The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is to be commended on its attention to the complex and quickly evolving world of genetic testing and dog breeding!
The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization whose mission is to bring the global dog world together to share information and resources and to take actions to enhance the health, well-being and welfare of dogs. As the JAVMA article mentions, a major initiative is the IPFD Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs. Project sponsors include the IPFD Partners, including various national kennel clubs, Agria Animal Insurance (Sweden and UK), the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, American Kennel Club-Canine Health Foundation, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and their Hereditary Disease Committee, as well as various commercial test providers including, two mentioned in the JAVMA article, e.g. Mars Veterinary and Genoscoper. The full list of current sponsors and an overview of the Harmonization initiative are available (elsewhere) on DogWellNet.com, the web platform of the IPFD.
Genetic testing is one of the most complex issues facing dog owners, breeders and veterinarians. Owners of individual dogs may, as described in the article, access ‘DNA testing’ to look at a dog’s parentage, breed ancestry; to determine a general list of health risks; or to find out information on a specific clinical issue. This may be done for interest or diagnostic information.
However, for breeders of dogs there are added layers of complexity that may be amplified by the burgeoning availability of panel tests. It’s easy to say breeders should do all available tests. But is that practical or even the best approach? A breeder may spend several hundreds of dollars on genetic testing, but their breed or kennel club may be telling them they must also screen for important diseases not covered by genetic tests, e.g. hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, eye conditions. And they must try to breed a dog with good behaviour and appropriate breed characteristics, while, hopefully also paying attention to genetic diversity and other measures of ‘wellness’ of the breed, as a whole. The prospect is daunting. The reality is that the number of genetic tests available for dogs is increasing at an exponential rate; many tests coming out of research on important human diseases, and often the actual risk indicated by a test result and/ or the relevance for the overall health of the dog is unclear.
In some countries, it is recommended against or even illegal to breed an animal that has a known abnormality or risk for disease. Positive results from a huge panel of genetic tests, even if some of those tests have not been validated for that breed, may unnecessarily preclude that animal from breeding. In some countries, there are an increasing frequency of litigation against breeders, sometimes unrealistically holding them accountable for any and every problem a dog may experience. But we are talking about biological organisms – and no animal – human or dog or other – can be bred to eliminate any possibility of disease.
Some opponents of purebred dogs will have little sympathy for the conscientious breeder saying it is impossible to test for everything. But purebred and pedigreed dogs are worth sustaining. And more importantly, what is the alternative? We know that in most countries, a vast proportion of the demand for dogs is supplied by commercial breeders, many of whom may not have the health and welfare of their breeding animals or puppies as a first priority. There are increasing numbers of designer/ crossbreed dogs and a tendency to believe that any and all mixed breed dogs are healthier than any and all pedigreed dogs. Both of these categories of breeders tend to operate outside the oversight of authorities, breed clubs or kennel clubs who try to have a holistic view of health, behaviour and welfare. The AVMA statement on breeding reflects some similar concerns. Suffice it to say the complexity of the world of dog health and breeding can be almost overwhelming.
As for genetic testing, the optimism about the great potential offered by panel tests, e.g., must be tempered by the reality that some tests within a panel may not be validated or meaningful for a given breed or condition. In the JAVMA article, both Dr. Giger and Dr. Bell express a need for judicious use of tests. Many commercial test providers offer information on the interpretation and application of test results, at least for the individual owner or dog, if not for use in breeding decisions. But we must understand that there is a strong profit-based drive behind many of these offerings, reflected by increasing numbers of commercial entities offering tests. The widespread and sophisticated marketing, e.g. online, makes this world even more challenging for consumers to navigate.
The IPFD Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (Harmonization) initiative grew out of international collaborative efforts to address tough issues like:
How can a consumer recognize a good quality from poorer quality labs or commercial test providers?
How does an owner or breeder make an informed decision about the best product for their dog/ situation?
How can this be done keeping a holistic view on all issues of health and welfare?
How can veterinarians possibly keep up with all these new developments?
Where can consumers and veterinarians get expert opinions truly independent from commercial interests?
How can we ensure that the terrific potential for genetic testing to improve health in dogs is not negatively impacted by all these challenges?
The Harmonization initiative will be one Theme at the IPFD 3rd International Dog Health Workshop, hosted by the French Kennel Club in Paris, France, 21-23 April 2017. This meeting involves decision-leaders in the dog world, from many stakeholder groups, who come together to identify priorities and actions that need international collaboration. In addition to genetic testing, themes include Breed-Specific Health Programs; Behaviour and Welfare; Education and Communication (focus on antimicrobial resistance/ prudent use of antimicrobials); Numbers/ Quantitative Data on dogs and health; and Health Issues of Extreme Conformation. Further information on the background, program, themes and goals, including registration information is available on the Workshop website and elsewhere on DogWellNet.com. Our most recent Collaborating Partner, is the Canine Genetics and Epidemiology journal and they will be on hand at the workshop and will help support dissemination of information from the workshop.
The IPFD, their partners and collaborators, together with sponsors of the Harmonization initiative – including commercial test providers who have stepped forward to take a leadership role - are, in the first phase, creating a prototype of a database of quality for commercial test providers. We recognize the leadership of the WSAVA. We hope to engage other veterinary organizations as their input will be key, especially as we develop the Expert Panels who will provide collective, valid and balanced advice on tests, testing and application as we move into the next phases of the Harmonization initiative.
The Harmonization of Genetic Testing in Dogs will succeed through collaborative, multi-stakeholder, international participation to address the complex issues of genetic testing for dogs with an aim to capitalize on the great potential of technological developments to improve dog health and to support consumers.
For further information please contact :
Brenda Bonnett, CEO IPFD; firstname.lastname@example.org
Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi, Project Director; Aimee.Llewellyn-Zaidi@ipfdogs.com