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There are a number of significant animal welfare problems associated with pedigree dog breeding. These include exaggerated physical features, inbreeding and inherited diseases.
Pedigree dogs exist due to deliberate and selective breeding for specific traits by dog breeders. Breeding animals are primarily selected based on their physical appearance. Unfortunately this primary focus on appearance often causes a number of health and welfare problems.
Exaggerated physical features
Each pedigree breed has a ‘breed standard' which is a set of strict guidelines describing the way the breed should look. The breed standard mainly focuses on physical features and may also include a small section on temperament. ‘Breed standards’ typically require very specific and narrow physical criteria. Adherence to the breed standard is also used by judges in the dog show ring.
Unfortunately some of the breed standards require exaggerated looks such as flat faces, abnormally large eyes, excessively wrinkled skin or disproportionately short legs. Exaggerated features can cause pain and distress to dogs and seriously compromise their welfare and their ability to lead a normal comfortable life. For some breeds overtime, these physical features have become increasingly exaggerated, for example, breeders have selected for even flatter faces or even shorter legs, further compromising animal welfare.
In some cases, the strict requirement to conform to the breed standard may result in the euthanasia of otherwise healthy puppies simply because they do not meet the standard, for example, where the coat colour of a puppy does not conform to the ‘allowable’ colours for the breed, or where required features are not present.
Inbreeding and inherited diseases
Inbreeding (also referred to as line breeding) means mating animals that have one or more relatives in common, for example, mating a grandfather dog to his own granddaughter. Inbreeding is deliberately and routinely practiced as part of pedigree dog breeding usually in an attempt to breed for a particular ‘look’. However, it is scientifically proven and well recognised that inbreeding increases the incidence of inherited diseases such as inherited blindness, blood disorders, and metabolic problems.
Other negative effects of inbreeding documented include decreased immune system function, decreased viability, decreased reproductive ability and the loss of genetic diversity (i.e. decrease in genetic variation). Collectively, these adverse effects of inbreeding are known as inbreeding depression.
As the level of inbreeding or line breeding increases, the risks to the puppies’ health and welfare increase. Importantly, scientific evidence demonstrates that by mating unrelated parents, there is a significant reduction in the risk of the offspring suffering from an inherited disease.