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Genetic Problems in Dogs

Updated on April 15, 2011
Image from Wiki Commons
Image from Wiki Commons

Parade of the Mutants

A while ago a documentary appeared on my TV screen that I and others around me found shocking.It was a talking point for a few days and then I clean forgot about it until I began to write a hub about child beauty pageants and was reminded once again of strangeness on parade. It shouldn't be forgotten but in this age of rapid information exchange it's all too easy for an issue to be relegated to the back shelf, as there's always a new horror or event nipping at the heels of the old one.

The documentary was called Pedigree Dogs Exposed and I've include an excerpt further down in this article, though readers should be warned some people might find it disturbing. I sure did. The documentary created a storm of controversy and led to various sponsors such as Hill's Pet Nutrition,Pedigree Dog Food, RSPCA, The BBC and Dogs Trust to withdraw their participation in Crufts Annual Dog Show and other Kennel Club events.

The English Crufts dog show is the mecca of the show dog-breeding world. Every year impossibly proportioned, fluffed and coiffed canines are paraded around an arena to vie for best in their category and the ultimate prize -best in show. According to the Guiness Book of World Records it is estimated that an average 28,000 dogs take part in Crufts each year, with approximately 160,000 human visitors attending the show.

Yet not all the attention it receives is positive.So notorious is this annual event among those whose first concern is animal welfare,it prompted Mark Evans, chief veterenarian for the RSPCA, to lament, "When I watch Crufts, what I see is a parade of mutants." As Evans describes it, "It's some freakish, garish beauty pageant that has nothing, frankly, to do with health and welfare."

Breeding to Death

“People are carrying out breeding which would be first of all entirely illegal in humans and secondly is absolutely insane from the point of view of the health of the animals.”

Professor Steve Jones University College London

Because of their early, close relationship with humans, selective breeding has occurred in dogs for thousands of years, mostly without a problem. However in the last 100 years and particularly the last 50, the emergence of Kennel clubs as well as clubs devoted to specific breeds has led to a culture of in-breeding that has wreaked devastation in the pure-bred canine community.

Pure bred dogs are often [but not always] bred specifically for looks rather than labour or companionship and it is this preferencing of beauty, or rather a very specifically designed and fanatical standard of beauty, above all other considerations, such as health and diversity, that has created a myriad of health problems among many breeds. The characteristic features of certain breeds have become far more extreme now than in the past. According to Evans, the quest to conform to a manufactured ideal of aesthetics is "driven primarily by the rules and requirements of competitive dog showing and pedigree dog registration".

So severe are the effects of genetic inbreeding in some cases the breed of dog is in danger of dissappearing altogether.Take the case of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which features in the video below:

The above photograph shows the dramatic change in bone structure due to effects of selective breeding to breed standards over the last century. Note the jutting extreme lower jaw.
The above photograph shows the dramatic change in bone structure due to effects of selective breeding to breed standards over the last century. Note the jutting extreme lower jaw.

The Effects

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has been criticised by breeders for employing "emotional manipulation" and in researching this article I've read several blogs and articles by defensive breeders and others, many of whom came down heavy on organizations like Peta for picketing the last Croft show.Yet the facts remain.

Competitive dog shows have led to devastating inbreeding;excessive skin folds, flattened faces,severely short legs, severely long backs, large bulging eyes, extreme head size are just some of the exaggerations that can occur when an animal is inbred for traits, many of which "seriously compromise an animals quality of life" according to the RSPCA.

Not to mention the internal deformities and problems:

- difficulty breathing

- difficulty walking

- difficulty giving birth without veterinary intervention

- serious problems with their eyes

- serious problems with their skin

- chronic back and hip problems

A 2001 article in Time Magazine describes the difficulties one family encountered when they adopted a Golden Retriever puppy, bought from a certified American Kennel Club Breeder,. Soon after bringing it home, the dog developed a painful limping caused by dysplasia osteochondritus [an inherited bone condition] as well as severe allergies, dry skin and a poor coat.

It would be tempting to put Jake's problems down to plain bad luck -- but in fact the odds were against him from the start. While most golden retrievers are healthier than Jake, a shocking 60% of them end up with the dysplasia that may yet cripple him, according to the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. Many are born with an undescended testicle, another hereditary condition vets say can cause the gland to become cancerous.

