Welfare epidemiology as a tool to assess the welfare impact of inherited defects on the pedigree dog population

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The effect that breed standards and selective breeding practices have on the welfare of pedigree dogs has recently come under scrutiny from both the general public and scientific community. Recent research has suggested that breeding for particular aesthetic traits, such as tightly curled tails, highly domed skulls and short muzzles predisposes dogs with these traits to certain inherited defects, such as spina bifida, syringomyelia and brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome, respectively. Further to this, there is a very large number of inherited diseases that are not related to breed standards, which are thought to be prevalent, partly as a consequence of inbreeding and restricted breeding pools. Inherited diseases, whether linked to conformation or not, have varying impact on the individuals affected by them, and affect varying proportions of the pedigree dog population. Some diseases affect few breeds but are highly prevalent in predisposed breeds. Other diseases affect many breeds, but have low prevalence within each breed. In this paper, we discuss the use of risk analysis and severity diagrams as means of mapping the overall problem of inherited disorders in pedigree dogs and, more specifically, the welfare impact of specific diseases in particular breeds.