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    Embark summit image.pngIPFD and the Canine Health Summit Feb 2021 by Embark Veterinary

    This Article provides links to resources on DogWellNet and from our partners to support panel discussions that are part of the 1st Annual Canine Health Summit hosted by Embark and the Westminster Kennel Club.  For 2021, the event is designed to provide expert content and discussion to dog breeders and all dog enthusiasts, via a virtual conference format. 

    IPFD is involved in 2 live panel discussions (see relevant links and references further below):

    Bonnett_2018.png1. A Breeder’s Perspective on Canine Health, featuring Dr. Brenda Bonnett (CEO IPFD), Dr. Bruce Barrett, Ms. Pat Hastings, and Dr. Marty Greer (IPFD Board Member).

    aimee 2020.png2. Population Management and Diversity, featuring Dr. Sophie Liu, Dr. Margret Casal, Mrs. Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi (IPFD), Dr. Joshua Stern, and Dr. Adam Boyko

    Go to the Videos

    Table of Contents


    BASICS on Genetic Testing:

    IPFD Resources on genetic testing; Genetic counselling

    Breed-specific genetic testing

    Answering breeder's questions


    Finn spitz and puppies.jpgTopics for Panel on A Breeder’s Perspective on Canine Health

    Experts: Dr. Bruce Barrett, Dr. Brenda Bonnett, Ms. Pat Hastings, and Dr. Marty Greer (moderator)

    The thought-provoking questions below were provided to the panel prior to the Embark Summit to promote discussion.  The comments below, provided by the IPFD experts 'conversationally', serve as notes and reminders of topics, references, and international resources we have collected for educational purposes housed on

    My Perspective - Dr. Bonnett (veterinarian, epidemiologist, former clinical theriogenologist, researcher, educator):  I spend a lot of time researching and sharing population-based, breed-specific statistics on morbidity and mortality; international challenges for dog health; hearing from welfare groups and veterinarians struggling with the health problems of pedigree (and apparent purebred) dogs; and looking at many issues that may not reflect the best of the best in terms of breeds and breeding. But which, unfortunately, reflect widespread problems.  Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi contributed to these comments, from her perspective as former Head of Health and Research at the Kennel Club (UK) and her current focus on the Harmonization of Genetic Testing on

    Q1: How have your views on/experiences with canine health testing changed over time?

    • Health testing encompasses everything from behavioral assessment to radiographic grading for, e.g. hips and elbows, to clinical exams, e.g. eye exams and of course genetic testing.
    • The great challenge for breeders is the constantly increasing availability, changing requirements, recommendations, and commercial offerings across health testing as technology evolves. Challenges are compounded when a breeder’s breeding program includes import from or export to other countries.
    • In some countries, issues have arisen where consumers or regulators suggest/insist that breeders should guarantee that they produce stock absolutely free of health problems - which is of course impossible. There is an increasing tendency for consumers to believe that doing ‘all’ available health tests means the source of the puppy is a ‘good’ breeder.  Again, it is not that simple.  Breeding and supplying puppies are complex undertakings and an understanding of both the art and science of ‘good’ breeding – i.e. the need to focus on the basics, i.e. the Big Picture, including the most important conditions in a breed (not just those for which there is ‘a test') is needed.
    • Many of the most important/common/severe conditions that should be considered in breeding decisions do not now nor will they in the near future have a DNA test – partly because most are complex diseases in terms of inheritance and environmental influences.
    • It is crucial to consider the ‘Big Picture’ when choosing mating dogs and pairs, and, as important as genetic testing can be for some breeds, it is often neither the only nor the most important information to prioritize. (See, for example: The Big Picture - in the Dog World as a Whole and for your next Breeding Decision)
    • Adding complexity, everything must be considered on a breed and even breed-by-test basis.
    • Notwithstanding all these issues, health testing is a necessary part of breeding dogs.

    Q2: When do you think genetic testing began to make an impact on dog breeding?