Yet even if they had chosen another breed, the Metzgers would have been taking a chance. The appalling truth is that as many as 25% of the 20 million purebred dogs in America -- 1 in 4 animals -- are afflicted with a serious genetic problem

In spite of the widespread emphasis on breeding traits for "beauty" among kennel clubs, there are breeders who love their dogs, are concerned for the animals welfare and do what they can to improve the situation.

A responsible breeder prioritises health and welfare over appearance: they work to breed away from known inherited disorders, they provide a very high standard of care for their dogs and conscientiously work to match supply with demand. They are open and transparent, ensure compatibility between the pup and new owner and provide a health guarantee and ongoing support.


In issues of animal welfare we might first ask ourselves the question -do animals have interests? If we answer yes to this, as most would, we next have to ask- are those interests worthy of consideration? This writer, at least, would answer yes as I'm sure would many others. Furthermore, those interests should overide the vain and self-aggrandizing pleasure of parading a genetically mutated animal around an arena to be judged by a panel of *experts* who arbitrarily have decided what the *standard* should be for a particular breed, no matter how aesthetically beautiful you personally believe that standard to be. As standards become more and more extreme, for some breeds, the price is just too high.


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    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for giving us that insight into the Horse Show scene. I followed the link and your horse is indeed beautiful.

      You hit the nail on the head there..*it does not serve the animal well*. Exactly. These shows are for us, not them and while some breeders do follow ethical standards, there's little doubt breeding abuses do happen as a result of the extreme standards set. The evidence is there.


    • Terry.Hirneisen profile image


      7 years ago from Shenandoah Valley

      I know that Horse Shows have ruined some breeds. The Arabian was a small, friendly horse. Shows wanted flare and size. So they were bred for what judges wanted and now are known by many as CRAZY Arabs.

      I had my Andalusian looked at by a Spanish team of experts in a process called Revision. It was a rational examination for breeding value and he passed readily. A week latter he placed 5th in a show and a horse that failed Revision placed first.

      I decided I would never again subject my Stallion to a show in order to satisfy my ego or get breeding business. As you can see he is a happy, healthy boy.

      See his photos at

      Now I learn the horrid results on dogs and it makes me sick. We have made a system where the show winners get the breeding business. It does not serve the animal well.

      I have two happy Golden Retrievers, and thank god they are healthy. But we have a Shiatsu we rescued that is from a puppy mill and he has problems.

      Thank for the expose. GOOD JOB but the video made me ill.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Lol..hello Happy! Here you are spreading warmth and goodwill again. If I believed in angels...I'd almost think you were one.

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago

      Good Monday morning to you Snow White - this is your favorite dwarf checking in!

      You make the hub world a special place to be with your compassion, relentless pursuit of the truth and an eye for conviction and integrity. Congratulations on all of that -your other readers must agree too!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Yep Josh.."power to the dogs"...I'll second that one. Thanks.

    • Joshua Kell profile image

      Levi Joshua Kell 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Great hub. I feel you on this one. I decided a long time ago that I like dogs more than people. So I say, "Power to the dogs!" Mutated or not.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore


      You are right my article was biased and I should should have presented more opposing views, though I did include a paragraph on ethical breeding. That wasn't enough though. Did you watch the video? Why would the RSPCA and reputable vetinary neurologists say these things if it were not true?

      By the way, I'm not questioning your own standards...I'm looking at the wider picture.

    • lmmartin profile image


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Again, let me state that with 20 years running a kennel, breeding my mastiffs and labradors most of the people I've met on the dog show circuit (certainly never Crufts or Westminster -- no only local shows in Alberta, Manitoba, Montana and Washington) most of these people were profoundly dedicated to their animals. As you left a message on my hub on ethical breeding, I'm sure you won't mind me leaving a link here My mastiffs were selectively bred for health, structure and good temperament and look very much as the breed always has. You can see pictures of them here and there on my hubs. I also bred Labradors, again selectively for health and many of these dogs went to the RCMP and as service dogs for the blind, hearing impaired and wheelchair restricted. I invested a lot of time, money and effort to ensure I bred the best of healthy dogs. I did not breed for beauty or looks, but for the special traits that make the breed. My dogs live happy, healthy lives with a normal life span. Yes, occasionally we loose one to a heart condition or cancer -- but this happens in all dogs, not just pedigreed ones. Other problems like hip and elbow dysplasia also occur as often in mutts as in purebreds.

