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Westminster, Dog Shows and Healthier Dogs

    Focus:  Health issues in show dogs and what is being done about them - with specific examples of Swedish data


    With Westminster starting and Crufts coming soon, people will see many beautiful and healthy dogs in the ring.  However, issues will be raised in the media about health problems in pedigreed dogs.  Here are some things to think about.















    As to issues in pedigreed dogs - Points to ponder:

    • In the USA, a minority of pedigreed, purebred dogs come from breeders who are part of the dog fancy (i.e. those participating in events like dog shows).
    • A health-conscious approach to breeding dogs is stressed and supported by many programs at our partner kennel clubs, e.g. Breed Watch in the UK, Breed-Specific Breeding Strategy programs in Finland, Sweden and Norway, innovative health strategies by breed clubs (e.g. German program to ensure fitness in brachycephalic breeding dogs) and by programs of the AKC looking to both promote health breeding and to educate all breeders and consumers as to best practices (e.g. Bred with Heart).
    • A key point for most programs of the leading kennel clubs involved in IPFD is that they have been developed collaboratively with the breeders, judges, veterinarians, researchers, etc.  Examples of programs aimed at dog shows include the Breed-Specific Instructions (BSI) program in Scandinavia and the Breed Watch and BOB Veterinary Health Checks program in the UK.  Although there are great similarities across the dog show world, there are also many differences.  The programs mentioned above stand as examples.  The organization of breed and kennel clubs is quite different, say between Scandinavia the UK and the USA.  Therefore, development of new programs can benefit from others’ experience and expertise; however, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution and programs must of course be based on the specific situation in a breed, region or country.
    • Although all concerned dog professionals would agree with the statement that there are significant health problems in some breeds of dogs and that there are clear examples of health issues causing welfare problems in individual dogs, it is unfortunately difficult to quantify the extent of the problems in the population. There is a lack of good evidence on the rate and risk of disease in dog populations.  Most information on diseases has come from veterinary teaching hospitals, etc. This may be important information on sick dogs, but does not provide population-based estimates.  A Swedish insurance database (representing veterinary practice data on over 350,000 dogs per year and over 20 years) has been used extensively for both scientific publications and Dog Breed Updates that are used by breed clubs to understand the most common and high-risk conditions in their breeds.  Another approach is by VetCompass in the UK based on aggregated veterinary practice-based data.  It remains a challenge for all in the dog world to assemble clear and valid information on the prevalence of disease in dogs.


    Below is a brief overview of the health-oriented programs being implemented at dog shows: 

    **It is important to remember that – relative to these programs applied to dog shows - the focus is on issues that would be observable in the ring... not all possible health issues or inherited diseases.  For the Nordic BSI program, these are the conditions that judges are able to and need to be aware of and which they can easily assess in the course of their examination of a dog.  The Health Checks in the UK are based on a routine examination by a veterinarian at the show. **


    Nordic Breed Specific Instructions (BSI) program and some data from the Swedish Insurance data.



    Breed Specific Instructions program: 

    In use in five Nordic countries, as well as adapted to the Netherlands, France, and being evaluated for use in other countries, as well.  The specific breeds are re-evaluated frequently, but in 2014 the high risk breeds were 39 of the over 300 registered breeds.  The characteristic or exaggeration of concern varies across breeds in terms of type, severity, risk and impact on dogs, etc. but in all cases the conditions are those that are observable by a judge, in the ring, and of importance to the health and welfare of the individual dog and for the breed. 


    The Breed Specific Instructions program in Sweden (where the early work was done (2012-14) - see further links in articles on

    "In Sweden the listing of breeds of interest and instructions regarding areas of risk connected to breed type are based on extensive collaboration between dog show judges, breed clubs, veterinary surgeons and verified by health insurance statistics. The BSI principle has since last year been adopted by the Nordic Kennel Union and the NKU-BSI document is to be implemented in all the five Nordic countries. The positive results seen are due to the instructions being recommendations (instead of rules) to the judges and the fact that BSI is not a manual connecting issues to fixed quality grades. The judges make written reports of their observations which create the basis for updating/revision of the listed breeds, the detailed instructions and also for statistical survey of the observations. The BSI routines have resulted in a significant drop at shows of dogs with areas of risk issues. The judges’ awareness has increased and the interest and loyalty of all stake holders are surprisingly great and positive." - Gören Bodegård, all breed show judge and one of the initiators of the BSI




    Basics of the BSI:

    Those judging the high risk breeds are giving educational information on the program and the breed, prior to the show. The recommendation is that the judge would not award a high score to the dog (e.g. good or excellent) and that he/she would certainly not award BOB to an affected dog.  If the abnormality is severe, the judge of course may exercise their own judgement and excuse the dog.  In Scandinavia, judges must give written assessments to all dogs.  For BSI breeds, the judging is evaluated (after the show).  If the judge has awarded an affected dog, he/she will be called by an overseer (also an all-round judge) and the situation would be discussed.  Depending on the situation, it might be that the non-compliant judge would not be invited to the country to judge that breed in the future.  The BSI including the recommendations, procedures and evaluations is an ongoing work.


    Description from Finland:

    "The Finnish Kennel Club has published new Breed-Specific Instructions for dog show judges. The instructions were drafted with the purpose of steering dog show judges to pay closer attention to exaggerated breed types. The new instructions entered into force on 1 June 2015.


    A dog show judge is tasked with evaluating how well a dog matches its breed standard. How the breed standards are interpreted can, at times, lead judges and breeders to favour dogs that display tendencies towards exaggeration.


