6] Complaints about the test – reasons given not to do it
Over the last few years I have heard, both first hand and indirectly, several reasons why people are not engaging with the test. I comment on some of these below.
6.1] It’s too expensive – How can people even say this for their breeding dogs when considering the price of puppies and stud fees? There are occasional sales held by Anatgene when the price is dropped but generally the test itself currently normally costs 115 Euros, which, since the Brexit vote, is not much different to the same amount in pounds, say £105. You have to pay your vet to take the blood sample and send it off which will vary. Over the years I have heard of some vets charging ridiculous amounts for breed research samples but others do this very cheaply, or even free, for regular customers as it is for health testing. If you are sending a few together the postage cost will work out less per sample and your vet may do a ‘package’ deal for you for the sampling. We sent 6 tests recently and the postage to France was around £8 recorded delivery, (this may go up after Brexit of course). However, as a ball park figure for consideration let’s say around £150 for a complete single test.
If you are testing a stud dog this cost is only a fraction of the price of a single stud and set against several fees it becomes insignificant. As for testing a brood bitch and setting it against the income from several litters of puppies then, again, it becomes insignificant if you are breeding for the right reasons. It is less than 10% of a standard puppy price or stud fee and a lot less in some cases, so if the bitch has 10 puppies in her lifetime it is less than 1% of the income from that bitch. It is significantly cheaper than submitting hips and elbows to the BVA/KC scheme and all serious breeders do that and just accept the cost, so why should this be declared too expensive?
Also, as you can read a little of elsewhere in this magazine, undertaking health tests could be part of your protection against potential court costs if your dog develops problems. Most knowledgeable people feel this will become a more frequent occurrence in the future and, if it does, £150 for a test will pale into insignificance against the legal costs and fees breeders could be made liable for.
So, personally I think the financial cost argument is a very feeble one for responsible breeders and, now the test is established, just sounds like making excuses.
6.2] It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not definitive, it’s only a guide, it’s not accurate/when it gets more accurate I might think about it – hopefully this has been dealt with above in all the preceding explanation of the test. If you want to reduce the chances of Histio in your puppies then why would you not want to do whatever you could to improve matters in this most significant area for our breed?
To draw a parallel in principle, the hip and elbow scoring schemes are also not definitive in, effectively, the same manner but virtually ‘everyone’ does them and all responsible people would say that people should. You do not absolutely guarantee good hips and elbows in any specific one of your puppies by using hip and elbow scores as part of your breeding considerations but you increase the odds and over a period of time with each generation the beneficial effect for BOTH individual lines AND the breed as a whole, of heeding the tests is cumulative and the advice becomes more and more reliable. Every responsible breeder submits to Hip and Elbow scoring but then some of these breeders say the cancer test is not definitive enough. So, if you are in this camp then the logical question from this is do you only hip and elbow score because you feel you have to for the KC or Assured Breeder Scheme? If you were not compelled to do them, would you regard hips and elbows as unnecessary?
By responding to hip and elbow scores over several decades the breed, and others, have undeniably improved the health outlook for the breed massively. Not only have hip and elbow scores improved but, anecdotally admittedly, there does not seem to be anything like the number of problematic hip and elbow cases around that there used to be and no dogs are reporting death due to hip and elbow problems in the current Death Survey. When problem hip or elbow cases do occur you can usually dip back into the pedigree and find an area or a mating or a dog that is most likely responsible so, mostly, problems do not come completely out of the blue. So, no definite individual puppy guarantees but use of these schemes has improved the breed and some people have lines that are extremely strong in these areas due to applying criteria consistently over several generations.
To say you are refusing to consider the test because it is not accurate enough is to totally misunderstand the whole point and feasibility of the test. Firstly what do you mean by accurate? If you mean you are waiting for a decisive, autosomal, recessive gene type, clear cut result you will have a long wait as it will never be that, the nature of inheritance excludes that possibility. If you understand that then you understand it will never be the same as such a test so what else can you mean?
It is not about individual accuracy but more about overall improvement, just like the hip and elbow scoring. Proper use of the scheme means you will generally improve the health of your line over a period of generations. What if we never had anything better? What if the test was the only thing we ever had to improve the breed and reduce/ remove the curse of early deaths and histio and there was no chance of it ever getting any better? In short it was to be the only thing ever possible to fight ‘histio’ with. Would it still be worth using? Would the positive effect it can have on our breed not be worth utilising? Or would we just say ‘overall positive effect maybe but it’s not good enough so we’ll just carry on as we are’.