    • Genetic testing made an impact on the individual dog at the point the first genetic tests became available. The ability to predict the risk to offspring of inheriting a welfare-impacting disease was revolutionary – and for the individual dog, potential for a more rapid diagnosis, especially in late-onset conditions, as well as potential for earlier treatment.
    • However, most early discoveries were on single-gene disorders, and often on diseases with a comparative importance in humans (tests becoming available in the late 1990's).
    • And, across the board in health testing and genetic testing - because we often have limited, accurate information on the prevalence of conditions in the population before we started testing programs, and rarely are there metrics for the testing program and results - it can be difficult to quantify the impact.
    • An increased impact on dog breeding came later, roughly 2008-2012, only when information about testing and more importantly test results became available - for individual dogs and across breeds. Undertaking genetic testing, but not sharing that information or test results, is much less likely to be able to improve a breed. Research papers have specified positive impacts on genetic test usage, and CLAD is a good example on the individual disease level of massive positive impact – but also demonstrated that a fast-and-furious use of a genetic test can rapidly constrict genetic diversity. (See more resources under Additional Material)
    • For single-gene disorders with clear definition, impacts are still being made – e.g. Lafora disease in miniature Dachshunds (See: Nationwide genetic testing towards eliminating Lafora disease from Miniature Wirehaired Dachshunds in the United Kingdom)
    • Optimal impact will only be achieved when usage of genetic testing is open, transparent, and strategies are made collaboratively and integrated as part of a more holistic view to breeding healthy dogs – genetic testing, diversity, clinical screening, welfare-focused breed “types”, behaviour and socialisation, etc.
    • When health testing has been required for registration, results have been made public, and appropriate analysis has been done, success has been shown, e.g. hip dysplasia in Finland. (See: Frequency of canine hip and elbow dysplasia decreasing in Finland)

    Q3: What is possible regarding canine genetic health today that wasn’t 5-10 years ago, and how have you worked to consistently innovate within your breeding program?

    • Reminder: genetic testing, health testing in general, are tools to be added to a base of good breeding practices – e.g. breed healthy individuals with good temperament from healthy (and long-lived) ancestors, with limited use of line/inbreeding – using extensive knowledge of the breed, general principles, and common sense – and then fine-tune with testing.
    • Perhaps the 2 most major changes in genetic testing have been driven to a great extent by marketing and technology (with both benefits and challenges):
      • The move to Direct-to-Consumer testing, and
      • The use of panel testing rather than doing one/limited number of test(s) at a time.
    • Whereas the early focus was on veterinarians helping owners/breeders decide which test(s) was/were needed, now it is relatively inexpensive for owners to submit samples and to get ‘all’ available tests. A long list of results, some not meaningful for the breed, may distract from the original intent of testing, and provides time and resource challenges for veterinarians.  Often, the consumer has to sort through a long list of test results and try to figure out what is relevant and important. Recently, there has been an increasing focus on determining firstly, which tests have actually been validated for use in a breed, and to try to give owners tools to prioritize tests and conditions. SEE: Breed Relevance Ratings HGTD - What is a Breed Relevance Rating? - HGTD Quality Database - and  Report from the Genetic Testing Theme, from the 4th International Dog Health Workshop. Many genetic test providers are also working to provide better breed-specific information on tests.
    • In general, there has been increasing and better understanding of breed-specific testing, and added focus on the appropriate application of test results as part of a larger breeding strategy - notwithstanding previous concerns about the lack of population-based and accurate information on the occurrence of specific conditions within the breed. 

    Q4: How do you work with international breeders whose organizations may have different health testing recommendations?

    Q5: What’s something new regarding canine health you’ve learned or seen among experienced breeders that others can learn from?

