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The Health Tests at Crufts: Part II

Bo Bengtson continues his conversation with Ronnie Irving, former chairman of the Kennel Club in England and the man behind the controversial “Health Test” concept.

Bo Bengtson: I understand that health tests were performed at other shows during 2012. How many were there, how many dogs have been tested, and what percentage passed-failed?

Ronnie Irving: At the end of the first year of vet health examinations for Best of Breed winners from the 14 high profile breeds at all general and Group championship shows, the figures showed that of the 345 examinations that took place during 2012, 330 dogs were passed fit to gain the BOB award and appear in their Group, with only 15 examinations resulting in the dog being failed on the day (six of these at Crufts 2012). This represents a 96-percent pass rate, and the KC said when it announced the figure that this was “an indication of the overall standard of health presented from the dogs involved.” (See Appendix 3 for the detailed list of the specific conditions vets were told to look for in the 14 high profile breeds.)

The announcement also said, “Since the introduction of the checks, exhibitors have consistently come forward, with only six potential candidates choosing not to present their dogs for the health check and therefore not claiming their BOB. Four breeds have a 100-percent pass rate; a further six recording only one failure across the breed during 2012.”

The French Bulldog is one of 14 breeds whose Best of Breed winner will need to pass a veterinary exam before it can compete in the Group at Crufts. Photo by Willeecole/Dreamstime.

BB: The logic behind allowing those dogs that did not pass to keep the Challenge Certificate they were awarded on the day, although they were stripped of the BOB award, has been questioned. Please explain the reasoning behind this.

RI: The dogs do indeed keep their CCs. This is a question of logistics. If the CC were to be withdrawn, then the reserve CC winner would have to be summoned and tested and so on down the line. This would create total chaos in practical terms. The problem has been “solved” by the fact that irrespective of the number of CCs a dog of a high profile breed obtains, it cannot be granted its champion title unless it has undergone a positive vet test.

BB: Do you, overall, feel that the health tests as performed at Crufts and other shows have been a success?

RI: In my view the objective is succeeding, and there is no doubt in my mind that the policy is having a positive effect on many of the breeds involved. The degree of attention to visible health issues now being paid by judges is, in my view, much greater than before the policy was introduced. You just need to look at how much fitter the Best of Breed Winner in, say Neapolitan Mastiffs, is in the Group ring these days. The same applies to many of the breeds, such as Bulldogs, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, etc. The trick is to attempt to achieve all of this without adversely affecting breed type, and in my view a large number of exhibitors and judges are achieving this.

BB: What other actions does the KC take to ensure that purebred, registered dogs are healthy? Are any health tests of stud dogs or brood bitches required prior to their offspring being registered? Has this been discussed?

RI: The policies we have been discussing here are the show aspects of exaggerated features and the use of dog shows to act as a positive influence over what dogs should look like and how they should behave. I believe that this is a separate and distinct issue from what health tests dogs should undergo before being permitted to be bred from. That could be the subject of a whole other interview!

Let’s just say that, as I understand it, the KC’s approach to this is to keep the maximum of contact with as many purebred dogs and their breeders as possible and not to drive breeders or dogs away from inclusion in the KC register. Apart from the banning of the mating of first degree relatives, some colour combinations, and a few conditions, no other actual health bans exist. (The ban on the mating of first degree relatives effectively means that the progeny from mother to son, father to daughter and full brother to full sister matings cannot be registered at the Kennel Club.) However, the KC’s registration database makes all of the details of all official health tests carried out on dogs publicly available. (This can be located by going to the homepage of the Kennel Club website, clicking on the Breed Watch section, then on the Health Tests heading and then by entering the registered name of the dog or bitch concerned.) This shows those that have not been tested. And with the introduction of estimated breeding value techniques for certain conditions, even dogs that are untested can be given a “value” in breeding programmes. That value is statistically based on the test results of siblings, ancestors and progeny. But as I have already said, that whole area could be the subject of another interview.

BB: If I understand you correctly, there is some disagreement within the KC concerning the health tests.

RI: I don’t think there is disagreement within the majority of the KC General Committee about this issue – but I cannot be sure of that. I think they are committed to it for the foreseeable future in some form or another.

