and reduces the diversity of the gene pool. Any genes that he possesses – whether positive or negative – will increase in frequency. Through this founder’s effect, breed related genetic disease can occur. Another insidious effect of the popular sire syndrome is the loss of genetic contribution from quality, unrelated males who are not used for breeding. There is a finite number of quality bitches bred each year. If one male is used in an inordinate amount of matings, there will be fewer females left for these quality males that should be contributing to the gene pool. The popular sire syndrome is a significant factor in both populous breeds and breeds with small populations.

The best methods for ensuring the health and diversity of a breed’s gene pool are to:

  1. Avoid the popular sire syndrome.
  2. Utilize quality dogs from the breadth of your population to expand the gene pool.
  3. Monitor genetic health issues through regular health surveys.
  4. Do genetic testing for breed-related disorders.
  5. Participate in open health registries, such as CHIC (www.caninehealthinfo.org) to manage genetic disorders.

 

(This article can be reprinted with the written permission from the author: jerold.bell@tufts.edu)

Related article – Outcrossing Does Not Equal Gene Pool Diversity

Photograph courtesy of Susan Roy Nelson is not intended to illustrate any point in the article, it is presented for your viewing pleasure only.

 

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Ruff-ly Speaking – Then and Now

If I were to tell you that by my ruff estimate

in 1955 there were approximately 1,407

AKC registered Gordon Setters of breeding age in the U.S.,  and by comparison

in 2015 that same population is only 796,

would you begin to understand why I believe that the time to take steps as a group to improve the odds of breed preservation is right now?

Here is how I arrived at the numbers:

The number of AKC Gordon Setter registrations for 1945 showed 265 new dogs registered, and ten years later in 1955 there were 375 new registrations. To obtain an estimated number of breeding age Gordons starting the year 1955, I assumed an average increase of eleven dogs each year from 1945 through 1954 for a total of 2,815 new Gordon Setters between the age of zero to ten years old who would have been in the breeding pool on January 1, 1955. For ease of calculation, I assumed all of the new dogs that were registered lived to be age ten, so more dogs are allowed in these estimates than were actually available as mortality isn’t factored. Going on, using the assumption that dogs under age two and over age eight would not be bred,  we would lose about half of the total ten year population which left us with 1,407 total dogs for use in our breeding pool at the start of 1955.

Fast forward to the last ten years, 2005 through 2015, and rounding the numbers there were approximately 825 new Gordon Setters registered in 2005 and 380 registered in 2015 for an average decrease of 44.5 dogs per year giving an estimated population of 6,248 dogs at the start of 2015 who are between the age of zero and ten years old. Again, as in the 1955 estimate, in this calculation we are going to exclude the dogs in that pool who are under two and over age eight, so 50% of the population is deleted bringing us down to 3,124 breeding age Gordon Setters. But here in the future, statistics published by the ASPCA* tell us that 83% of all household dogs are spayed or neutered so in 2015, unlike 1955, we must now subtract another percentage of our Gordon Setter population from the breeding pool as they are no longer fertile. I was generous with our Gordon Setter breeding population and only took 70% of the total away from our breeding pool because of spay/neuter which left us with 937 Gordon Setters to breed from. But wait, we aren’t done here in 2015, we also need to subtract dogs we delete from the pool due to the Health Screenings we apply, so another chunk of our breeding pool goes away, and for this calculation I said that 15% of the 937 remaining dogs would fail one test or another and thus be subtracted from the pool by their breeder/owners, leaving us with an estimated 796 Gordon Setters in the U.S. today who are fertile and available in a breeding pool. In case you missed it, let me just point out again, that number is 600 dogs fewer than our predecessors started with in 1955 after importing Gordon Setters in the post war era to improve and increase the U.S. breeding stock.

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Photograph by Susan Roy Nelson

Yes, this is a “ruff” estimate on my part, it takes the number of new registrations and uses certain assumptions to propose an estimated population. But I’ve not exaggerated any numbers or needlessly subtracted from the population. I believe this is a realistic estimate of the Gordon Setter breeding pool as it may have existed then and could exist today .

