Dr. Sue Reis DVM, chairperson of the American Rottweiler Club (ARC) Health Committee and a associate of our RCC Health Committee attended the American Kennel Club (AKC) second National Parent Club Health Conference in St. Louis, Missouri on November 2-3, 1997. I have summarized her report for our RCC Newsletter and Website, and her complete report can be found on the ARC Website at http://www.amrottclub.org/

American Kennel Club Health Conference

To date 86 AKC Parent Clubs now have Health Committees, 22 have sent out Health Surveys and 15 clubs are presently planning their health surveys. 26 clubs have established Health Foundations within the last year, and 1.2 million dollars has been allocated in research funds, presently funding 28 research projects.

It has become evident to genetic researchers that many canine disorders/diseases have human counterparts that are widely dispersed in the human population. This emphasizes the fallacy of any breeder’s knee-jerk comment that a genetic disorder is “not in my line”. Denial will no longer serve to keep a breeder’s reputation intact. Genetic testing will be the ruler in measuring the health of a breeder’s line due in part to increasing public awareness of many genetic disorders in purebred dogs, medical and genetic advances which have enhanced the diagnosis of genetic disorders and increasing breeder and breed club knowledge of health and genetic issues. Several speakers discussed the progress made thus far on the canine genome project which is scheduled to be completed well ahead of schedule in 1998.

One of the most interesting notes, at least to my mind, concerned the “founder effect”…a product of domestication and selective breeding of a species or breed, relating to the impact on that species or breed when an outstanding stud animal is used extensively in breeding programs throughout a population. Exclusive utilization of a limited number of stud animals produces a decrease in the amount of variance in the gene pool, which serves to amplify not only the desirable traits sought for in breeding, but also the undesirable or deleterious traits. The result is an increase in health problems seen within a breed.

Topics noted included comparisons between genetic disorders occurring in some breeds and the human disease counterparts, as well as presentations on specific genetic disorders in various breeds and the work involved in identifying a genetic marker for these problems. Dr. Larry Glickman from Purdue University discussed his bloat study, in which, Rottweilers are 23rd in incidence of breeds affected. A discussion on familial or inherited hypothyroidism was presented by Dr. Ray Nachreiner from Michigan State University. In a study performed 3 years ago, 42% of males and 32% of females of one stud’s offspring were affected with autoimmune thyroiditis, demonstrating the influence of the “founder effect” and showing how quickly an undetected disease can be desseminated within a breed population. Dr. George Brewer, also from Michigan State, discussed dominant vs. recessive genetic conditions and transmission, amongst other topics. The bottom line in recessive disease transmission is that identification of carriers is essential in order to eliminate a genetic disorder. Dr. Brewer has been involved in attempting to locate the genetic marker for Von Willibrand’s Disease (vWD) in Rottweilers, and stated that researchers now know that the marker in Rottweilers IS NOT the same as the marker in Dobermanns, so they will have to start from scratch and study the entire Rottweiler genome in order to identify the marker…

Genetic testing is needed to allow us as breeders to identify and remove or control the breeding of a carrier dog, as well as allow us to identify dogs having the gene to transmit a genetic disease with a latent onset (one which occurs late in life, likely after dog has already been bred!).

The formation of a viable Health Foundation lies with the parent club. We must know our breed’s strengths and weaknesses and be totally committed to dealing responsibly with health issues. Parent club leadership that passively accepts, denies, or even shields, health problems is not leadership…it is strictly self-serving and short-sighted. As examples of some parent club efforts…the Golden Retriever Club of America uses an advertising policy, Code of Ethics, nation-wide puppy referral program, internet homepage, and educational programs at national specialties. The Shar Pei club, a very small club in numbers, received a large fund raising boost through the design of a Shar Pei Angel pin, which members receive when they donate $50.00 to the Shar Pei Health Foundation. The Newfie Club encourages members to make memorial donations in the pet’s memory and members receive plaques of medallions when they make a donation…the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club offers gifts corresponding with various levels of donations…the Boxer Club has posters, paintings and breed sculptures…

The common thread illustrated here is the parent club leadership role. In all instances, compliance to the Code of Ethics was considered the highest priority. Board member compliance is enforced in a variety of ways, and some clubs acknowledge compliance by recognition of members, as well as giving awards for health clearnances. The Portugese Water Dog Club does not allow any member to become a club board member unless they fully comply with the Code of Ethics, and advertising is not accepted in the newsletter/internet/etc unless all health clearances have been passed and proof provided.

In closing, Sue states that no ethical breeder goes out to breed a bad dog. Breeders are, in fact, artists, not scientists, and are trying to find that perfect balance between proper temperament, conformation, soundness and health. Our health committee role is to provide breeders with as much factual information as possible. We need to seek the truth rather then sustain the myth, heresay and/or innuendo. We owe that to our dogs and ourselves. She closes with a quote from JFK…

“The greatest enemy of the truth very often is not the lie-deliberate, contrived, and dishonest-but the myth-persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

Dr. Cathy Priddle