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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

What's Breed Got to Do With It?

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

This gallant breed towered over her competitors, stealing the 2011 show. The Scottish Deerhound Club of America lists the following health problems:

  • 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.

 http://www.petmd.com/sites/default/files/Malachy_Pekingese_y_David_Fitzpatrick.png" alt="malachy the pekingese, westminster dog show, kennel club dog show" />

Malachy the Pekingese with his handler, David Fitzpatrick

Image credit: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Malachy the Pekingese / via Discovery Animal Planet

Comments  8

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  • Breeds
    02/21/2012 11:29am

    Breed seems to be more important to dog people. Whether it's for personality traits, size or the cuteness factor, as you've indicated, any critter can have health issues that are emotionally and financially draining.

    I agree that when a breed becomes popular, so many people adopt without doing their homework. Of course, it's a heyday for backyard breeders who sell puppies without assuring the humans will provide the time and finances for a good home.

    It's baffling to me how someone of limited means will spend hundreds of dollars on a purebred puppy, but doesn't have the resources to give it proper veterinary care.

  • 02/22/2012 04:27pm

    You are absolutely correct about doing your research before getting a pet, especially if it is a pure bred dog or cat.
    Funny how one's choice in dog (or cat) reflects the personality and traits of the owner.
    Thank you for your comments.
    Dr PM

  • Guilty!
    02/21/2012 02:48pm

    I am guilty of choosing a dog beed because of it's look. I wanted a Bernese Mountain dog but didn't want the size or hair. I chose a Entlebucher Sennenhund. He was an amazing dog but way too much dog for a sedentary first time dog owner. His lack of exercise turned into constant barking. When he got plenty of exercise he was perfect. I loved him for 14 years until he left for the Rainbow Bridge.
    Hindsight being 20/20 I should have done more research.
    Now I have a 9 pound Havanese who is happy taking a leisurely walk or lounging around the house. She is perfectly behaved and a joy to have as part of our family.
    My advise to other is to do your research! If a breed description says high energy, and your not, keep looking. If you hate to brush and comb don't get a long haired dog. If your not prepared to spend hundreds at the vet, don't get a breed known to have health issues. A dog is a member of the family so do your research!!! I learned my lesson.

  • 02/22/2012 04:29pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    You are totally right on in suggesting to identify a dog that matches your energetic pursuits. I'm glad to hear the high energy dog's behavior improved with exercise and that you now have a companion that works for your day to day lifestyle.
    I appreciate your readership. Please come back again.
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

  • breed based on lifestyle
    03/04/2012 08:55am

    If more people did their homework and adopted a dog that was perfectly suited for its lifestyle, the Bassett Hound would be far more popular.

    Thank you for posting this important issue, Dr. M. I would like to hear your thoughts on breeds of dogs with such physical deformities that it would be incapable of surviving without human intervention. For example, breeds which *require* C-section because they are physically incapable of giving birth without it... or dogs with brachiocephalic respiratory conditions.

  • 03/05/2012 06:33am

    Thank you for your comments.
    I love the personality of the Basset Hound, yet, the majority of time that have seem a Basset as a patient in my 12 years of clinical practice has been for issues related to their breeding (closed ears promoting bacteria/yeast growth...likely having an environmentally or food allergic skin disease), conformational eye problems (drooping lower lids), orthopedic issues (being a chondrodysplastic canine), etc.
    So, the Basset is not a breed I recommend others get.
    I don't believe that dogs requiring a C-section just to produce offspring should be doing so.
    I also am not a fan of intentionally breeding short faced dogs (brachycephalic), as they nearly all have may strikes against them in their ability to acclimate to their environment.
    All in all, breeding an animal to promote the pet's best health (and not phenotypic characteristics) should be the key point from any breeding practice.
    Dr PM

  • kind of dog is right
    05/03/2012 01:52pm

    i wanted to know what kind of dog is right for me .. now i see, that Terrior is a good one..

  • 05/11/2012 07:45pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    I'm glad to hear that you want to pursue a terrier! Just make sure you are ready to dedicate the time/energy to DAILY training and always being the boss of your dog.
    I love my Welsh Terrier, Cardiff, but he can be a handful.
    Thank you,
    Dr PM

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