What does all this mean to breeders?

What does this mean to you? A few things need to come to the forefront to be managed, taught, and promoted by us. Now more than ever before we need breeders who are familiar with inbreeding as it pertains to genetics, and the meaning of maintaining diversity as best we can in an already heavily inbred population. Now more than ever before we need breeders who are open about the issues that arise in their litters that could be a result of genetic mutation. Now more than ever before we need to promote and market the purebred dog through social media and other free and open avenues that are affordable. Now more than ever we need to replace the concept of finding every pet at the local shelter with information about the value of finding a pet with the purebred’s predictability of size and temperament to start the list. It’s our job to take the purebred dog, for us the Gordon Setter, global with each of us taking responsibility for telling some part of the story, each of us taking responsibility for mentoring the new, each of us taking responsibility for the breeding pool and each of us understanding that the restrictions we’ve applied to ourselves as breeders, pertaining to pets and our concept of backyard breeders may need change with revisions in order so that we welcome newcomers into the fold to mentor and teach them about the joys of purebreds, the joys of breeding, and the meaning of health clearances. We need to learn how to tell the value in every dog as it pertains to our breeding pool, perhaps no longer limiting ourselves strictly to champions or top winners for example. I could go on, but I’ll stop here and let you all chime in with more “we need to” ideas.

If there is anyone who wants to debate my estimates, who can show me that I’m way off in some far, far fetched land, please do chime in to show where I’ve gone astray. I’d love to learn I’m wrong this particular time! (grin)

From the Institute of Canine Biology this link and these words of wisdom:

HOW POPULATION SIZE AFFECTS INBREEDING

While inbreeding has the beneficial effects of reducing variation in litters and increasing apparent prepotency of sires and dams, it also has the very undesirable effect of increasing the expression of genetic disorders caused by autosomal recessive genes.  So managing inbreeding in populations of animals is necessary for the control of genetic disease.

It’s not enough just to carefully choose the sire and dam of the next breeding.  For sustainable breeding over the longer term, inbreeding must be managed in the entire population, and often breeders don’t have a good understanding of the factors that affect rates of inbreeding.  One of the most important is the size of the population of animals.  Large populations change more slowly and are more predictable over time; small populations are genetically unstable because they are more sensitive to effects of chance and because change can occur very quickly.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photography by Susan Roy Nelson

*statistics on spay/neuter

 

Did Our Gene Pool Shrink (Again) in 2015?

In 2015 the number of AKC registered Gordon Setters continued it’s 20 year drop, down by another sixty dogs. Is there any end in sight to this trend, and are we seeing the first signs of extinction for some purebreds, including our own breed? In the last 20 years the Gordon Setter population has dropped by 71%. What is the impact to a breed like ours when 71% of their population is no longer available for breeding?

In the U.K., The Kennel Club considers the Gordon Setter as a “vulnerable” breed at only 234 registrations in 2015. I’m wondering how we should label the Gordon here in the states, considering that the population of the U.S.,  319 million, is nearly five times that of the U.K. at 64 million, but the U.S. Gordon Setter at 381 new registrations is only about one and a half times the 234 registrations in the U.K., a significantly smaller per capita number.

Could this mean that the breed is in an even more precarious and vulnerable position in the U.S.?

With this alarming decline in the breed’s population, if you’re breeding Gordon Setters there are a few things to consider as you go about planning new litters, and one of those considerations includes the need to develop a good understanding the of the gene pool and how your choices will impact preservation of the breed.

Your next litter is like a big fish in a small pond. As there fewer and fewer Gordon Setters whelped each year, the overall number of Gordon Setters available for breeding is dropping to an all time low, so litters that are born now will have a bigger impact on the future and preservation of the breed than the many litters that were born 20 years ago. Is it possible that we are losing genetic diversity in our breed population due to the decline in the overall number of new litters produced, and that our gene pool might also be shrinking? Unfortunately that answer may be Yes.