    When there is a considered and consistent program of assessing breeds in terms of their Big Picture of health, etc., e.g. where kennel and breed clubs create breed-specific breeding strategies, update them, test, record and share all health data, associate health data with pedigrees in an open and transparent way, then following impacts, assessing outcomes is possible and improvements are made. (Sweden, Finland, UK examples). E.g.:

    However, it is important to remember that the majority of pet dogs, in almost all countries, do not come from committed pedigree breeders associated with Kennel Clubs.  We are not sure then, whether better tools for KC breeders can have a wider impact on all purebred or apparent purebred dogs, or on purpose-bred crossbreeds ("designer" breeds and others).

    Q6: How do you incorporate non-genetic testing for conditions with a suspected genetic association (e.g. hip  dysplasia and x-rays, echos, CERF eye exams)?

    • See previous comments above on holistic, Big Picture breeding. (And, e.g. Brenda's blogs:  The Big Picture - in the Dog World as a Whole and for your next Breeding DecisionNot all puppies from health-tested parents will be healthy!)
    • In general, overall good breeding practices should address clearly defined goals (hopefully for excellent health, temperament, and longevity) – then prioritizing the most important health conditions for the breed and line and finding the best tools.
    • Incorporate health tests that are accurate and effective, and that address the most important conditions in the breed
      • Which requires knowing what those conditions are and ranking among them.
      • AND understanding the validity and relevance of tests – what they tell you, and what they don’t
    • Educate owners, record lifetime outcomes for all puppies.

    Q7: Given the variety of breeds represented by members of this panel, how does the advice you give change pending a breed’s rarity and/or common health issues?

    • Basic breeding principles are similar – except perhaps in the rarest of breeds
    • Everything else is breed-specific – relative to relevance and accuracy of tests, overall ranking of importance of conditions, specifics of the population, etc.
    • Both short- and long-term goals are breed specific – and occasionally even line-specific, e.g. a specific condition might be eliminated from a limited population, even if not common, if there is a test and strategy available to do so;
    • Long-term – what is need for the breed’s sustainable development is extremely variable across breeds. And, unfortunately often poorly defined.
    • So, individual breeders must be knowledgeable about all these concerns within their stock and line: breed clubs should helping/providing direction for current breeders AND trying to ensure a robust and health population for the future.
    • What a huge, complex, and challenging situation!!

    Q8: How do you/what do you discuss with other breeders and/or puppy buyers regarding health concerns that have no predictive testing available?

    •  For puppy buyers – appropriate breed- type-specific expectations are crucial relative to e.g., health issues, life expectancy, and need for care (grooming, exercise, etc.)
      • As a vet, if we have access to people before they buy – it is important to raise awareness on the source of the puppy as well as all the type-specific discussions of the appropriate pet for them
      • Awareness of conditions ALL dogs are at risk from, and basic prevention strategies: e.g. safety, appropriate socialization, appropriate nutrition, weight etc.
      • Awareness of potential breed-specific conditions e.g. hips, elbows, etc.
      • Types of conditions at various ages.
    • Again – many/most of the common and significant conditions in all dogs are not going to be ‘prevented’ with specific tests.
    • Back to expectations – thinking that testing for everything available will ensure a long healthy life with zero health problems is unrealistic and will lead to disappointment.  
    • If a breeder is aware of an inherited or suspected inherited condition that is in their breed that does not have any predictive tests, then it is even more important in my mind to share information within the breed in a collaborative and supportive way. It does not help a breed to try to find and damn a single “bad dog” as the cause of the health concern, and even worse, to just pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
    • While imprecise compared to genetic and clinical pre-breeding testing, getting a good diagnosis of the health concern, and plotting where dogs (breeding stock as well as non-breeding dogs) against pedigree information can sometimes be useful in spotting patterns of possible inheritance. This information can also be useful for researchers in the future.
    • Some firm honesty – do not use the worst affected dogs or ignore the health concern to justify the use of popular dogs.

    Q9: How do you incorporate genetic test results for conditions with high allele frequency within the breed or variants that have low penetrance, epigenetic factors, etc?

