Lead Health Co-ordinator’s Report Nov 2019.
Firstly, Breed Health Conservation Plan. I am afraid there has been no progress on this and we are still waiting for the KC to get back to us on this. A major problem is that there has been reorganisation within the Health team plus there has been staff turnover with all vacancies not necessarily being filled. The inevitable outcome is that Hannah James and her assistant Fern have been overstretched and this invariably leads to delays. We are thus in the position of just having to sit and wait.
The annual health symposium for breed health co-ordinators took place in September as usual at Stoneleigh. Proceedings were kicked off by Dr Sally Ricketts of the Animal Health Trust on Give a Dog a Genome (GDG) and Complex Disease Research at the AHT. Officially Dr Cathryn Mellersh was a co-author of the presentation but was unable to be present on the day. Although some of us had heard much of it before, Sally started by giving an excellent outline on the workings and principles of GDG and an excellent refresher for those who did know something about it. The big question asked about any such projects is ‘Are they worth it?’ The good news is that the answer is for GDG is ‘Yes’! Through being able to compare the genomes of a large number of breeds across the board, deleterious mutations specific for inherited conditions in a number of breeds have been identified and DNA tests developed, and one suspects this may be the tip of the iceberg with many more to come in the future. Sally then went on to discuss research at the AHT into complex diseases, by which we mean those conditions that many be polygenic with several genes contributing or which may be partly genetic and partly environmental in origin.
The next speaker was Dr Jacqueline Boyd who had decamped from the hallowed halls of academia to become nutritional consultant at Skinner’s Pet Foods. As we know, we have to be careful about articles, talks, etc. with any association with a commercial source but to be fair to Jacqueline there was no promotion of her employers although the Skinner’s logo did pop up. Her talk was entitled ‘Feeding for the Future’ and she did give a comprehensive overview of dogs’ nutritional needs which may depend on their lifestyle. For example, a racing greyhound or other performance dog, may require different feeding than a retired one that is now a rather large lap dog. She also pointed out that we ought not to look on our dogs, which are largely natural scavengers, as ‘little people’, certainly as far as feeding is concerned. It might seem rather disgusting to most of us, but many dogs would sooner eat their own vomit or even tuck into a plate of cat pooh, than be given a nice juicy steak. Jacqueline in her presentation discussed the dog’s microbiome, which is basically the range and diversity of bacteria in the gut. Anyone who gets on-line scientific blogs or news reports cannot but be aware of the current research into the microbiome and possible association with many conditions. We are bombarded with talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad bacteria, and pre- and probiotics. Interestingly Jacqueline is not a fan of probiotics, an example in humans, at least, would be live yoghurt, but is a big fan of prebiotics such as fibre, which does much for a healthy gut as we probably all know. Canine nutrition can be a very emotive subject as we all know, with a lot of advertising pressure through manufacturers trying to convince us why their often more expensive product is superior to all the rest. Of course, if a dog is not doing
well on a particular brand or type of food, or style of feeding, or has an intolerance, then steps have to be taken but if not and a dog is doing fine on whatever diet it is on, it is ’if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ as far as I am concerned.
The third and last main speaker was Tom Lewis of the KC on ‘Changes to Hereditarily Clear Status’ which as we know concerns the KC’s decision to limit dogs being hereditarily clear to two generations, requiring retesting every third generation. While mistakes in testing are always possible, laboratories’ best practice aims to prevent these. The problem, as Tom put it, is ‘mis-assigned parentage, where one or even both of the parents are not as stated in the pedigree. We have all heard tales of dubious matings or of litters of four puppies that miraculously become six overnight! Nothing new there and I doubt if any pedigree is completely accurate whether by accident or deliberate falsification, and we all know this is very possible with dishonest breeders today.. The problem is what happens if a carrier for some condition bypasses the system - what is the risk? A theoretical study was thus undertaken on the effect of possible carrier ‘wrong’ sires going undetected although for the purpose of the study all dams were assumed to be correct. Of course the basic carrier rate within a breed is important, as carriers, falsely deemed hereditarily clear will pose a greater threat in breeds with higher carrier rates, Hence it was conclude that the best course of action was to limit hereditarily clear status to two generations requiring re-testing every third generation. However dogs that have been DNA profiled, which can confirm parentage, are exempt from the retesting requirement and this perhaps should be encouraged.
The morning session was concluded with a question and answer session with the mentoring panel which had to be curtailed because of time while in the afternoon, as before, there were booths manned by the speakers, the KC health team, and other relevant bodies like the BVA, to allow delegates to come and have a chat as necessary. These symposia have now been running for some years and they do provide not only a good link between the health co- ordinators and the KC but also between those from different breeds.
Now to the future. As most will remember the intention was that Kirsty Summerfield would take over from me as Lead Health Co-ordinator at the spring meeting next year. However, most unfortunately Kirsty has let us know that through family, work and other commitments, she will have to opt out although I really do think she would have done a great job. As for myself, I have reached burn-out and will not be seeking re-election. The opportunity is thus there for anyone wishing to get more involved in the health field and I would be happy to discuss what would be involved with anyone interested.