As breeders then, we need to ensure we have a basic understanding of genetic concepts and what it means to maintain genetic diversity. As our pool of fertile dogs continues to decline in number, the chance of finding unrelated genetically diverse dogs has fallen dramatically, which becomes especially relevant if we later find we need those dogs to help resolve a health issue from a newly recognized gene mutation.

Just as we pay attention to the need for health clearances when preparing for a litter, so too must we pay similar attention to understanding and analyzing the pedigrees of the resulting litter. Now is the time when we need to embrace the concept of preserving  offspring from the bloodlines of many various kennels and engage in preserving semen from healthy dogs of good quality, preserving many dogs of good quality from both show and field, not only those who are our top winners. Should we be doing more and more blending of the typical show and the field lines, or importing semen or dogs from other countries? These tactics and many more, now more than ever before need our attention, as breeders work to preserve the best qualities of our gorgeous breed, along with the diversity in our gene pool needed to safely continue the Gordon Setter in a healthy state.

With all that said, the following is an excellent article to get you started from The Institute of Canine Biology. It is a basic discussion about the gene pool. Today’s “Required Reading” for every Gordon Setter breeder I do believe!

What’s in the Gene Pool?

The founding of the breed – the Gene Pool

pool.jpgLet’s pretend these 11 dogs are the “founders” of your breed – they are the first dogs entered into the studbook.  All subsequent members of the breed are descended from these dogs only.  The breed has a closed gene pool.

All of the genetic variability that will ever exist in your new breed is present in these dogs.  Mutations probably won’t add new, useful genetic variation because most mutations are detrimental.  If the mutated gene is dominant and detrimental, it will likely be weeded out very quickly.  If the mutation is recessive, it is not expressed unless an animal is homozygous for the allele by inheriting a copy from each of its parents.  In the heterozygote condition, a mutated recessive allele can lurk in the genome for generations without ever causing a problem.  So, unless additional “founders” are added to the population at a later date, all of the genes you will ever have to work with in your breeding program are present in these dogs.

In each of these dogs there are at least a few (and perhaps many) recessive genes that could cause genetic disorders.  But these disorders will only expressed if a dog is homozygous for the disease allele – it must have TWO copies, one from each parent.  As long as the disease genes are rare in the population, very few animals will ever display the illness.

Can the gene pool get bigger? (No!)

Okay, starting with your 11 founder dogs, let’s let them reproduce.  To keep it simple, we will let them produce only identical copies of themselves – clones.

Now we have 27 dogs, all of which are exact copies of one of the founders.  What has happened to the size of the gene pool?

Nothing.pool1

You now have more dogs, and you now have more copies of the genes found in the dogs that had more offspring, like that busy gray dog with the red tongue.  So, the frequency of particular alleles is different in this population than in the founders, but the number of different alleles in the population is exactly the same.  (We’re ignoring the possibility of a mutation for now.)

What if the dogs reproduce normally instead of producing clones?  In sexual reproduction, each puppy receives one set of genes from each parent.  And, each puppy receives a different mix of parental genes, so each one is a bit different.  Also, each parent dog has a different number of offspring and might mate multiple times with different dogs.  So the frequency of the various alleles in the population could be very different in this new population than in the founders.

But again, even though there are now more dogs in the population, the gene pool does not get bigger.

In fact, it doesn’t matter how large this breed gets – it might someday grow to thousands of dogs – but as long as the stud book is closed, the gene pool will never be larger than it was when the breed is founded.

Can the gene pool get smaller?  (Yes!)

poo12The gene pool of a closed breed can never get bigger.  But it can get smaller.

What if dogs with black ears were less fertile, or had higher puppy mortality, or had some other biological problem?  The frequency in the population of the genes causing the black ears would be reduced by natural selection – black-eared dogs would contribute fewer copies of their genes to the next generation. Eventually, by genetic drift (chance) or natural selection, the genes in black-eared dogs would become rarer and rarer, and might eventually be eliminated from the population entirely.

What if breeders didn’t like black ears, so all the puppies with black ears were spayed or neutered and sent to pet homes?  Those alleles will become less frequent in the population, and they might be eliminated completely because of artificial selection courtesy of the breeder.