Why should the ‘Histio’ cancer test be viewed any differently to hips and elbows which ‘almost everyone’ does test? To me if you say you are not using the test because it is not accurate enough then the logical application of that statement is that you are not interested in improving hips and elbows either but presumably score them because the KC say you have to. Is the principle not exactly the same? So, I can only repeat why would anyone acting responsibly for the breed not want to do whatever they could to improve matters in this most significant area for our breed?
6.3] I had, or know of, a ‘C’ dog who was healthy into old age (or ‘A’ dog who died young) so the test is useless – this is the same argument as above really and if you have read the article so far, hopefully you will understand that this is not a reason to ridicule the test as these dogs are to be expected. The test is currently about the overall numbers game and not necessarily individual dogs and as usage of the test begins to bear influence on the breed it is only logical to expect these the percentages of these dogs to become more reduced.
6.4] There’s no point in knowing because you can’t do anything about it / I don’t want to know about my dogs – well in one way you cannot argue with defeatism, it’s a point of view that by definition cannot be broken and it is true that you cannot genetically help dogs that have already been born. However, clearly this is a wrong premise as the test is about looking forward because as a breeder you CAN do something about the future and play your part in beginning to move the breed to a better place by improving the next generation of your own dogs. If you know the status of your own dogs you can look to improving or maintaining this status in the next, and future generations. If you find out your dog is a ‘C dog’ it is not a guarantee that he or she will develop Histio or will die at young age, if you are not intending to breed with your dog then there is no real need to score him or her at all. Of course some breeders may elect to test all potential breeding dogs in a litter in order to aid their choice of the most suitable for their breeding programme.
6.5] If you’re going to get cancer you are going to get it anyway– at the moment this is probably true where no one has tried to take any positive action but in future litters you can still reduce the odds in your favour for the future of your own stock. Of course, as was said near the beginning of this article, there are other cancers and some of these do not have any known hereditary link and these can be considered plain bad luck as far as we know at this time. However the fact remains that ‘Histio’ is our biggest cancer and you can do something to reduce the chance that ‘… you are going to get it …” in any dogs bred from your lines.
6.6] It’s just depressing to talk about it – this certainly can be true and no one will be in this breed for too long without experiencing some heartbreak and this may often be due to ‘Histio’. However, surely it is more depressing to accept things are bad and simply just be depressed about them rather than embrace a chance to do what can be done to improve future matters for the breed. The test is definitely not about the inevitability of ‘Histio’ being disheartening, this would be the case if there wasn’t a test. On the contrary it is the beginnings of the breed, at last, being able to take some positive action. It is a chance for the breed, through it’s individual breeders, to begin to fight back, it is a cause for some optimism and as the first real tool we have been given, a reason to be at least a little bit cheerful. Surely the most depressing thing is to do nothing and keep perpetuating a bad situation when there is a chance to do something to improve it.
6.7] It’s too complicated – here I would perhaps have a little empathy as I think the Antagene web site could be a little bit more user friendly but it is possible to work it out and the help is really good if you email them. I have now met several of the people who staff this project at Antagene and most of them have really good English. Hopefully, the step by step guide below, section 8, will be of some help to anyone trying to use the test or if I can help please feel free to contact me.
6.8] Bernese don’t have a cancer problem, people like Steve make too much of it – sorry, but the facts do not bear this out. We may be a bit lacking in hard statistics in this country, a fact the Death Survey is seeking to begin to improve, but the early signs from the Death Survey and anecdotal feelings expressed by breeders and owners for decades all point to a cancer problem. You could say that the dogs in other countries where the extent of ‘Histio’ is more documented than here, are a different gene pool but like it or not all the dogs came from the same gene pool and the world is shrinking and there is much international breeding nowadays. This makes it extremely illogical to make a case that several countries could have such a widespread problem that was not present across the whole breed. Initiatives such as the Death Survey only seek to establish the true position so responses can be considered and assessed. “People like Steve’” in any country do not enjoy highlighting issues and only seek to improve the breed, this cannot happen until there is widespread understanding of our real issues and what we can do about them.