      In closing, I watched the last Westminster, and I did not see a parade of mutants, but some very beautiful, athletic, healthy dogs. It is not the knowledgable, reputable breeder who creates such issues, but the backyard breeder who has no idea what they are doing, breeding incompatible genetics, close in-line breedings, breeding not for the benefit of the breed but for money.

      Do not brush all dogs, all breeders with the same brush. There are two sides to every story and you've only presented one here and a very biased one at that.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      It is heartwrenching saddlerider...there's some terrible things going on,as you say and as David remarked....cruelties in factory faming etc. Thanks for watching.

      Thanks for the comment cphypno..yeah, after watching this, I'd definitely go for a mutt.

    • saddlerider1 profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you Jane for exposing this pedigree problem, the video was heart wrenching, but needed to be shown. I hope something is being done about this problem. The overbreeding has got to stop. It's becoming as bad as cock fighting, and dogs being caged and brutalized so they can kill one another when let loose so betters can capitalize. It all comes down to the almighty dollar again, greed of man will do anything to make money.

    • CMHypno profile image


      8 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      The overbreeding of pedigree dogs has gone way too far, and the way breeders and owners who show dogs have obsessed about certain physical characterisitics in dogs, has caused the dogs a lot of harm and pain. Much better to have a happy, healthy mongrel dog, as, just like people, looks aren't everything

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I 'd quite forgotten there was a difference between dogs and children so thanks for that!!

      The parade ground is different but the glory-by-extension-let's get our alter/egos judged by a fairly crazy standard of beauty is similar.

    • Arthur Windermere profile image

      Arthur Windermere 

      8 years ago

      My pleasure, Manhands. ;)

      Hehehe yeah, well, I think there's a difference between parading one's children and parading some furry crapfactory. And that's probably one of the sweetest things I've ever said about children.

      But still, I won't be inviting any pageant moms to afternoon tea. Even if I had afternoon tea.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Ladyfingers, thanks for dropping by. For a minute there I thought you might've been playing too many computer games, until I looked up "Arrakis"....ah, "home of the spice, the greatest treasure in the universe. And he who controls it, controls our destiny". I've never read sounds good though.

      I love your last, Yet you don't find the child beauty pageant people weird...."not creeped out at all" eh? Apart form the genetic engineering bit, what's the difference...?

    • Arthur Windermere profile image

      Arthur Windermere 

      8 years ago

      I was just reading how after centuries of breeding the dogs will one day produce a Messiah dog that will use the powers of the spice to liberate Arrakis from the grip of the Empire.

      But seriously, yeah, that's terrible. As much as the malleability of genetic material fascinates me, I don't support it when it causes suffering. Poor puppies. Of course, it's not like anyone's ever said, "Hey, you know who's not weird? Dog show people!" Never happened. Ever.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      That documentary opened my eyes too faithful...I did always think there was something sad about those extreme looking dogs but I had no idea about the extent of the suffering. I don't know whether you watched the video but I can't believe what they have to done to the magnificent German Sheppard. Their whole rear end is's crazy.

      [waving to De Greek]

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very sad to me...I love the dog shows, but didn't realize a lot of this was going on. Thanks for opening my eyes. Makes you want to cry, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing so we can be aware of it.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      8 years ago from UK

      Wonderful stuff. Very well done!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Totally agree David..and thanks for the comment.

    • David Stone profile image

      David Stone 

      8 years ago from New York City


      What all this comes down to is humans misusing other living things under the assumption that we are better and have some weird right to do as we please with little concern for animals who do feel pain, both emotional and physical.

      Much worse happens in factory farms, medical research and cosmetic trials, but most people prefer to ignore what would horrify them if seen up close. With luck, we will look back on this time of horrifying behavior and wonder at how backward and blind our ancestors could have been.


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