The gene pool gets smaller when genes are completely eliminated from the population.  It is unlikely that a gene will be restored by chance mutation, and the only other way it can be restored is if an animal is introduced into the breeding population that carries that gene and who reproduces successfully.

In purebred dogs, when the stud book is closed, no new alleles can be introduced into the breed.  The loss of an allele is permanent and reduces the heterozygosity in the genome for that gene.

http://www.instituteofcaninebiology.org/whats-in-the-gene-pool.html

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

 

 

 

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What Every Gordon Setter Owner Needs to Know

Bloat is sneaky and it’s fast. Bloat doesn’t allow time for you to think it over or make a plan. Bloat will strike a Gordon Setter like a snake hidden in the grass with no warning. It takes a dog down so fast that if we aren’t with them when it strikes we may miss the small window of opportunity available to save them. Bloat won’t wait for us to be there, it attacks our dogs at all hours of the day or night, whether we’re home or gone to the store, sleeping, out mowing the lawn, doing housework, changing the oil or folding clothes in the laundry room. We simply can’t be with our dogs every minute of every day, but we do need to understand that for our dogs to have any chance of surviving bloat, every passing minute counts like an hour. To save your dog’s life you must know how to recognize bloat, have an emergency plan in place and enact that plan without delay at the first warning sign. Always error on the side of caution.

For a Gordon Setter to survive bloat it takes quick recognition of the condition and immediate veterinary treatment. That means we can’t hesitate, can’t wait to see, can’t delay for any reason. We need to get veterinary help as fast as possible.

If you own a Gordon Setter and are not sure how to recognize bloat this article is especially for you. Bloat refers to gastric dilatation – volvulus (GDV), stomach torsion or twisted stomach – an extremely serious condition and life threatening emergency.

Gordon Setters, according to a study by the University of Perdue, ranked as the 5th highest breed most susceptible to bloat. The 2004 GSCA Health Survey lists cancer, hip dysplasia and bloat as the top three health concerns expressed by Gordon Setter owners and breeders. According to Dr. Jean Dodds “The mortality rate for gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) approaches 50 percent.”

Recognizing the signs of bloat

  • Restlessness or pacing – unable to find a comfortable position to lay down
  • In the early stages the dog may not show a distended belly though it may feel tight
  • May be lethargic, obviously uncomfortable, walking stiff-legged and hanging head
  • Salivation – drooling – these can be signs of severe pain or distress
  • Retching – vomiting – or gagging
  • Frequent attempts to vomit
  • Enlarging abdomen – the belly feels full, swollen, rounded, may look and feel like a balloon
  • Thumping the abdomen produces a hollow sound, like a kettle drum
  • The dog may groan when you press on the belly
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • The dog may go into shock – gums become pale, weak pulse, rapid heart beat, possible collapse

If even a slight suspicion of bloat exists, immediately take the dog to a veterinary hospital. Emergency veterinary treatment is necessary for your dog to survive and every minute makes a difference. Do not delay.

Which dogs are most susceptible

  • Gordon Setters are at risk.
  • There appears to be a genetic link. Dogs who have parents or siblings who are affected may be more prone to bloat. Learn more about the research at The Genetics of Bloat – Tufts Now
  • Dogs over 7 years old are more than twice as likely to develop bloat as those 2-4 years old.
  • Male dogs are twice as likely to develop bloat as females. Neutering does not appear to have an effect on the risk.
  • Dogs fed once a day are twice as likely to bloat as those fed twice a day.
  • It appears that dogs who eat rapidly or exercise soon after a meal may also be at increased risk.
  • Dogs that tend to be more nervous, anxious, or fearful appear to be at an increased risk.
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson

A few things that may help to prevent bloat:

  • Feed your Gordon Setter two or three smaller meals each day.
  • Make water available all day so your dog doesn’t want to gulp large quantities at one time, limit the amount of water your dog drinks immediately before and after eating.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise, excitement, and stress on a full stomach.
  • Diet changes should always be made gradually over a period of three to five days.
  • Feed dogs individually and in a quiet area.
  • Do not use a raised food bowl.
  • Dogs who survive bloat are much more at risk for future episodes, preventative surgery should be considered.
  • There are there are those who also advise to avoid dog foods that contain high fat (fat listed as one of the first 4 ingredients) and foods that contain citric acid. At this time, no cause-and-result relationships between these and bloat have been verified, though certainly there is no harm in avoiding them should you wish to do so.

