Image Credit - Wikimedia.org/
With its loving and sweet disposition, along with droopy, elegant ears and silky fur, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is one of the most popular dog breeds. Pet owners pay up to thousands of dollars for a puppy. Unfortunately, it is also one of the dogs most prone to genetic disorders.For instance, by the time they are five years old, half of them develop mitral valve stenosis, which can lead to a premature death. Close to 70 percent of them is also affected by canine syringomyelia, a neurological disorder where the brain becomes too large for the skull.This ends up causing sever shoulder and neck pain, apart from damaging the spinal cord of the dog. Cavaliers are not the only purebreds with a disposition for inherited diseases. What can we do about it?The consequences of breeding
People have been breeding dogs for over 4000 years for specific traits, from physique ideals like hunting for badgers to develop a temperament that is better suited for companionship. However, most of the modern breeds and their genetic problems came about only over the last two centuries. A major reason behind this is the rise in popularity of dog shows, which led to a lot of selective inbreeding so that the animals could have specific features.To get the desired appearance, a lot of breeders opt for line breeding – a breeding method in which direct relatives, like grandson and grandmother, are mated. If a male dog ends up winning a lot of championships, he is bred widely. This practice is referred to as popular sire syndrome. This will cause his genes to spread through the breed, whether they are healthy or not.Consequently, purebred dogs fall prey to a number of inherited diseases and heightened health issues like hip dysplasia due to their body frame and shape (especially in large breeds like the Saint Bernard and the German Shepherd). Miniature and toy breeds suffer from patellar luxation or a persistent dislocation of their kneecaps.Moving forward
It is very much possible to improve a given breed while maintaining its characteristics. Take the case of the Dalmatian, which is prized for its spotting pattern. The pattern also predisposes them to high uric acid levels in their urine, which can lead to the formation of urate crystals which cause urinary blockages.In 1973, a geneticist from Indiana paired the champion Dalmatian with the English pointer which has normal levels of uric acid and a disposition similar to that of the former. In the year 2011, after fifteen generations, their pedigree improved without affecting their spots in any way.The goal is not to get rid of purebreds but put their health first. Nobody wants the purebreds to disappear, but we certainly want them to function properly and stay healthy.