Crufts has been running for over 120 years, spanning three centuries, it starts today at the NEC in Birmingham and has attracted wide spread attention.
Dog health has been at the forefront of the public's mind for several years now, but has been for even longer a focus at the Kennel Club, the organisers of Crufts. The Kennel Club is not afraid to address criticism of dog health, it has been working tirelessly with breeders and scientists to improve the health of all the UK's dogs and has invested over £3.8 million into researching canine health problems, who else can claim to have invested so much?
There is confusion amongst the public about the causes of health problems affecting dogs, and it is particularly worrying that people believe cross breeds are automatically more healthy than pedigree dogs. There is no factual evidence for this and it has fuelled the trade in unhealthy designer crossbreed dogs, bred by unscrupulous puppy farmers and others.
What many people do not realise is that cross breeds are susceptible to exactly the same health problems as pedigree dogs, but breeders of crossbreeds will often not health test, resulting in litters of potentially unhealthy crossbreed dogs.
The Kennel Club recently conducted research of over 1000 dog owners and found that pedigree dog owners took the most responsible steps when finding a puppy. This is because the knowledge about the importance of dog health is widespread in the pedigree world and there are established programmes in place such as the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme, where breeders must use relevant health tests for their breed amongst a number of other rules.
Huge strides have been made to improve dog health, particularly with the knowledge that has been gained in recent years thanks to the advancement of genetic science, but there is still more to do. We particularly need to address the issue of people breeding dogs for money at the expense of health and for looks, whether these be pedigree or crossbreeds.
The Kennel Club has conducted groundbreaking research with the Animal Health Trust to look at genetic diversity in different breeds. The research is helping us to understand how many genetically different dogs are effectively contributing to the different breeds. This will enable us to work with Breed Clubs to develop solutions which might include importing dogs from aboard, outcrossing and increasing the number of dogs that are used at stud.
The Kennel Club Charitable Trust has invested £1.2 million into a five year project for research into a number of inherited diseases, at its Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust. Where possible, DNA tests are being developed for each disease so that breeders can identify carriers of conditions and make responsible decisions to help ensure that future generations are not affected. Over the last three years, five different mutations associated with diseases in 21 different breeds have been identified. This has resulted in the development of five DNA tests and more than 14,000 dogs being tested. Work currently being undertaken involves idiopathic epilepsy in Border Collies and hereditary cataract and progressive retinal atrophy in many breeds, including Siberian Huskies, Miniature Schnauzers and Tibetan Spaniels.
Crufts can be a positive force for change; at Crufts 2012 tight measures are being put in place to ensure that dog shows play their part in driving change by rewarding, and so encouraging, the breeding of healthy dogs by introducing veterinary checks for each of 15 high profile breeds so that Best of Breed awards are not given to any dogs that show signs of health problems.
The Kennel Club has been doing more than anyone else to promote dog health and welfare; to find out about what has been going on they created a film which is available to view here: www.thekennelclub.org.uk/doghealth