    Now, the breed standard will be supplemented by new Breed-Specific Instructions, which pay special attention to exaggerated breed types as well as each breed's special areas of risk that weaken the dog's fundamental soundness and health."




    Specific examples of issues addressed by Breed Specific Instructions program (examples of high risk breeds/types):

    1. Brachycephalics and some Toy Breeds: especially breathing distress and eye problems
    2. Mollosoids:  e.g. issues relative to giant size (locomotor problems - lameness, pain in joints, etc.), skin, breathing distress and eye problems
    3. West Highland White Terrier:  skin
    4. Dachshunds: chondrodystrophic type


    Breed Statistics from Swedish Insurance Data:


    As stated: the identification of high risk breeds depends on discussions among breeders, judges, veterinarians, etc and where possible, includes evidence from Swedish Breed Statistics from Agria Insurance (See for breeds with Swedish Agria data Breed profiles for 2006-2011 and 2011-2016.


    Some examples from data from 2006-2011:


    Pugs were approximately 6.7 times more likely to require at least one insurance claim for an eye problem compared to All Breeds, combined. Approximately 6.7% of Pugs had one or more veterinary visits for eye problems compared to about 1% of All Breeds (this was in data on over 500,000 insured Swedish dogs, including almost 3,000 Pugs).


    We could say that, as in humans, respiratory problems may be under diagnosed in dogs.  Pugs had 2.5 times the risk for at least one claim for respiratory disease compared to all breeds of dogs.  However, the estimate for all respiratory disease is that less than 3% of dogs were affected, another population estimate (personal communication) is that approximately 6% of pugs need veterinary care for breathing problems. 

    West Highland White Terriers were 2 to 4 times more likely to need veterinary care for various skin problems, (including Allergy or Atopy) compared to All Breeds (again over 500,000 insured Swedish dogs, including over 3,500 WHWTs).  Approximately 5% of WHWTs had one or more veterinary visits for skin problems compared to about 2.4% of All Breeds.


    Great Danes (Deutsche Dogge) (molossoïd type) have a 13 times increased risk for eyelid problems (a condition targeted by the BSI), however, this breed also has an increased risk of other health problems (e.g. heart disease) that are not addressed in the BSI program.  Note: The Great Dane is a Category 2 breed in the UK Breed Watch program.


    The Dogue de Bordeaux (molossoïd type) are not an overly common breed in Sweden, but are affected by numerous health issues, at a rate far above that seen in other breeds.  The locomotor system (bones, joints, muscles - involved in movement) is high on the list.  The Dogue de Bordeaux has 4 times increased risk overall compared to other breeds and an even higher comparative risk for specific problems of the joints, shoulder, elbows and hips.  The underlying diseases or problems are several.  All can manifest as lameness.


    NOTE: that because eye problems and skin disease are often chronic conditions, veterinarians might see the same dog many times over a period of time.  The statistics reported here count each dog once, regardless of the total number of visits, in order to get an appropriate measure of disease at the breed level.



    From the UK:

    The Breed Watch Program (part of Fit for Function approach):


    “Breed Watch serves as an 'early warning system' to identify points of concern for individual breeds. Its primary purpose is to enable anyone involved in the world of dogs, but in particular dog show Judges, to find out about any breed specific conformational issues which may lead to health problems. These conditions are known as a 'point(s) of concern'. "




    On see: National Programs for Breed Health


    In Breed Watch there are three categories: 1. Those with no current points of concern, 2. Some concerns, and 3. “Breeds where some dogs have visible conditions or exaggerations that can cause pain or discomfort (previously known as High Profile) - See more at:


    Category 3 breeds are part of the BOB Veterinary Health Checks program at Crufts dog show.


    Currently (January 2021) the KC's Category 3 breeds are:


    Further information is available at the KC's Breed Watch page.


    Here are a few examples:



    Points of concern for special attention by judges:

    • Excessive amounts of loose facial skin with conformational defects of the upper and/or lower eyelids so that the eyelid margins are not in normal contact with the eye when the dog is in its natural pose (e.g. they turn in, or out, or both abnormalities are present).
    • Excessive skin on head or body. Handlers should be discouraged from pulling skin forward over head and eyes.
    • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis
    • Nervous temperament
    • Signs of dermatitis in skin folds
    • Weak hindquarters

    See more at:



    Points of concern for special attention by judges:

    • Excessive amounts of loose facial skin with conformational defects of the upper and/or lower eyelids so that the eyelid margins are not in normal contact with the eye when the dog is in its natural pose (e.g. they turn in, or out, or both abnormalities are present).
    • Hair loss or scarring from previous dermatitis
    • Heavy overnose wrinkle (roll)
    • Inverted tail
    • Lack of tail
    • Pinched nostrils
    • Significantly overweight
    • Sore eyes due to damage or poor eyelid conformation
    • Tight tail
    • Unsound movement

    See more at:


    GSD (German Shepherd Dog)

    Points of concern for special attention by judges:

    • Cow hocks
    • Excessive turn of stifle
    • Nervous temperament
    • Sickle hock
    • Weak hindquarters

    See more at:




    As important dog shows around the world celebrate the best in pedigreed dogs, it is a good idea to reflect on health problems in certain breeds.  Dog lovers all want healthy, sound dogs with good quality of life – with good, collaborative international programs, let’s hope this is the way of the future.  IPFD has a mission to support international efforts to enhance dog health, well-being and welfare and to support human-dog interactions.  See more resources throughout



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