Purebred dogs may win in the popularity contest, but they won’t win the contest that we should value the most- health. Our dogs are now bred strictly for looks, at the cost of their own well-being. Some have called irresponsible dog breeding the biggest animal welfare scandal of our time, and I happen to agree.
Years of inbreeding and aggressively breeding in poor phenotypes to achieve “breed standard” as defined by the Kennel Club is imposing needless pain and suffering on the dogs we claim to love. The “desirable” features breeders work to achieve has resulted in impaired breathing, limited mobility, seizures- you name it.
If you love, or have ever loved a dog, you need to watch Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It is an absolutely damning documentary with inside access into the world of dog breeding.
Money is Always the Bottom Line
Breeding is big business these days, and “trendy dogs” are now a hot commodity. Many like the idea of a purebred dog since the physical appearance, personality and temperament is often predictable. Just as predictable however, is the resulting cancer, heart disease, neurological diseases, joint problems, and vision impairments.
Where have our breeding practices gotten us?
That cute little head of the Cavalier Spaniel contains a skull too small to fit its brain, predisposing them to seizures and one of the most painful diseases known, Syringomyelia. They are also prone to heart disease, occurring at 25 times the frequency of a mixed-breed.
America’s most beloved dog, the Labrador, is plagued with joint and eye problems. Golden Retrievers have an extraordinarily high incidence of cancer (A National Breed Health Survey revealed 61% die from cancer). Springer Spaniels suffer from an enzyme deficiency which is specific to the breed. The Boxer is beset by several life-threatening conditions- cardiomyopathy, cancer (particularly brain tumors), and epilepsy just to name a few.
And yet none of these conditions are disqualifiers from being AKC registered or competing in their show. And as you probably already know, best in show = breeding material, with many of the winners siring dozens and dozens of litters of puppies, only further narrowing the gene pool. Later of course, when it is found that the stud has epilepsy, cancer or another heritable condition, it’s too late.
Check out the Humane Society’s Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs– it will make your head spin (and shake too, if you have a conscience).
The Corruption of the AKC
The obsession with perfecting the breeds has been around since the 19th century when the eugenics craze was sweeping Europe. The British justified inbreeding, with show judge Freeman Lloyd professing “it takes the best to get the best.”
Though the Kennel Club isn’t quite as emboldened today, their tone hasn’t changed much. Many of these problems could be improved by expanding the gene pool, though the AKC does not allow breeding with non-registered dogs. In addition, the AKC refuses to mandate genetic screening in order to protect future puppies and the owners who will love them. Even Europe has caught on and mandated screening to some extent. The American organization will not budge on this one.
My How Times (and Dogs) Have Changed
For those of you who still don’t think we have a huge problem on our hands, I want you to look at how dogs have changed physically. Despite what the AKC claims, dogs look completely different today then they did say 30-40 years ago when the focus was breeding functional companions (ie: for hunting and security).
As you can see, the mastiff above looks very different today. His build is much larger (posing additional strain on his joints and vital organs). There is plenty of excess, wrinkled skin on his face, predisposing to vision problems. The awkward, brachycephalic head shape associated with narrow nostrils, a small, compressible windpipe, and an elongated soft palate is an invitation for respiratory difficulties.
More Before and Afters….
Speaking of brachycephalic breeds who can’t breathe….
Who in the world thought this would be a good idea? Poor Mr.No-Nose here has been sacrificed in the name of achieving a cute “baby face”. As a result, he has severe airway obstruction, manifested by loud snoring, exercise and heat intolerance.
In fact, if it weren’t for human intervention, the Bulldog breed would likely die off. Many cannot mate naturally and require the assistance of artificial insemination (gross!) due to the dogs bulid, and many cannot give birth naturally due to their health problems and the puppies’ head circumference.
Pictured above is the Bulldog, then and now.
This is back when the Dachshund still had functional legs…. Now they develop intervertebral disc disease at an alarming rate.
Here is today’s German Shepard. Decades of selective breeding has surely improved the dog, right? Look at these GSDs in motion at the Crufts Dog Show-
Dr. Martin Fischer, a locomotive expert and author of Dogs in Motion, notes that the dog’s hock is to the floor, and that he is “among the worst” he has seen. “His movement hurts almost all biomechanical principles of dog locomotion”, he says. The mechanics hurt the efficiency of the dog and make the dog less mobile. It is a crippling effect. And somehow we’ve become so sick that we purposefully impose this upon dogs.
Irresponsible Breeding is Making Dogs Sick
Hopefully you are convinced by now that we are making our dogs sick. I have so much other evidence and pictures that I wanted to include, but in the interest of time I will save that for another day. Don’t think by any stretch this is going away. This situation is only becoming worse.
Survey shows dwindling longevity
For those of you who don’t think it is yet a crisis, please know this: the most recent Kennel Club survey shows as significant drop in the longevity of some of America’s favorite purebreds since 2004.
Let’s start with the worst of the worst:
Bull Terriers- Expected Lifespan: 2004- 10 yrs now- 7 yrs
Beagles- Expected Lifespan: 2004- 12 yrs 8 mo now- 10 yrs
Dobermans- Expected Lifespan: 2004- 10 yrs 6 mo now- 8 yrs
Rhodesian Ridgebacks– Expected Lifespan: 2004- 11 yrs now- 9 yrs
Irish Wolfhounds- Expected Lifespan: 2004- 7 yrs now- 6 yrs 5 mo (How sad! I’m pretty sure I had a goldfish live almost that long once.)
Only a couple breeds saw a slight increase in life span, not statistically significant. A couple others saw little to no change.
Admittedly there are a few limitations of the study. There were fewer deaths reported in the 2014 survey as compared to the one sent out in 2004. The 2014 survey was also sent out to owners of KC-registered dogs instead of just breed clubs. So of course the population wasn’t identical. But still, we cannot ignore or write-off these numbers.
If you would like to read more about the survey or delve into the issues that we’ve discussed, I recommend going to Jemima Harrison’s Blog, Pedigree Dogs Exposed. She is the directer of the BBC documentary, and more importantly, an animal lover.
The follow up to this is Pedigree Dogs Exposed- Three Years On. I have yet to see this, but when I do I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me.
In the meantime, go hug your purebred and promise him we’ll do better, that we’re not a bunch of Dr. Mengele- type experimenting eugenicists. Better yet, if you don’t have a dog, go to your local shelter and adopt the muttiest mutt you can find. God willing, he’ll be around to love you a long time.