BB: Do you have any final words for those who have been so loudly critical of the Crufts-type health tests and feel that they are a disservice to the sport of purebred dogs?

RI: All I can say is that I think some people in the dog fancy need to wake up and smell the coffee. There is, certainly here in Europe, a much greater awareness than ever before amongst the public at large and amongst politicians and lawmakers as well, that exaggerated features in some breeds can cause the dogs discomfort at best – and suffering at worst. It simply isn’t good enough just to dismiss this and claim that people with such views are “just animal rightists” or “terrorists.” If we want our hobby of dog showing to survive and prosper, we have to recognise that. If we want dog showing to remain as a socially and widely acceptable pastime, we simply have to work on curbing the excesses. We just cannot sit around allowing greater and greater exaggeration to take place. I would like to think that this could all be left to the judges and the breeders, but I fear that this is a vain hope.

I doubt very much whether all Americans who read these comments will agree with me, but I think that one day they themselves may well regret not taking a much firmer line on some of these things. Whenever I try to explain such issues to some of my American friends, I am haunted by the difference in attitude that exists between us in a number of respects. I always have to remind myself that the practice of ear cropping was banned by the Kennel Club as a cruel mutilation as long ago as in the 1890s. It is today still defended as being acceptable by the American Kennel Club. Therein lies a considerable — maybe even an irreconcilable – difference in attitude.

The following list of breeds appears on the Kennel Club’s website:

APPENDIX 3 – SPECIFIC CONDITIONS OF CONCERN BY BREED

Affected Breeds: Each breed has specific conditions of concern and these can, as before, be grouped largely into conditions causing:

  • • Externally visible eye disease (current or healed), ocular pain or visual impairment;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Dermatological disorders such as inflammation or evidence or previous infection;
  • • Respiratory effects or noise, if associated with distress (at rest or with light exercise).

Basset Hound: The chief feature of concern is excessive skin wrinkling resulting in deep skin folds. Associated eye conditions and hip and elbow dysplasia are also of concern. Joint dysplasia cannot be directly evaluated during a visual examination, but may cause lameness.

  • • Signs of dermatitis in skin folds;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are
  • considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Lameness.

Bloodhound: The chief feature of concern is excessive skin wrinkling resulting in deep skin folds. Associated eye conditions and hip and elbow dysplasia are also of concern. Joint dysplasia cannot be directly evaluated during a visual examination, but may cause lameness.

  • • Signs of dermatitis in skin folds;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are
  • considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Lameness.

Bulldog: The breed is prone to respiratory distress. Obesity may also be noted and may contribute to signs of respiratory unfitness. Hyperthermia appears to be relatively common in this breed.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are
  • considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Damage (scarring or ulceration) to the cornea caused by e.g. facial folds, distichiasis [hair that grows from the oil glands on the eyelid onto the eyelid’s edge], ectopic cilia [hair that grows from the oil glands, protruding from the eyelid’s inner surface], poor eyelid anatomy;
  • • Respiratory difficulty due to e.g. soft palate or small (pinched) nostrils;
  • • Dermatitis associated with facial wrinkles or at the tail root due to a tightly “screwed” tail;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • Lameness.

Chow Chow: A breed associated with respiratory difficulty, small eyes (leading to entropion) and eyelid defects.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, entropion is considered to be a conformational defect that will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Audible respiratory sounds associated with respiratory difficulty, at rest or with light exercise;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Clear evidence of eyelid surgery including tacking to be a major conformational defect leading to failure to pass the examination.

Clumber Spaniel: Conditions of eye and ear are a major focus for the breed, and obesity can affect health and welfare.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Ear inflammation;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Clear evidence of eyelid surgery including tacking to be a conformational defect that will lead to failure to pass the examination.

Dogue de Bordeaux: Main predisposing feature is excessive facial wrinkling.

  • • Dermatitis associated with skin wrinkles;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Lameness.

French Bulldog: A breed associated with breathing difficulties and corneal pathology such as ulceration and chronic pigmentation, considered to be due to a prominent eye.

  • • Respiratory difficulty or noise, if associated with distress, at rest or with light exercise;
  • • Ocular pain, or signs of damage to the cornea, such as ulceration, pigmentation or scarring;
  • • Dermatitis associated with a tight coiled or screw tail;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • Lameness.

