DNA tests help dog breeders produce healthier puppies
DNA tests are helping to reduce the number of pedigree dogs at risk of often painful and debilitating inherited diseases. A recent study published in the journal PLOS One looked at the long-term impact of dog breeders using DNA testing to avoid producing puppies affected by inherited conditions.
Scientists who work for the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust examined DNA tests for eight diseases in eight breeds. They found that, approximately ten years after each DNA test became available, the gene mutations that caused the diseases had decreased in each breed by as much as 90%.
The breeds analysed in the study were the Labrador Retriever, Parson Russell Terrier, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Miniature Bull Terrier, Cocker Spaniel and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The researchers examined data for diseases such as progressive rod-cone degeneration (prcd-PRA), an irreversible and blinding condition that cannot be treated; Spinocerebellar ataxia, a neurological condition that leads to in-coordination and loss of balance in puppies; and primary lens luxation, a painful and blinding inherited eye condition.
"Our research shows the sizeable impact that responsible breeders can have, and have had, not only on the dogs that they breed, but also on the generations of dogs that come after them," said Dr Tom Lewis, quantitative geneticist and genetics research manager at the Kennel Club, who co-wrote the study.
DNA tests help breeders avoid unintentionally producing puppies with known painful and life-limiting diseases from mating two unaffected parents which are both 'carriers' of the disease-causing gene variant, Dr Lewis explained.
"Our research highlights the fantastic work that has already been carried out by those breeders and breed clubs that have been utilising and promoting DNA tests for years, while similarly demonstrating why those who haven't been health screening should be doing so," he added. "It also stresses why puppy buyers should only buy puppies from breeders who appropriately test their dogs, such as Kennel Club Assured Breeders, not only for the immediate health reassurances, but also for the health of the wider dog population."