More detailed information including treatment options and reference material for this article will be found on the sites listed below:

Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) in Dogs  – Doctors Foster and Smith

Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog | Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs.

Gastric Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs: A Life Threatening EmergencyWeb MD Pets

The Genetics of Bloat – Tufts Now

GSCA Health Survey 2004 Results

The Genetics of Bloat on Gordon Setter Expert

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Do breeders need to change?

The face of breeding, as I’ve known it, has changed considerably since I first joined the ranks of Gordon Setter breeders in the 70’s. So much more information is readily available, resources for every question can be found at the touch of a keyboard, cross-country breeding is accomplished without shuffling the bitch off to the airport, and the availability of genetic tests is growing quickly to theoretically help us breed healthier dogs. But are we, the breeders, utilizing the results of those tests with a consciousness that will improve the overall health of the breed or could misguided perception and dwindling numbers cause the downfall of the breed instead?

Photo by Susan Roy Nelson
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson “Four Ladies in a Row”

I just read, and then reread an article written by a Corgi breeder Joanna Kimball – “How We Must Change as Breeders and Why – A Football Field of Dogs”  published in Best In Show Daily (point and click on the bold title to link to the article). Joanna raised some valid points regarding breeding that I believe bear discussion among Gordon Setter breeders. I hope you’ll join me here in considering some of those points and then by sharing your own perceptions, agreements or disagreements as they be.

First the assumption that as a breeder we should all agree that only a very few dogs should ever be bred – is this true? The breeder’s thought process as Joanna wrote is “I should be as picky as possible, first health-test everybody, prove that each dog is healthy, make sure that only the ones who are incredibly high-quality in terms of conformation and show success are allowed to breed. I should build the next ten thousand dogs from the most elite pool of this one.” That’s the conventional wisdom, the way “good breeders” do everything, right?

In fact, Joanna says we should bear in mind thatEVERY DOG WHO IS REMOVED FROM THE POPULATION HURTS THAT POPULATION.” To maintain health in any breed we need to understand the need for genetic variation, and to retain genetic variation we need to be breeding from many lines, to many sires not only the one or two most popular sires and so on.

crufts 2
Photo by Silvia Timmermann

I often want to go back to when I was younger, just starting out, and in this case I’m talking about the days when breeding wasn’t a four letter word and the propaganda of animal rights activists hadn’t put us all under their spell. The spell that makes breeders feel self-righteous for eliminating as many dogs as we can from the breeding pool because breeding is, after all, a very bad word. As the battery of DNA tests for genetic disorders continues to rise breeders are feeling satisfied as we believe we are gaining ground on health issues. But, should we also be considering that we might be losing ground on genetic diversity as we eliminate more and more dogs from the breeding pool with those tests?

Joanna states in another  point “SINCE EVERY DOG THAT IS REMOVED FROM THE POPULATION HURTS THE POPULATION, WE MUST REMOVE ONLY THOSE WHOSE PRESENCE WOULD HURT IT EVEN MORE.” To me this is like saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. A common sense approach would include knowing what health condition could cause the death of our Gordon Setters, or what health condition would ruin the quality of life for our dogs, before making breeding choices based primarily on health testing, testing that if used incorrectly could eliminate other necessary qualities from the breed’s gene pool. Using testing to learn what, if any, health condition might be passed from one generation to the next is a wonderful tool, but it is not the only tool that a breeder should be using. Utilizing health testing to obtain the appropriate result in breeding requires very judicious application on the part of the breeder, who must also keep in mind the continued genetic diversity of the gene pool, as well as the overall soundness of the breed both physically and mentally.