German Shepherd Dog: There is much controversy about the hindquarter conformation of the GSD. The principal issue is conformational problems with cow hocks and weakness (instability) in the hind limbs when moving.

Mastiff: Loose skin and wrinkling are the chief features of the breed resulting in clinical problems. Obesity is another factor considered to contribute to unsoundness in the breed.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination – as is ocular pain or discomfort;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Hind limb ataxia;
  • • Signs of dermatitis in the skin folds;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • Clear evidence of eyelid surgery.

Neapolitan Mastiff: Loose skin and wrinkling are the chief features of the breed resulting in clinical problems. Obesity is another factor considered to contribute to unsoundness in the breed.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination – as is ocular pain or discomfort;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Hind limb ataxia;
  • • Signs of dermatitis in the skin folds;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • Clear evidence of eyelid surgery.

Pekingese: A breed associated with breathing difficulties and hyperthermia considered to be caused by lack of muzzle and pinched nostrils. Corneal pathology is also relatively common, considered to be due to mechanical damage from the facial folds, distichiasis, or medial lower eyelid entropion. Blinking may not be adequate because of the prominence of the eye, and this can result in exposure keratopathy and inadequate distribution of the tear film.

  • • Respiratory difficulty or noise, if associated with distress, at rest or with light exercise;
  • • Corneal pathology or ocular pain;
  • • Nasal folds causing mechanical damage to eye;
  • • Inability to move effectively as a result of excessive coat or general lack of muscle tone or fitness;
  • • Lameness.

Pug: A breed associated with breathing difficulties and corneal pathology. The ocular problems are related to some or all of a prominent eye, medial lower eyelid entropion, inadequate blink and tear film distribution. Nasal folds may impinge directly on the cornea and produce mechanical trauma.

  • • Respiratory difficulty or noise, if associated with distress, at rest or with light exercise;
  • • Corneal pathology or ocular pain;
  • • Dermatitis associated with tight coiled or screw tail, or facial folds;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • Lameness.

Shar Pei: The chief feature of concern is excessive skin wrinkling resulting in deep skin folds.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, entropion is considered to be a conformational defect that will lead to failure to pass the examination – as is ocular pain or discomfort;
  • • Signs of dermatitis or scarring/hair loss in the skin folds or on other parts of the dog;
  • • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis;
  • • Trauma to lower lip;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Clear evidence of eyelid surgery including tacking to be a conformational defect which will lead to failure to pass the examination.

St Bernard: Skin folds around the head are a principal concern, resulting in poor eyelid conformation.

  • • When associated with clinical signs, ectropion or entropion are considered to be conformational defects that will lead to failure to pass the examination – as is ocular pain or discomfort;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Clear evidence of eyelid surgery.

Written by

Bo Bengtson has been involved in dogs since the late 1950s and judged since the mid-1970s in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Japan, China and Russia. He has judged twice at Westminster, twice at Crufts and four times at the FCI World Show, as well as the U.S. national specialties for Scottish Deerhounds, Whippets, Greyhounds and Borzoi.
Comments
  • Mark Sachau: Duxinarow Labs March 9, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Kudos to Ronnie Irving for his commitment to breed health issues. I have no doubt the protocol for examination will change over time. I hope people support the KC’s intention to address health issues in pure bred dogs over time. If would be nice if AKC were as responsive. Bo’s interview with Irving should be mandatory reading for all breeder/ exhibitors…and AKC Board Members!

  • Billy Wheeler
    Billy Wheeler March 9, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    My thanks to Bo for scoring what may be the most important interview I have read about our sport in the past couple of years. I also thank Mr Irving for his honesty on the subject of the controversy around the “High Profile Breeds.” I do agree with Mr Iriving that most American fanciers would disagree with him. Perhaps this interview will rally more in AKC to confront this issue and develop a long term strategy to deal with it.

  • Mark Sachau: Duxinarow Labs March 10, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    Kudos to Ronnie Irving for seriously addressing the health issues of pure bred dogs. AKC should worried about the health of its constituents as much as they worry about registrations. No doubt the protocol of examining winners at dog shows will evolve into something more meaningful because of Mr. Irving’s efforts.

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