    • No one answer across all tests and conditions or breeds.
    • In general, all tests must be assessed for how accurately they identify not just a variant but its relationship to the disease or condition of interest.
    • In general, tests with low penetrance in the breed, with complex inheritance and epigenetic influences – and assuming those are not captured by the test – may lead to confusion and inappropriate actions – e.g. unnecessary elimination of animals from the breeding pool.
    • If almost all animals in a breed have disease/condition alleles, the test will not be informative for breeding selection.  If a condition is ‘fixed’ in a breed it can only be changed by out crossing.
    • IF all dogs in a breed ‘have’ a variant and yet do not suffer from the condition, there are various possibilities: a) that variant does NOT cause that condition in that breed, b) there are other genetic factors that change/moderate the expression/effect of the original variant, and/or c) there are breed characteristics or epigenetic factors that nullify or moderate the expression of the original variant. (See: DM: Degenerative Myelopathy  (DM) | lakelandterriertopics)

    Q10: What is the single most important element to keep in mind about breeding dogs?

    If you have goals for health and longevity, be true to them.  What you see in your breed today is what resulted from past practices - what was selected for and what was not selected against.  Do you want to keep this the same, or is change needed?

    Q11:  How do you view  behavior/temperament as it  relates to health?

    • Clearly the ability to exhibit normal dog behaviors is necessary for the basic well-being of an individual dog.
    • Acceptable socialization and ability to interact safely with humans is necessary and key to overall well-being and for good human-dog interactions.
    • Breed-specific issues relate to the health, well-being of the dog in certain environments and conditions and should be an important consideration in pre-purchase decisions.
    • Internationally, within countries, and across stakeholder groups there is a diversity of opinion as to, e.g, what constitutes sufficient animal welfare, whether or to what degree dogs are sentient beings vs. property, and about who gets to decide on these issues.  This diversity of belief and opinion leads to conflict – which may be fueled by social media.  Collaboration and collective approaches would more to support dog health, well-being and welfare and good human-dog interactions.(See, e.g.:  Reframing Current Challenges Around Pedigree Dogs -- A Call for Respectful Dialogue, Collaboration, and Collective Actions and Owners' perception of 'responsible dog ownership')

    Q12: Do you feel that breeding for conformation/structure and breed standard actually improves a dog’s health?

    • Firstly, breed standards describe an ideal or optimal appearance, are focused on external, physical presentation, perhaps with something about temperament.  They do not encompass all that is needed for  ‘how to breed healthy dogs’.  A focus on structure/function, while important, also does not cover the Big Picture needed for breeding.
    • It may also relate to the extent to which the breed standard demands evidence of health or precludes appearances associated with health problems, but it may be more about how the breed standard is applied rather than the wording, per se.  I was at a show where many dogs in the show ring had literally no tails.  When I inquired about this change/evolution, everyone present said, loudly, ‘Oh, no.  The Standard clearly demands a tail.’  But those dogs were obviously not excluded from the competition and some were awarded placements.  So – it is not about what is said, but about what is done. (This is just one example, and one where the characteristic in question, or lack thereof, is unequivocally associated with health problems.)
    • Presumably, when the standard describes and people breed for a conformation and structure that is not detrimental to the dog; when judges recognize, prioritize, and reward only dogs of truly sound conformation and apparent good health, there c/would be a positive impact. As some have suggested – if dogs being rewarded are all able to breath, see, move freely, have optimal behavior, etc. and if, say, the health testing of successful, popular sires was clear and transparent, and the overall use of popular sires and their nearest relatives was controlled, then the impact should be good.
    • However, if the pedigree dog world today reflects that approach, i.e. “breeding for conformation/structure and breed standard”, then unfortunately, there is evidence that, for many breeds, ‘improved health’ has not been the overwhelming result. (Acknowledging that some breeds may have been ‘worse’ at some point and are now somewhat better, though perhaps that is mostly due to committed breeders focusing on a wider perspective of health.)
    • Again – what you see is what you got.  A breeder once asked me how closely they could inbreed.  I asked, are you doing inbreeding or close linebreeding because you think that will result in better health and longevity (a goal that had just been discussed)?  In fact, breeding to achieve consistency of appearance, to fix physical characteristics, without prioritizing health and longevity, by definition and basic genetic principles can not be expected to achieve those latter goals.

