Doomed to disease. Can we fix purebred dogs?
Purebred dog owners are confident that they choose not only the appearance and character of the dog but also typical (inherited) diseases. It seems that soon it will be possible to prescribe such diseases in the breed standard. However, we do not often think about how dogs got this ‘genetic load’. We made this choice ourselves when we created the breed and most importantly, we continue to make this choice today.
People have bred dogs for thousands of years, but for a longer period of our shared history, function prevailed over appearance. Dogs were bred for work and their beauty is a side effect: long coat for keeping warm, short stature for stalking burrowing animals (foxes, rabbits, etc.), long legs for speed.
Things have changed in the Victorian era with an impressive increase in interest in dog breeding. Suddenly, people started breeding and showcasing dogs, evaluating their appearance rather than their performance. Breeds became more than just a group of dogs that did a job and looked similar. This was the era when genealogical books became closed, which means that the breed began to be defined as a population of dogs whose ancestors belonged to a list defined by these books. If you want to breed a gold retriever, you can only use dogs from this original list.
So what happens if you take a relatively small group of dogs and use them to breed more individuals? Their descendants will resemble them and behave like them as well as have inherited genetic diseases from them. When genetic diversity decreases, it can become a big problem.
Unfortunately, many breeds suffer from low genetic diversity. Breeders need to stop this obsession with purity and look at the problem before it is too late to change anything. We can breed dogs for beauty, but that should be the second criterion, after health. We have a successful experience and all we need is a desire to improve the genetic health of breeds of dogs.
What do you think about the strict rules of breeding?
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