Why, for example, would one choose to breed an OFA fair bitch to a dog because he had OFA good or excellent hips but also carried an unsound front, instead of breeding her to an OFA fair dog who is sound and beautifully moving both front and rear? In this case the breeder might get one or two additional puppies with better hip ratings (might) but the breeder will also be adding some puppies with those unsound fronts? Did the breeder really improve the breed or the gene pool with that breeding? Or, what about choosing to breed the Rcd4 carrier bitch to the Rcd4 clear dog whose parents both died of cancer at age 7, instead of breeding to the Rcd4 carrier dog whose parents died of old age at 13. We don’t have DNA tests for cancer available for Gordon Setters, but we do know that cancer causes the death of many Gordon Setters before their time, and we know the history of certain cancers can be prevalent in families. By theory, 25% of the puppies in the Rcd4 carrier to carrier litter could be affected, and at age 10 there may be one, perhaps even two of those affected dogs who might (there’s that word might again)  go blind from late onset PRA. Doesn’t the carrier to carrier litter – as a whole – have a better chance of living a healthy, happy life until old age takes them from us? Which choice does a breeder make and how does it affect the diversity of the gene pool? What if the breeder decides not to do either breeding because they don’t like the health choices? Can the diversity and size of the gene pool continue to be maintained if this were to be the constant decision?

Photo by Silvia Timmermann
Photo by Silvia Timmermann

So, why all this fuss about the gene pool, and gene pool diversity, and strength and size of the gene pool? A relatively simple example to help us understand is to look at the mixed breed population, and their reputation for being “healthier” than their purebred counterparts. Why is that? Genetic diversity is solidly at play. Odds are there are no common ancestors for generations in the pedigree of any mixed breed dog. A huge and diverse gene pool lies behind the mixed breed.

Before you decide I might be plumb crazy talking here about an issue with the size of gene pool let me ask you if you’ve read and absorbed, yes absorbed to the point where it makes perfect sense to you, the article at the Institute of Canine Biology by Carol Beachat PhD “Is your breed drifting?” (point and click on the bold printed title to link to this article)

As I look at the Gordon Setter in general, comparing them to other purebred dog breeds, I believe that Gordon Setters have relatively few genetic health issues that occur regularly. We are lucky in that respect. However, we cannot hope to improve the health characteristics we’d like to change, if our gene pool continues to shrink to the point where the majority of dogs are related, where there is not sufficient diversity to enact change. We need a diverse and a large population and we need responsible breeders who understand how to accomplish those health driven goals while maintaining the integrity of the breed.

by show ring
Photo by Bob Segal

As I look at dog show entries, where the rubber meets the road when it comes to proving the merit of our breeding stock, I find an ever decreasing number of Gordon Setter entries along with a decreasing number of new faces joining the ranks of breeders. Those who are showing today find ourselves scrambling to locate shows where there will be points, majors are difficult if not impossible to find unless sometimes you can bring your own entry – which accomplishes what exactly as far as improving the breed when you’ve finished a dog simply by winning over your own breeding? Specialties are struggling to build 5 point majors and many are no longer able to do so, despite offering two shows in one day. Our National Specialty entries have dropped from all time highs of between 450 to 550 dogs in ’93, ’94, and ’95 to approximately 220 entries for 2015, half the number that were participating 20 years ago.  Fewer entries, fewer breeders, fewer litters equals a smaller gene pool and thus loss of genetic diversity. To me this issue is two-fold; as breeders we need to appropriately and wisely utilize health testing without the elimination of too many dogs from the gene pool, and secondly we need to address the shrinking gene pool by understanding that we need to bring new breeder/exhibitors on to follow in our footsteps, to pick up the reins and drive on.

Many of you have been at this breeding/exhibiting thing for a while now. I’m curious how you feel about these concerns or better yet do you even believe there are such concerns? What would you change if you believe change is needed? How would you drive change? What do you think could be utilized to bring about improvement? Who do you believe is responsible for leading change in the breed? Can or should breeders accept responsibility for driving change?  How can breeders mentor others? So many questions and opinions, let’s start a discussion by sharing them, discussion is the first step. Your thoughts and comments are very welcome here, do remember to be respectful of others please.

