Every year, lithe specimens of canine perfection strut the Astroturf runway at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. These four legged competitors generate public interest in a particular breed, but does this "Best in Show" benefit the greater good of dogs?
As the epitomes of each breed’s established characteristics vie for top prize, are these primped pooches instead encouraging the production of inferior copies of the breed?
WKC 2012 marks my third Westminster, an event which provides a plethora of inspiring writing topics (see Notes from the Westminster Dog Show — Day 1 and Day 2) as it fosters pet industry relationships that otherwise would be significantly more challenging to develop. Additionally, I enjoy watching well behaved dogs standing at attention for judging and then strutting their stuff around the ring.
Why else do I attend Westminster? From a veterinary medical standpoint, my curiosity about breed specific illnesses is piqued. WKC provides an opportunity to communicate with breeders about their awareness of and perspective on genetically correlated health conditions. Additionally, I seek the breeders' thoughts on the wellness or illness trends associated with media exposure.
Once a breed earns Best in Show or is featured as part of a movie or television project, the public demand for the breed increases. Unfortunately, the urge to acquire a canine companion based on cuteness often supersedes the rational thought process facilitating an appropriate match between dog and owner. Consequently, this sometimes results in the establishment of breed specific rescue organizations to manage those dogs that are surrendered by owners who are unable to provide sufficient care or training.
Additionally, as a dog breed's popularity increases, people recognize the possibility of capitalizing on the trend by becoming "backyard" breeders. A breed’s favorability combined with potentially unscrupulous reproductive practices can facilitate the emergence of genetic-correlated illness.
According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, there are many illnesses that can be potentially affiliated with a particular breed of dog. Lack of correlation with a specific disease does not mean a breed will be spared from sickness.
Does the fact that research correlates a particular illness with one breed make a purebred dog a less than ideal choice as compared to a mixed breed dog? It depends on your outlook as a pet owner. Providing care for a purebred pooch involves accepting the responsibility that your pet may be afflicted by an illness that is associated with its breed.
This possibility should not be overwhelming, as any pet owner could be faced with the need to expend considerable emotional and financial resources should a serious medical problem occur — in any breed, mixed or pure. However, when adding a purebred animal to your family, you just have the enhanced awareness that the potential for a particular ailment will be more likely in your pet. Think of it as a preview into your pet’s future that will enable you to better plan for your pet’s long term health care.
Here are the winning dog breeds from the last three years of Best in Show, and the medical ailments commonly seen in them according to each breed’s official AKC Parent Club.
- 2012 - Pekingese
- 2011 - Scottish Deerhound
- 2010 - Scottish Terrier
2012 — Pekingese
The election of the Pekingese as Best in Show was an anticlimactic conclusion to WKC 2012. My disapproval stems from my concern that families will incorporate this breed into their households without prior consideration as to its many life altering genetically correlated ailments. The Pekingese Club of America presents a limited list of health concerns, so I turned to the seemingly more comprehensive Pekingese Health Committee to find:
- Cardiovascular: Mitral Valve Disease
- Dermatologic: Skin Fold Dermatitis
- Musculoskeletal: Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), Patella Luxation
- Ocular: Distichiasis, Entropion, Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (dry eye)
- Respiratory: Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (including tracheal collapse, overlong soft palate, stenotic nares, etc.)
2011 — Scottish Deerhound
- Cardiovascular: Cardiomyopathy
- Dermatologic: Inhalant (Atopy Dermatitis) and Flea Allergy
- Endocrine: Factor VII Bleeding Disorder, Portosystemic (Liver) Shunt
- Musculoskeletal: Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), Osteosarcoma (bone cancer)
- Urogenital: Cystinuria
2010 — Scottish Terrier
The "Scotty" is an amiable breed that brightens a room with its sturdy conformation and personality. President Bush’s family highly showcased their scruffy, black Scottish Terrier, Barney, during their time as First Family. The Scottish Terrier Club of America lists the following Scottish Terrier Genetic Issues:
- Endocrine: Cushing’s Disease, Hypothyroidism, Portosystemic (Liver) Shunt, Von Willebrand’s Disease
- Musculoskeletal: Scottie Cramp
- Neurologic: Cerebellar Abiotrophy, Epilepsy
Before you consider acquiring one of the above breeds — or any other dog of pure breeding — educate yourself about the breed. Acquire the dog from a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Realize that "breed does got to do with it (health and illness)." And recognize your obligation to emotionally and financially accept the responsibility of managing your pet’s potential illnesses.
Malachy the Pekingese with his handler, David Fitzpatrick
Image credit: Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Malachy the Pekingese / via Discovery Animal Planet