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And not all dams and sires with 'clear' test results will be good choices for breeding. Oh, would that life and breeding decisions could be made easy! But every experienced breeder knows that nothing is simple. Breeding and inheritance and health and temperament are very complex issues - each on their own - and combined they constitute a puzzle with no guaranteed solutions. With the increased availability of genetic testing, with its media-inspired aura of high-tech infallibility and direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns, there has been a rush to embrace it as THE most important pre-breeding test. It is probably underpinned by the vague hope of breeders that IF they spend their money and do all the possible genetic tests, they will have fulfilled their 'due diligence''. Many of my colleagues and I have repeatedly reminded the breeding community that, in spite of genetic testing being an extremely important decision-making tool, it is crucial that attention be paid to conditions that are considered important for a breed - regardless of whether there is a 'DNA test' for the condition, or even any test at all The Big Picture is crucial. I described in another blog a genetics symposium in Canada in November 2019. During discussions with committed breeders, at we came to some very important questions. For example, everyone says they want healthy animals with good longevity. But think about these items before you nod your head: How many breeders could say that those are the primary criteria they use when selecting mating pairs? Is there good evidence in your breed that the main focus of breeding has been on producing healthy, long-lived offspring? When breeders choose inbreeding or line-breeding is it to improve health and longevity, or, more likely, aimed at fixing specific traits, often to do with appearance? These questions are not meant as any judgement but to provoke critical, rational, logical thinking about breeding decisions which are, for better or worse often influenced by something else. Primarily, people need to look honestly at the history and culture of breeding and admit that, as for anything in life, a) saying and wishing and hoping is not doing; and b) you cannot achieve a theoretical or even heartfelt goal if your actions are in direct opposition to its achievement. I say I am committed to being slender and fit and then spend all my time in front of the computer and maintain a deep and satisfying relationship with potato chips. But at least I am not shocked when the slender-fit thing just doesn't happen. Our IPFD friend and collaborator Ian Seath posted another recently called 'Health-tested does not mean healthy'. And rightly highlights that health and longevity (or 'healthgevity') is a function of many factors beyond breeding or genetics. Owners must do their part to maintain health and not push all blame for ill-health to breeders. E.g. the well-loved, but morbidly obese Pug in this shot, had, by nature and breeding, specific health risks, all, no doubt aggravated by its body condition. All stakeholders in the health and welfare of individual dogs and breeds need to contemplate their roles and take responsibility. More coming on the topic of health testing and health, soon.
The parallels between human and dog testing are many, especially in terms of the challenges (and potential) arising from the market move to Direct-to-Consumer testing in both species. I talked about these issues in my presentation to the AVMA conference. In the slide here, I make the point that in recent years there have been rapid changes, not only in the fantastic and ongoing developments in science and technology, but also in terms of how and why genetic testing is accessed by consumers. And not just in the dog world. For humans as well, genetic testing is very much trending in social media and popular, not simply in medical applications. An article in Scientific American caught my eye, as it highlights some similar issues that were discussed September 7, 2019, when I addressed the Canadian Kennel Club Board. This article is about sperm banks and how they are admitting they cannot 'guarantee' donor anonymity in the face of services like 23 and Me and Ancestry.com. The basic point, similar in dogs and humans, is that once a sample is submitted for DNA testing, the lab has the material to compare and contrast to other samples they have tested, and to identify related individuals. The labs have the information, or the potential to have it, regardless whether the sample was originally submitted for ancestry testing or a panel of disease tests or one specific test. There is a degree of confidentiality, in that, presumably humans at least can elect not to accept identifying information if the company tells them a relative has been found. Perhaps you can opt out of receiving any information, but in reality many people either are looking for this information, and others do not fully realize what the options mean when they submit a sample. In the field of human testing, numerous initiatives are looking at ethical concerns in research and for application. One obvious example is where an individual agrees to participate in genetic disease testing, either in a research setting or by consumer choice. Depending on the condition and the results, the tested individual may now know or suspect information about their relatives - relatives who did not sign an informed consent or make the choice to 'know'. It is a complex and challenging situation. How does this relate to the world of dogs? We have had discussions recently at the 2nd International Meeting of Kennel Clubs in Stockholm, at the 4th International Dog Health Workshop and at the various talks I have given lately. Some kennel clubs, who are expanding or developing health and pedigree linked databases, are suggesting that 'all' registered dogs should have forensic identification and parental verification. Registries have always recognized that dog identification by, e.g. tattoo, and even microchips, are subject to error - accidental or otherwise. When information is going to be part of the permanent record of the dog, accuracy is of extreme importance. However, even if almost all registries demand 'permanent' dog identification, this varies in type (e.g. tattoo, microchip, DNA), potential for errors and, let's face it, the ability of many registries to be absolutely sure that the results are from the specified dog. The Dutch Kennel Club has a phenomenal program for identification of all registered puppies, made possible partly by the limited size of the country. We will try to provide more information on this in another blog or article. The complexities of dog identification have additional ramifications and impacts on health strategies... A recent paper by Tom Lewis (The impact of incorrectly recorded parentage on inferred genotypes over multiple generations, attached below), geneticist at The KC in the UK, has shown the dangers of designation of 'clear by parentage' when there may be error in the identity of the dog and its ancestors. His work underpins the decision by The KC to limit the clear by parentage to two generations. Presumably, dogs beyond this limited time frame must then be re-tested. Of course, with DNA identification (of all tested dogs) theoretically a much lower error rate could be achieved. (Parentage verification is highly accurate, and there are standards and proficiency testing in place for this type of testing.) Tying this back to the concept of confidentiality, the KCs at the International meeting also discussed data privacy concerns around genetic testing and data banks. I won't go into the handling of owner data, de-identification of samples, and numerous other issues, but I will mention one point of discussion that relates to the sperm bank example above. The genetic testing laboratory or researcher or commercial test provider will have the ability - or potential - to detect related individuals by their genetic profiles, whether or not they have owner identification. Not that this means it will be used in a way that should cause concern, but as in the human example, it is perhaps something of which to be aware. Have we been paying enough attention? It seems there is great concern on the human side. This is all complex and confusing; stayed tuned for a coming blog explaining forensic, identification, parentage testing and more. All of this raises tough issues that will have to be considered by the dog world, as some registries and kennel clubs move towards mandatory DNA identification / parentage testing and others do not. This is another angle where the evolving technology of genetic testing is creating both benefits and challenges. Resources: Tom Lewis Impact of Incorrectly Recorded Parentage.pdf
The Kennel Club list of DNA tests available for each breed along with an indication as to whether the test is part of the Assured Breeder Scheme (recommended or required) and whether it is recorded on the Kennel Club registration database: Find your Breed's testing here. Also see the KC's DNA screening schemes and results page for breeds which currently have DNA tests recorded and published by the KC, together with further information on the specific conditions, lists of laboratories and results: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health/breeding-for-health/dna-screening-schemes-and-results/. Also see The Kennel Club's list of Worldwide DNA Tests.