For those of you who are Gordon owners but perhaps not involved in breeding and showing, what might entice you to change your focus, what would drive your interest in showing/breeding Gordon Setters? How would you want to learn? Who would you want to learn from? As above, your respectful thoughts and comments are welcome here.

To share your thoughts you may use the reply field at the very bottom of this article or click “Leave a Comment” at the very top of this article.

I’d like us to talk to each other people, as I believe change is needed and that is why I write this blog for you…to bring change through the sharing of information, common goals, and a love for our breed, the Gordon Setter.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

 References:

Part 2 – Do Breeders Need to Change?

Three Natural Antibiotics For Your Dog

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Photo by Laurie Ward

Breeders are always interested in finding more safe and effective ways to treat illness and injuries in their dogs, and Gordon Setter breeders are no different. You may be one of those breeders, like Laurie Ward who submitted this article. She considers the use of natural remedies when those may be an appropriate solution. Laurie shared this article from Dogs Naturally that offers suggestions for those searching for or considering the option of a natural antibiotic. Put your little cursor on the title of the article and click to fly over there to read

Three Natural Antibiotics For Your Dog | Dogs Naturally Magazine .

CHIC for DUMMIES – What is it – why should I use it?

This ought to be good – and yes that’s sarcasm!  I’m going to try to take all the long words and even longer sentences that describe CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) and boil them down to a few bullet points that briefly explain who, what, when, where, and how this thing works. To get a full explanation and a complete understanding of CHIC and it’s importance to the Gordon Setter you must read their home page for which I’ve supplied a link below.

WHO

WHAT

  • CHIC collects information about health issues (Gordon Setters).
  • CHIC gives advice about the health screening tests we (owners) need to do to improve the chances of Gordon Setters being born without those health issues.
  • CHIC keeps records of the dogs that are screened and a database of all those test results.
  • CHIC issues a number  when all screening tests are done on a dog – this number does not mean all tests were negative or clear.

WHEN

  • We (owners) screen or test Gordon Setters for the health issues CHIC told us about before breeding.
  •  We send our dog’s test results and DNA samples to the CHIC database and storage bank.
  • We send CHIC updated health information on our dog when a new or different issue comes up.

HOW

  • CHIC sends researchers our dog’s DNA when it’s needed for new research projects.
  • CHIC keeps parent club (owners) up to date on current health trends in the breed based on the data that we sent them.
  • Researchers find new answers to breeding healthy Gordon Setters.

And they all lived happily ever after…the End!

CHIC - breed health improvement plan

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The Kinked Tail – More Than It Appears

It’s not life threatening, it only happens occasionally, it doesn’t make them sick and it can easily be remedied with a quick and relatively painless surgery while they’re still babies. Sounds pretty harmless, nothing to be worried about or to take too seriously…or is it?

Photo by Bob Segal
Photo by Bob Segal

Over the years I’ve been privy to a few conversations among Gordon Setter people about puppies born with a kink in their tail. I once heard someone say that the puppy’s tail was kinked because it was a huge litter and the puppy was crowded in the uterus, so the tail didn’t have room to grow properly….really? Another time I heard it said that the bitch was crazy wild while she was pregnant and her rough-housing probably broke the tail before the pup was born and the tail healed wrong…uhmmm no.

So, understanding that there may be folks who don’t understand this phenomenon I thought I’d put a little something out here as food for thought. The best article on the topic that I’ve found so far was written by Ms MA J.H.C. Brooijmans-SchallenbergThe Kink in the Tail“.   “If we wish our pedigree dogs to have good futures, we will need to step up and take our collective responsibility for it.”  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d advise you to read the article in full, I am not an expert and cannot be responsible for fully explaining everything in as much detail. I will only attempt a brief summary to get you started.

