There have been no significant changes in the health of the breed during the past year although growing popularity is increasing the variety of problems and numbers of reports of poor health that reach me. Therefore, the incidence rate of any problems remains the same, with old age and cancer being the major causes of death and aggression the most significant welfare issue.
The focus on pedigree dog health has produced considerable activity from the Kennel Club to improve the health of breeds where an inherited defect or conformational exaggeration is the cause. Mandated changes to the breed standards to remove words suggesting conformational exaggeration came into effect in the summer of 2009 with modification of any wording potentially linked to ill health or welfare problems. Our breed standard, with the word 'moderate' featuring four times, was never likely to be accused of exaggeration and this proved the case. So the only change was the generic wording included at the start of all breed standards from this year:
The Breed Standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential .Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed. From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure.
The Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) published a report in autumn 2009 making recommendations associated with ' the health and welfare issues surrounding the breeding of pedigree dogs'. There is nothing specific here for our breed but several of the recommendations, if taken up, could affect the way we exhibit our dogs. For example one of the more extreme recommendations suggests compulsory veterinary health checks and certification of every dog before it is allowed to be entered for exhibition. In early 2010 Sir Patrick Bateson published his report on the breeding of dogs. Unlike the APGAW report his remit encompassed all dog breeding, not just pedigree dogs. Once again there are many recommendations of concern however it does point out most opinions on canine health are based on conjecture and little data. Therefore our breed is at least one step ahead in continuing to gather health reports and analysing the results.
The Kennel Club has made Breed Watch available as a reference tool on its website. This lists all the breeds and known inherited defects of concern. There are none listed for the Border Terrier and long may that be the case but this places a significant responsibility on us all to ensure the good health record of the breed is maintained.
In the show ring, judges are now required to place dogs taking health and welfare issues into account. This relates to the mandatory paragraph set out in the breed standard (as spelt out above) and judges are recommended to take account of any conditions listed on Breed Watch. Scrutineers keep an eye on the judging of breeds during the year and provide reports to the K.C. Each judge is required to ensure health and welfare is a feature in their critiques especially where it deserves mention. A judge may be subject to criticism if their assessment of the breed's health, as it appears in the ring, does not match the opinion of the scrutineers. At this present time there would appear to be little that the Border Terrier judges need concern themselves with unless they consistently place dogs with obvious health problems or behavioural difficulties such as aggression.
We can be re-assured by this confirmation of the breed's health status but there is no room for complacency. A paper published in late 2009 suggested the top 50 breeds (and the BT is one of them) carry a significant number of conformational defects. Our breed was not exempt from criticism being said to have five defects of conformation. Not everyone views our breed in the same rosy light as we do. A second paper has just been published although the content has not yet been analysed. Any challenges to our breed's health status can be compared to the data we have gathered from the health survey and any relevant conclusions will be communicated to the breed clubs in due course.
Is there anything Border Terrier Breeders should be doing to enhance the reputation of our breed? It would be sensible if all breeders joined the Accredited Breeder Scheme. Not only is this recommended by APGAW and Bateson it is increasingly used by purchasers when they choose a puppy. The scheme has been steadily improved and is now increasingly representing the best breeders in the UK and to be included on the list has becoming the sensible thing to do. In the future it may be an unavoidable requirement.
Prof Steve Dean BVet Med, DVR, MRCVS
Breed Health Co-ordinator
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