Are We Killing Our Breed with Healthtesting? 1st Oct 09′
I would be the last person to ever have thought that *I* would be writing this. I am probably writing it to myself anyway, but nevertheless its my website so I’ll be as honest as I like!
I think we are killing our breed with healthttesting. This is a VERY recent view of mine that keeps me awake at night. Up to now I’ve thought the healthtesting advancements a bonus. As Optigen came alongside Hip, Elbow and eye testing… it seemed a great complete ‘package’ to me covering pretty much all bases that *I*, personally, had seen dogs affected with through the years – Joints and Eyes…. Then CNM testing was offered and because the result of being Affected with CNM was almost certainly death, I warmly welcomed this too. However I must admit at the time it DID concern me that personally, I’d never seen a single dog with the condition nor even heard of one.
Fast forward a few months and talk was of Narcolepsy and a DNA test for it, then added to that a test was developed for Retinal Dysplacia and a linked gene to Dwarfism. Then a lot of talk, even from eye testing panelists was that the Hereditary Cataracts (HC) DNA test is ever nearing completion. Then out of almost nowhere came talk of a condition called Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) and a DNA test popped up for it! I now understand having researched that test for a nasal condition that might be inherited has also come online or is about to and there is interest in it. You can always understand the desire to healthtest for conditions our own dogs have been affected with…. its entirely natural….but there surely has to be reasonable lengths one goes to as regards breeding healthy Labradors, and then….no further because it starts to spiral BACK on itself.
I always thought that we were starting to poke about in cupboards we really didn’t want to be opening but finding that many dogs were CNM carriers from across the spectrum of the breed was bad enough. The talk that the DNA test for HC was going to be devestating in its results was scary enough, and then recently, suddenly it appears noone can talk of anything other than EIC testing and that of the dogs tested huge amounts are coming back carriers!
The DNA tests are sold as being tools to work with. I have sold them as that myself since starting to DNA test in 2004 with Optigen, but now they are becoming Weapons of Mass Destruction in the main. Its all very well if you only have a bitch. If she is tested for three different conditions and comes back a Carrier for a couple, you can just try and work around that. I am not sure how people don’t see however with so MANY tests that is easier said than done. OK, Ok, come back a Carrier for one condition you just pick a Clear stud dog. Come back for two or three, then you are stuck because few will use all the tests and if YOU have tested you will want to find a dog who has also been tested. Indeed….really….you HAVE to now you know…. Sound unlikely? Overly dramatic? Well my own Dylan was a Optigen Carrier and almost certainly by default a CNM carrier. That would have shot him out the gene pool as fast as you can say ‘no thanks!’, yet he was an amazing dog who sired several amazing dogs and I wouldn’t change standing him at stud for a minute. But if he was three years old now – he would never be used by anyone.
The one dog in the country Clear for everything will be the most used dog and hang how good he is. A few brave souls will happily use Carriers for maybe one condition, but what if its two? Or three? And how overwhelming will the work be given to that Clear for everything stud dog in comparison to the two or three bitches in a lifetime to the dog who will NOT be appealing because he has blots against him.
The ethical stud dog owner has to refuse all bitches not tested Clear for a condition his dog comes back a Carrier for. On paper. So basically only the tiny handful of bitches owned by competition kennels will be tested for these conditions. Mind you, infact, many WON’T be tested and stud dogs, as ever, will be expected to be tested so the bitch owners don’t have to…. i’ve done it myself. because, as we all know, if one parent is Clear tested then none of the puppies can be affected. The ultimate goal. However really 99% of bitch owners will, infact just look for a dog with all ‘Clear’ status’s.
But the more DNA tests that we open our arms to, or feel pressured into using, we WILL, as the current results show, shoot outselves in the foot. Information is useful…. too much probably unneeded information is just set to cause heartache, and will lay the breed in the paws of a tiny handful of dogs.
Its nice to think we could all merrily use Carrier dogs for certain conditions on our girls and of course we can (and indeed I have in the past and will in the future!). But that just won’t be the case except in a small handful of cases, as bitch owners will want Clear dogs. Optigen has shown us that. Now, when we only had ONE condition for a dog to come back on – Optigen…OK, lots used the test and pretty quickly, and a carrier status wasn’t such a bad thing because it was reasonably easy to find one Optigen Clear in the large amount of Clear dogs to use. In the fantasy world of some Carriers will be as contributing to the gene pool as Clears. No way Jose! Our gene pool is made up of a LOT more than competition dogs and that is where the problems are going to spill over. Mrs Smith with a nice hip scored and eyes tested bitch will not want to use a dog who is a carrier for anything! yet we all know she would use him if he was untested! Blind, possibly, but just the way of the world!
So we welcome these tests and start using them. And we do ourselves out of any peace of mind. How many dogs do we see with EIC? It certainly appears to be something most have seen a case of… maybe a couple of cases…. but we have a huge breed, and its not fatal… yet the FACT its so widespread as regards carrier status is exactly what is going to do for the breed alongside all the other tests we were trying to juggle past and future….
If a huge programme of education that carriers could be used to ALL breeders great and small (which would have to run alongside almost forcing nearly everyone to use these tests because if they don’t know the status of their dog for something they CAN’T ethically use a carrier partner!) then things may not be running into a nightmare situation,. but that, in the real world, is never going to happen.
The super Labrador does not exist really, but you can be sure if people are concerned about single dogs being massive producers NOW, wait till only a few top competitions dogs are Clear for everything… they will never be standing on four legs!
It is extremely scarey. And I don’t right now see any way forward. Not if we keep bashing ourselves over the head with further and further tests. Its not burying your head in the sand its trying to be sensible and moderate. When the hip scoring scheme came in old school breeders said it would be the death of the breed, excluding good dogs. Can you IMAGINE what they must think with hips, elbows, eyes, and a further three four or five DNA tests to try and work through!
Time to take up stamp collecting I feel unless you have the courage to stand alone and say ‘enough is enough testing, I will do NO more!’ (Then you will be told you must have something to hide!) Phew!
1st October 2009.