Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New DNA blood test for Cavaliers

It's not the blood test I was hoping for, but it's not bad. Two conditions that can affect Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are episodic falling syndrome and curly coat/dry eye syndrome. A test developed at the Animal Health Trust in the United Kingdom will identify carriers of both conditions.

Neither condition is common in the breed, but EFS, which typically begins during puppyhood, can be distressing to owners and dogs, and the curly coat/dry eye condition is painful and untreatable, which means most dogs diagnosed with it are euthanized, according to Cavalier breeder Stephanie Abraham, in her breed column for the AKC Gazette.

Does that mean that dogs identified as carriers should never be bred? Not necessarily, according to my interview with Tufts geneticist and veterinarian Jerold Bell. He says the ability to identify undesirable genes in particular dogs is good news, but it can be misused, leading to unwarranted culling and restriction of a breed's gene pool by reducing the incidence of one disease and increasing the incidence of another by repeated use of males known to be clear of the gene that causes the first condition.

That creates bottlenecks and decreases diversity by eliminating all carriers of a gene from the breeding pool instead of breeding and replacing them.

"When entire lines of dogs are eliminated to attempt to control a genetic disease, the gene pool shifts in different directions due to the increased influence of other dogs and family lines. This is not a rare situation in dog breeding, as only a small percentage of dogs in each generation are ever used for breeding to create the next generation. Depending on the genetic background difference between the population and the breeding dogs, gene pools continually shift and gene frequencies change."

Rather than eliminating carriers from breeding programs, Bell recommends breeding testable carriers to normal-testing mates and then replacing them with normal-testing offspring.

"As each breeder tests and replaces carrier animals with normal-testing animals, the problem for the breed as a whole diminishes."

The more serious concern in Cavaliers, of course, is the more complexly inherited and so far untestable diseases: mitral valve disease (aka chronic valvular disease) and syringomyelia. Not every Cavalier with MVD or syringo is affected to the same degree and only phenotypic tests (auscultation or MRI) are currently available to identify affected dogs, but knowing the affected or normal status of a breeding dog's full siblings can help breeders perform relative risk analysis. Dogs whose siblings are normal and whose parents' siblings are normal have the best chance of carrying a low genetic load for this type of polygenic condition.

Open health registries such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and the Canine Health Information Center are the only ways that breeders are going to be able to find that type of information and use it effectively. Breeders who don't or won't list test results in open health registries should be shunned. In this case, it's fair to say that they are guilty--of having dogs that are affected or carriers--until proven innocent.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Real men rock little dogs

So, I took that Labor Day holiday a little too seriously and it turned into Labor, um, Week. A week of not laboring, that is. I did get caught up on some of my important reading, like the September issue of Los Angeles magazine with LA's best breakfast places on the cover, and what do you know--it turned out to be dog-related. On page 74, Ann Herold has a piece about "real men" embracing their inner purse dog. Mickey Rourke has a Chihuahua and former stuntman Keith Vallot proudly takes his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel everywhere. (Great choice, by the way!) Anyone who knows a Chihuahua, Yorkie, Pekingese or Shih Tzu knows that these dogs have outsize personalities, and it's not surprising that most men who are smart enough to give them a chance quickly fall under their spell. Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Celebrate Boykin Spaniel Day

I'm guessing that Boykins are out in full force in South Carolina today, not just because it's Boykin Spaniel Day in the breed's home state; more likely because it's also the opening day of dove hunting season. The Boykin is one of the top breeds I'm considering for my next dog, so it seemed fitting today to blog about the "little brown dog." (Pictured above are Bud and Mattie from the Carolina Boykin Spaniel Retriever Club.)

Boykins were developed in the early 20th century to hunt ducks, wild turkeys and upland game birds such as pheasants in South Carolina's swamps and riverlands. At 14 to 18 inches at the shoulder and 25 to 40 pounds, the Boykin is just the right size to ride in a boat with a hunter, giving rise to his nickname "the little dog that doesn't rock the boat." He has a liver, brown or dark chocolate-colored coat that can be straight or moderately curly. He's a typical spaniel: enthusiastic when it comes to flushing and retrieving anything feathered. Don't hunt but love the water? The Boykin's your dog. Take him kayaking, canoeing, standup paddleboarding or sailing. If it involves getting wet, the highly active Boykin is all for it.

His moderate size and cheerful personality make the Boykin an attractive proposition as a companion or hunting dog, but like every breed and mix, he is predisposed to certain health problems, including eye disease, hip dysplasia, and some instances of exercise-induced collapse and heart problems. To its credit, the Boykin Spaniel Club and Breeders Association of America has established a Canine Health Information Center database that lists Boykins who have top-notch health certifications: annual Canine Eye Registration Foundation exams; an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals patella evaluation; and one of three available tests for hip dysplasia. Optional tests are OFA evaluations for congenital cardiac diseases and elbow dysplasia.

The Boykin was recently recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the Sporting Group, which may or may not bode well for its future. Find out more about the breed here and here. And be sure to check out Boykin Spaniel Rescue: they often have what look like some great dogs available for adoption. I cruise by there frequently. I wrote more about Boykins here.

New site, same great people

I've been blogging over on Pet Connection for the past few years, but it went dark last night. That doesn't mean the Pet Connection bloggers have gone away weeping into the night. No way! We've all regrouped on Petted and Vetted.

Everyone's there: Pet Connection founder Gina Spadafori, science genius and bitchin' journalist Christie Keith, our resident newshound David Greene, funnyman and ER veterinarian extraordinaire Dr. Tony Johnson, pet sitting and social media guru Therese Kopiwoda, and super dog trainer and prolific writer Liz Palika. Your pain will be relieved to see Dr. Robin Downing there, and you'll also spot Dr. Nancy Kay, pet product leading light and animal lover Ericka Basile, the wry and writeful Phyllis DeGioia, Dr. Laurie Hess (our resident exotic pet specialist), cat queen Ingrid King, bunny expert Mary Cvetan, and top dog writer Arden Moore.

Head over to Petted and Vetted and give us a "like." It's the best place to keep up with what all of us are writing in both online and print venues. And, of course, you'll be seeing a lot more of me here at Dogma and Cattitude.

See you on Petted and Vetted!