The tail is an extension of the spinal column, which consists of vertebrae that are built differently depending on their function. Congenital aberrations of the tail shape can be found in many animals including the dog, and these generally cause no issue as long as the defect is only found on the tail. The warning is that breeding these affected dogs can result in offspring with serious defects in other parts of the body.

Starting with the fertilized egg three germ layers are formed, the most important layer, the Mesoderm is where the entire skeleton (excluding the crown of the skull), the heart, the blood vessels and the urogenital system are shaped. In the early stages of the embryonic development a great number of genetic factors pass on their information. Mutations occur often, and when they occur in the reproductive cells the changes are transferable to descendents.

As a result, there are many things (other than simply a kinked tail) that could be transferred to the offspring if Gordon Setters with kinked tails are used in breeding, and this is due to the formation of not only the skeleton, but also the heart, blood vessels and urogenital systems in the same layer, the Mesoderm. For example the offspring could have defects in the spinal column or any other part of the skeleton and jaw. Perhaps the defect could be an aortic atrium septum (undersized septum in the heart) or aortic stenosis (aorta too narrow in places), or the embryonic blood vessels fail to disappear after birth. Another defect could occur involving urethra running from kidney to bladder that is not implanted in the bladder past the sphincter. Females with this abnormality often display incontinent behavior. Males have two sphincters so this defect could be present but not evident. This is a very short list of the many abnormalities that can occur.

The Gordon Setter Health Survey conducted in 2004 for the Gordon Setter Club of America Inc. reported that 6.06% of the total population survey reported Kinked Tails under Musculoskeletal health problems. Certainly not a huge portion of the population but it does indicate to us as breeders that this occurs in the Gordon Setter. As breeders, I hope I’ve helped you gain a better understanding of what could be at play and the risk. I do hope our readers  and others who may be much more expert on this topic than I, will share your thoughts, additions or additional information in the comment section below!

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

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Beauty and the Feast

As it’s fair to say that athletes pay strict attention to the food they eat in order to maintain their body at peak performance, why would we not assume the same holds true for our Gordon Setters? Now, before you start hyperventilating because you’ve got a kennel full of dogs and you think I’m about to tell you to shop for meat and organic veggies to prepare your own home-cooked meals, take a deep breath – that’s not where we’re headed today. (But some of you should also know that I totally respect those with the dedication to do that!)

What I do want to say is, what you put in your dog’s mouth is going to make or break her, from weight, to fertility, to coat quality, your dog will only be as good as the food she eats. Not only do our Gordon Setters deserve that we feed them well, they will also perform better when we make the right choices. And to make the right choices we need to look at more than price when choosing food, we must take some time to learn the ingredients that went into the food and if it’s a complete and balanced diet.

pup n adults fence
Photo by Bob Segal

Reading dog food labels to understand the ingredients used to be a difficult, long and tedious task. Standing in the pet food aisle for hours on end, turning over bags of food to read the small print while going from one brand to another sucked. Frankly, you could be there so long the store owner grew suspicious of you, and before you knew it a clerk was patting you on the shoulder asking if they could help, when what they really intended was to show you out the door because they believed you were homeless and hanging out in the store to stay warm.

I’ve compiled some links to make it easier to find good articles that will help you understand more about what goes into making a dog food and how to choose the right one. You could start here for some helpful information How to Choose the Right Dog Food.

Then go to The Dog Food Adviser  to find free ratings and rankings that include the ingredients in nearly every brand of dog food. Another source of information on feeding your dog can be found at the Dog Food Project.

And then, best of all there are online pet food companies who will ship food on a regularly scheduled basis right to you door, no need to hit the pet food store on your way home from work, did I mention that I love this? I use Pet Flow because I pay the same price as my local big box pet stores but no sales tax or shipping charges so I actually save a bit of money. There are dozens of companies out there if you’re looking for this service.

I’m hoping some other breeder/exhibitors will chime in to add their two cents about feeding. We all have our favorites and have found some wonderful products that are fabulous for our Gordon. We’d love to hear from you and hope you’ll leave a comment below!