The British Veterinary Association (BVA) are urging owners and breeders to ‘do their bit’ for dog health by ensuring they use pre-mating health tests if they are looking to breed from their pedigree or ‘designer’ crossbreed dog.

That ‘every dog should be born with the best possible chance of living a healthy and happy life’ is one of the principles that underpin the Puppy Contract. This means that breeds most affected by inherited diseases should be tested to ensure they are fit to be bred from and will not pass diseases like hip and elbow dysplasia onto their litters, causing heartbreak to unsuspecting new owners.

The BVA and the Kennel Club work in partnership to provide Canine Health Schemes – a number of health screening programmes that enable breeders to screen for inherited diseases, so they can make an informed decision to whether those dogs should be included in breeding programmes. However, new statistics have revealed that 70 per cent of companion animal vets very often or always see puppies born without the parents receiving relevant pre-mating screening tests.

Awareness of the tests was particularly low among owners of ‘designer crossbreeds’, such as labradoodles and cockapoos, with 77 per cent of vets reporting that few or none of their clients with such breeds are even aware of the tests.

If we want to reduce the suffering caused by painful inherited diseases, then these tests are key

British Veterinary Association Junior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said, “We’re celebrating Canine Health Schemes Month this January, hoping to raise awareness of the vital role these schemes can play in improving dog health.

“Vets in practice regularly see cases of debilitating and distressing inherited conditions, but we know that many people may wrongly believe these tests are only relevant for Kennel Club-registered pedigrees and that crossbreed owners may be especially unaware of the dangers.

“Pre-mating screening helps breeders make the best possible choices as part of a responsible breeding programme. If we want to reduce the suffering caused by painful inherited diseases, then these tests are key. Your local vet and the veterinary team are perfectly placed to have conversations about pre-mating tests such as the Canine Health Schemes. Prospective puppy buyers can also do their bit for dog health by using the Puppy Contract to ensure they’re buying from a responsible breeder.”

The questions on pre-mating health testing were asked as part of the BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession Survey Autumn 2018. The results from this survey also revealed 90 per cent of vets working with companion animals see cases of lameness or joint pain related to hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia every month. It was also revealed that vets treat an average of 90 cases of lameness each year relating to hip dysplasia and 64 cases each year relating to elbow dysplasia. The most commonly seen breeds with both conditions were Labradors, with popular Labrador crossbreeds also identified as frequently affected. 

One in three of the vets also reported seeing cases of hereditary eye disease on at least a monthly basis, with an average of 11 cases being treated per year, most commonly involving Spaniels and Collies.

The Hereditary Eye Disease Scheme and the Hip Dysplasia Scheme have each been working to improve dog welfare for over 50 years, with thousands of dogs being screened in that time. The introduction of digital applications last year made it easier than ever for vets to submit x-rays to the Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes and over 30 per cent of submissions are now online. For more information on all of the Canine Health Schemes run by BVA/Kennel Club, visit the website.  

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