    Q13: What is the role of the breed club in promoting breed health and/or research and your experience aiding with this?

    • My experience is that many breed clubs, internationally, see breed health as a priority.  However, enacting breeding strategies and programs is a big challenge, and breed clubs are often hampered by lack of resources - human and otherwise – e.g. information, knowledge, etc.
    • Specific conditions can be more easily addressed – in general and through research - but without a Big Picture view that assigns priority and importance to breed-specific issues, outcomes may be hard to achieve.
    • There are stellar examples, See e.g. The Dachshund Breed Council in the UK – The Dachshund Breed Council UK's website and  Databases like that of the wolfhounds -  IWDB:
    • In my experience, great accomplishments by breed groups are often dependent on one or a few super-talented and incredibly committed individuals.
    • There is no one-size fits all approach for breed clubs – but examples, tools and collaborations are available. Also See: National Programs for Breed Health

    Q14: For the veterinarians on the panel, how do you feel your veterinary education impacts how you approach breeding, speaking to both the positives and what might be considered negatives?

    • As a young vet – a millennium ago – I graduated with very little breed-specific knowledge.  Due to an interest in theriogenology, I developed a breeder clientele and made sure to learn a lot from them.
    • As a veterinary educator – even now there is limited focus on breed-specific information, population health approaches in dogs, and veterinary-client communication in most veterinary schools.
    • Most vets graduate without adequate knowledge and skills to support good breeding practices, advice on genetics, etc. etc. and must count on continuing education - and the challenges of balancing priorities. 
    • A vet and an educated breeder – together are an awesome team, if they both acknowledge the expertise of the other, treat each other with respect, have reasonable expectations, and focus on the common goals for the dogs.  Unfortunately, not all people are open, and collaborative. 
    • And IPFD has an affiliation with the World Small Animal Association and we are providing breed-specific knowledge in their Bulletin – linked to more extensive articles and links to breed, breeding and breeder issues!  (See: Dog Breeds: What You Need to Know - IPFD Feature in WSAVA Bulletin)

    Q15: Crossbreeding came up during the panels - when to do it, how, and who is doing it?


    Attendee Questions:
    ATTENDEE Q1: When getting into breeding what are the most important things to look for in dogs and how can you reduce the risks of health risk passed down through genetics when pairing dogs for breedings?

    • Really honest conversations with yourself – is breeding from this dog actually, truly, going to benefit the breed? Is this dog a good example of the breed in terms of not only appearance, but behaviour and known health? Does it come from a line of long-lived, happy, healthy dogs?

    ATTENDEE Q2: When a dog is a carrier of 2 variants, what is the likelihood that dog will actually have that problem? It is common for my breed to have 2 variants of DM, but yet I have never heard of a case of DM within the breed, so if my dog carries 2 variants should I be concerned or trying to breed it out of them?

    • There are a lot of challenges, confusion, and unknowns with DM and the genetic tests for it. (See: DNA tests - DM - AKC-CHF Webinar) and Concern about genetic testing Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) in French Bulldogs
    • Use of this test exploded in the dog world – really without the research/knowledge/data to back it up in many breeds. And with a widespread misunderstanding of what the test detects and how it should be applied.
    • For the scenario described in the question: No, don’t prioritize DM as a pre-breeding test. It is imprecise.

    ATTENDEE Q3: I'd love to hear a discussion on how we breeders should manage health issues with unknown causes that seem to have genetic components. (Ex. Liver shunts/microvascular dysplasia). If a sibling, or offspring of a breeding dog is diagnosed with MVD, or has high liver values on bile-acid tests, how should we move forward with this line? Same with Cushing’s, and Addison’s, or any of the other disorders/health issues which do not (yet) have known markers.

