I’ve been meaning to highlight this report, which is a summary of lectures given at the Canine Health Foundation’s Parent Club Conference (“parent club” means the big-mama clubs that make decisions for an entire breed, as opposed to the local clubs–so my local club is the Yankee Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club, but my parent club is the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America–and each parent club was encouraged to send delegates to this conference).
The Canine Health Foundation is the research-supporting arm of the AKC. It donates millions of dollars a year to fund studies and research on canine health, and it relates directly to breeders via the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). CHIC was set up to have a centralized repository of health-testing information; each participating breed designates the health tests that they consider best practice for that paricular breed. If you get all those tests done on your dog, the dog recieves a CHIC number.
The upshoot for breeders and owners is that the CHF is a little different from the larger vet organizations in that its main audience is a body of educated and dedicated breeders, not pet owners. For that reason they, I think, sometimes feel freer to make recommendations that other bodies feel are too dangerous because of the “unwashed masses” assumption (that all pet owners are stupid and won’t show up for vet appointments, and that they’re stupid and won’t keep dogs safe or fenced, and again that they’re stupid and if left to their own devices will prove to be the downfall of dogdom, so we say or do whatever we have to to get them in to our offices and get their dogs taken care of and sterilized).
So, here are some highlights:
– While spaying is still considered beneficial, health-wise, because of the risk of pyometra and mammary tumors, the best studies show that neutering actually has a deleterious effect on dogs. This report is the first time I’ve seen it put this baldly–as recently as a year ago I was hearing that the risks and benefits were basically balanced, but this is an excellent retrospective analysis of evidence that neutering gives a several-times-higher risk of several cancers, of obesity, of ACL tears, and even of some behavioral disorders. The implications of this finding for breeders are staggering–neuter contracts are now called into question, as are recommendations that performance dogs (agility, obedience, and so on) be neutered, training facilities refusing to accept unneutered dogs, etc.
– As breeders have been yelping about for years, there is no evidence that mixed-breed dogs are in any way healthier than purebreds, and in fact mixed-breed dogs are more likely to have some of the genetic disorders that breeders routinely test for (hip dysplasia is one, thyroid is another). However, this effect, which should lead to a longer lifespan, is ruined in some breeds by the concentration of extremely bad genes (such as cancer in Boxers). So owners, ask your potential breeder, if you are puppy-hunting, what bad genes exist in the breed and what they are doing to minimize your puppy’s chance of getting them. And breeders, you now have good studies to point to to disprove the idea that cross-breeds are healthier.
– The “chicken and egg” scenario of ACL tears has been reversed (this is actually quite dramatic). It used to be assumed that the arthritis vets were seeing in post-ACL-tear joints was because of the ACL tear; this research shows that in fact the ACL tears are due to arthritis and bacteria/inflammation in the joint. So the current therapy, which is surgery, can provide physical stability to the joint again, but has not cured or even addressed the root cause.
– (This one is WONDERFUL) Core vaccines are defined to be rabies, distemper, parvovirus. After the puppy series, distemper and parvo vaccines are to be given NO MORE OFTEN than every three years, and seven- to ten-year intervals should be seen as absolutely normal. Rabies is still mandated to be given every three years, but longer-term challenge studies are being done. Titers are to be seen as very useful, but the levels of the antibodies are immaterial. Any positive titer should be seen as a sign that the dog has an adequate antibody response and does not need to be vaccinated. Bordatella vaccine is largely unneeded except for “lap dogs” who never leave a house or yard and are never exposed to other dogs and are then kenneled in a kennel-cough hotbed. Leptospirosis vaccine should be given only where lepto is a current problem, and never at the same time as other vaccines. Lepto has a very high reaction rate, especially in small dogs. Lepto vaccine is ineffective after nine to twelve months.
– Probiotics have been shown to be effective in many ways, including strengthening overall immune response, and should be considered for every dog.
– High-fat, high-protein diets are dramatically better than high-carb diets (to this I give a resounding “No DUH!” but I suppose it’s good to have it finally ratified by a governing body). In particular, high glutamine levels are very protective.
The full report, which is an absolute must-read for breeders and serious owners and has lots more than I’ve summarized in this post, is here.