6.9] My lines are healthy and long living, I don’t need to concern myself with Histio – it is perfectly true that at times over the years we have identified some kennel lines that exhibit good longevity. So if you have good long living lines then well done, but surely you want to keep them? If you introduce a ‘Histio’ dog into your lines you do not get a slight drop in your average life span in your dogs in the way that if all your dogs lived to 10 years previously they will now only live to 9.5 years. It simply doesn’t work like that. You will still get some dogs with good longevity the same as before because they will be unaffected but some of your dogs will now develop ‘Histio’ and will die at younger ages. Some of the families that buy your puppies will lose them at 4, 5 or 6 years. This will be the case in subsequent generations as well and at some point you will need to utilise the test over a period of time to begin to address it. If you have established a reliably longer living line then I would say think very carefully nowadays before risking this precious asset by using an untested or a C graded dog on an untested dog of your own.
6.10] I don’t need to take reasonable steps to not breed unhealthy dogs – OK this point hasn’t been raised in this way but it is a line used here to introduce the current background movements that may be happening and applicable in the near future to the breeding of dogs. I quote from my other article in the December 2017 BMDC of GB magazine, which confusingly starts with a quote;
“The headline of Our Dogs canine newspaper of October 27th “Government to prosecute breeding dogs with ‘genetic defects’ was covering the way the legal basis of breeding and outlining how the government are considering changing the way the Animal Welfare Act (2006) is applied. It was reported that a government spokesperson had stated that “… anyone knowingly breeding animals with genetic defects could be considered to be committing an offence under the 2006 act”
The point made later was that breeding dogs with genetic defects could be deemed to be ‘unnecessary cruelty’ under the act and therefore a prosecutable offence. It is entirely possible that even if the consultations over this act decide that this is not covered by the act then those driving this process could amend the 2006 Act to definitely say this if this is the way they want it to go.
There has been a big review of the Animal Welfare Act taking place over the last few years. Two main drivers for this are the amount of puppies being smuggled into the country and unhealthy puppies being bred by ‘legitimate UK breeders’. Some of the movers for the reforms to the Act consider that many breeders of pedigree dogs are irresponsible and don’t take enough care when it comes to the health of the puppies they are breeding. When you set this against the massive explosion in the number of DNA tests available for various canine diseases that are now available then the possible requirements of this act or the areas any legal cases resulting from this might look into, are quite clear. Scaremongering? Maybe, but the wording used in the Our Dogs article and quotes from government spokesperson leave little room for ambiguity.
The way the forthcoming legislation finally appears and is applied could have massive effects on dog breeding. There are other factors to taker into account but just stop to consider how “ ….. knowingly breeding animals with genetic defects …..” could be legally applied. As a breeder you sell a dog that dies of ‘Histio” at say 4 years old. The owner seeks legal advice because they find out there is a test that if applied to the parents would have reduced the chances of her puppy developing this disease. After taking advice from a ‘no win no fee’ legal adviser the dog’s owners decide to prosecute the breeder for distress and anguish caused to their family as she expected the dog to live a lot longer. They sue the breeder for not taking reasonable steps to reduce the chance of this happening to their puppy. The breeder in their defence in court says they did not need to use the test when choosing a mate for their dog because their lines are healthy and the test isn’t accurate or effective enough. The judge says their lines clearly aren’t healthy as they have produced a dog that has died of an hereditary influenced disease, so point dismissed. The exact accuracy of the test is irrelevant because it has some accuracy and represents the only evidence the breeder could have given to prove she did take reasonable steps to produce healthy dogs. The judge says that this is the biggest cause of death in this breed and this breeder did not take the only quantifiable mechanism available to reduce the chances of puppies going on to develop the disease. The owner’s case can only be deemed proven and the breeder has to pay several thousands of pounds out in costs and damages. If the breeder had used the test and acted upon the results then, even if the same thing had happened to the puppy the breeder could have made a defence that due care was taken.
In potentially applying this scenario to this case, a court may consider that it been possible to use the ‘Histio’ test for several years so any changes in the legislation could be applied to dogs bred since it was available but who die after the introduction of the reformed Act, not just those bred in the future. Even if you use it and apply it according to recommendations and things do go wrong because the test is ‘not accurate’ then any breeder can mount a defence that they did what they could and what could reasonably be expected of them. Ignoring the test could be seen as absolutely not taking reasonable steps to not produce a ‘Histio’ affected puppy and completely negate a breeder’s defence to any legal case brought. Apart from the ethical ‘health of the dogs’ perspective my personal opinion is that breeders ignore any health testing for their breed at their peril in the world we appear to be moving into.
However, we do not have wait to move into a future of legislative changes because this type of prosecution are quite possible in the current legal framework and have happened already. Even in the current world we operate in as breeders you need to do basic things to protect yourself. Fortunately the practises that protect you as a breeder also, basically by definition, coincide with the things that define you as a responsible breeder.