There is a pandemic that is affecting the quality of dogs’ lives everywhere. It harms and kills far more canines every year than Parvovirus, heartworm disease and getting hit by vehicles combined. It is a “Silent Pandemic” because many people don’t know about it, and those who do often don’t discuss it. Dogs suffer dearly as a result.
So what is the problem?
I’m talking about breeding. Starting in the 19th century, dogs went from being bred for utility and health to being bred for a specific look. For each breed, a very small number of dogs were used as “Founders”. For example, over 80% of the DNA of one popular dog breed comes from only six dogs! Using a small group of dogs that possess a certain look markedly reduces the time needed to make dramatic changes in their appearance. Those six dogs were bred to each other, and then bred to their offspring. With an emphasis above all else on a dog’s appearance, genes that negatively impacted health or behavior were carried along with genes that made a dog look a certain way.
Today, any two dogs of the same breed are more closely related than brother, sister, mother, father. Various euphemisms are used by breeders, such as inbreeding, line-breeding or out-crossing. In fact, what is being perpetuated is incest.
A huge percentage of the medical and behavioral problems I see in dogs are fully or partially genetic in origin.
How does this affect dogs?
There are over 500 genetic defects among purebred dogs. Some genetic defects are being deliberately bred because they are considered “cute”. Breeds with shortened muzzles often have difficulty breathing, severe dental disease, and the inability to give birth naturally. Dogs with elongated spines are prone to slipped discs. Protruding eyes are at risk for injury and corneal ulcers. The third most common problem I see in dogs and cats is allergies (after obesity and dental disease). Allergies definitely have a genetic component. It is up to people to recognize that this is not OK. These genetic defects have been selected for by people.
Health defects in dogs are not cute.
Compared to people, most dogs are quite stoic and suffer in silence. However, they do suffer. Dogs with congenital defects, meaning from birth, may never even know what it feels like to be a normal dog.
Quality of life can be improved for some genetic defects found in purebred dogs. However, owners often can’t afford or don’t want to pay for these treatments. Dogs are frequently surrendered, euthanized, or not treated at all. Additionally, while treatments may cause improvement, it might not be possible for the dog to never have a fully normal life.
What about cats and other animals?
I’ve spent most of my time focused on dogs in this article. However, genetics are genetics.
All the same messages apply to any program of incest and inbreeding. And that definitely does apply to purebred cats.
I simply see far less purebred cats than dogs in my practice, so it’s less of a concern. But a concern it is!
Each breed of cat comes with its own set of concerns. There is a breed known for heart disease. Another for severe joint problems. And yet another for dental disease. The list goes on.
What can we do?
So, what do we do about the “Silent Pandemic”?
- The first step is to talk about this issue. Nothing will ever get done if the pandemic stays silent.
- Adopt! Trying to “rescue” a dog by buying from a breeder is just supporting more inbreeding by that breeder.
Mixed breed dogs are more healthy than purebreds. That doesn’t mean that mixed breed dogs never have problems, but the likelihood of a purebred having health problems is higher than for a mixed breed. Most of the health problems of mixed breeds come from their purebred ancestors.
Additionally, there is a dramatic overpopulation of dogs in general. This is another area that breeders are not helping with.
Many fantastic dogs are available for adoption at your local animal rescue or shelter for a small fraction of the cost of a purebred dog from a breeder. I encourage you to visit the shelter and make sure you feel good about the operation and quality of care.
This excellent article, which I’ve already linked to above, goes into much more depth. I encourage anyone who loves dogs to take a look at it. The information it contains is crucial for any dog lover to be aware of, and to share with others.
Let’s commit to improving the welfare of our wonderful dog population. The solution starts with knowledge and awareness of the problem of breeding.