Working together: dog breeders, researchers, veterinarians, and kennel clubs have developed a truly international screening scheme for respiratory function.
The OFA - just published info on participating in the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme - see their Overview at https://ofa.org/diseases/rfgs/ - includes an event planning guide and instructions/rfgs forms.
On 20 January 2023, I had the privilege of attending the Rose City Classic Dog Show, which included the North American launch of the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme (RFGS), colloquially known as the Cambridge BOAS scheme. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is licensed by The Kennel Club in the UK, to administer the scheme and train new assessors. The scheme is currently offered formally to the British Bulldog, Pug, and French Bulldog, but other brachycephalic breeds are able to participate. Participation is quick, easy, and painless for the dog.
This scheme is many years in the making, and is an excellent example of collaboration between dog breeders, researchers, and kennel clubs working together to make steps towards addressing a complex and challenging health condition. Owners who participate in the scheme benefit from immediate information on key areas associated with risk of brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) for their dog, as well as information for selecting breeding stock. They also directly contribute to a growing body of international data that supports genetic and veterinary researchers work to improve risk assessments.
Basic Steps of the Scheme:
1. Owners fill in a short survey
2. A brief physical examination of the dog, while calm, to establish a baseline
3. Dog has a brisk 3-minute walk (not running)
4. A post-walk assessment to compare to the baseline
5. Dogs are given a grade 0-3, with 0 being lowest risk and 3 being highest. Data is recorded, and in many cases available to view online.
Above: The dog is assessed in a quiet and relaxing space, with their owner. The specially trained assessors, all veterinarians, look at the nares (nostrils) and listen to the dog breathing.
Above: The screening session is recorded, along with data on the breathing. Standardized scoring cards are used to assess the nares.
Not pictured: Dogs undergo a timed 3-minute walk around a standard show ring. Dogs are not encouraged to run, but simply to walk at a reasonable, quick pace.
During my visit, I watched several dogs undergo the assessment. Speaking to the owners, the most common reasons they wanted to participate was to demonstrate that using the scheme was the right thing to do for the breed, to help grow awareness and use of the scheme, and as part of pre-breeding assessments. The assessors on the day had a steady stream of French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, Pugs, and some Boston Terriers. While at the moment the screening scheme is designed for French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, and Pugs, other brachycephalic breeds can utilize the scheme, gaining valuable information and contributing to research. I witnessed many owners who had dogs scoring Grades 0-1 (the lowest risks), both in young and older dogs.
It will take time to track how use of this scheme reduces the risk of BOAS in future generations of dogs, but at the very least the consistency in the data collection and the ability to identify higher-lower risk dogs to breeders is valuable and an important resource to brachycephalic breeds.
Accessing the RFGS screening scheme
The scheme is available in the UK, and USA. The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) also supports this screening scheme. Currently there are 11 countries currently offering the scheme: Australia, Denmark, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland. 8 more countries are in process for 2023.
More information on the scheme:
The Kennel Club grading scheme details:
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