    • If a breeder is aware of an inherited or suspected inherited condition that is in their breed that does for which there are no predictive tests, then it is even more important to share information within the breed in a collaborative and supportive way. It does not help a breed to try to find and damn a single “bad dog” as the cause of the health concern, and even worse, to just pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
    • While imprecise compared to genetic and clinical pre-breeding testing, getting a good diagnosis of the health concern, and plotting dogs (breeding stock as well as non-breeding dogs) against pedigree information can sometimes be useful in spotting patterns of possible inheritance. This information can also be useful for researchers in the future.
    • Some firm honesty – do not use the worst affected dogs or ignore the health concern to justify the use of popular dogs
    • With welfare-impacting conditions, it would be prudent to avoid any clinically affected dogs, and avoid, where possible, close relatives. If you have a numerically large breed, you can afford to be really careful and selective of the dogs used – e.g., Labradors are not Snow Leopards.  If you have a rarer breed, it will be harder and slower to reduce risks without really creative solutions (e.g. outcrossing)

    ATTENDEE Q4: Aside from submitting for research, and updating dog's Embark health profiles, how should we as breeders manage breeding populations where health issues with unknown predictable markers or causes occur? How do we responsibly breed around the unknowns, without wiping out valuable gene pool diversity?

    • Consider a step-wise approach: - Act on what you know - Document what you suspect. If you know something e.g. you have an autosomal recessive test result, this precision of information gives you more accuracy in how you use it. Use carriers, possibly even use genetically affected (depending on the disease and inheritance). With most clinical tests, you lose a bit of precision compared to genetic tests, but you may gain in diagnostic/individual dog information If you suspect something for which you do not have the precision of a genetic test or clinical examination, you are much more limited in any actions you can take, other than try to avoid clinically affected dogs, and their close relatives. Sharing information honestly and in a supportive way is the ideal option here.
    • Which requires knowing what those conditions are and ranking among them.
    • AND understanding the validity and relevance of tests – what they tell you, and what they don’t

    Links to the Panel Discussion Videos

    Pedigrees, Dog Health, and Resolutions Panel Discussion

    Can Genetic Diversity Be Insurance? Panel Discussion


    Additional Material

    More Breed-specific resources

    Recent Blogs:

    For Veterinarians and Veterinarian-Client Interactions

    CLAD in Irish Setters

    See Research: A Missense Mutation in the β-2 Integrin Gene (ITGB2) Causes Canine Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency

    CLAD (Canine Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency is an inherited condition which is seen in Irish Setters and Irish Red and White Setters. It has been found in England and in Scandinavia, where the original research was done. The carrier rate was about 12% at the time, but through careful breeding it has come down. The symptoms of CLAD are severe, repeated bacterial infections. Onset may be early, in young puppies. There is no cure for this disease which grows progressively worse as the dog matures. Most puppies die early or are euthanized before a year.

    From July 1st 2000 all Irish Setters used for breeding should be either hereditarily clear of CLAD or have a CLAD DNA test before they are used for breeding. Identified carriers can be used for breeding, but they should only be mated to a dog that is either hereditarily clear of CLAD or one that has DNA tested clear of CLAD; carriers should not be mated to carriers.

    With the increased rate of international matings through the use of frozen semen, or importation of dogs/bitches, US breeders are advised to act preventively, not reactively. Source:

    With effect from 1 July 2005, The Kennel Club will only register Irish Setters that are proven to be clear of CLAD, or hereditarily clear of CLAD e.g. both parents are clear. With effect from 1 January 2008, The Kennel Club ceased to accept any registrations for Irish Setter produced from a CLAD carrier parent mated to a clear or hereditarily clear parent. Breeders wishing to register progeny from a carrier after this date will need to apply for permission prior to the proposed mating, and applications will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. With effect from 1 January 2010,

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