UK Bernese Mountain Dog Death Survey

Survey Relaunched December 2016

There are many reasons why we need a Death Survey.  “How long do they live?” is a basic, regular, and not unreasonable, question asked by enquirers about our breed whether generally to the clubs, individuals or on breed information stands at Discover Dogs either at Crufts or in London. Without a survey we simply do not have a validated and up to date figure we can quote. We are not generating comparative data for future use and we do not know whether things are improving or getting worse. It is absolutely not about individuals but compiling the ‘big picture’ to identify trends and patterns.

So, the club launched a Death Survey to be an ongoing process into the future.

Rationale

Being able to give a valid reply to breed enquirers is more of a bonus reason when you consider all the potential benefits of such an initiative. Gathering the information in one place enables us to collate things much more effectively and produce meaningful information to maybe assist us by gaining a good insight into just exactly what is happening in our breed in the UK.

Some other countries realised the value of death information many years ago and breed clubs have been collecting it for a long time. We could simply ask people to record their dog’s death details on Berner Garde, which we still do, but this would not give us as much collated information as we can get from an independent list with UK details compiled to compare.

If we do not collect information we will never know if it has anything to tell us. There is a massive amount of information that can be gleaned from such a survey, not only causes of death but average ages and trends can be identified and give a solid substantiated  basis for further action or investigation. Seeking information and accumulating and recording data is the ONLY way to establish facts about our breed. Without surveys everything we know, or think we know,  is just anecdotal or gossip which should have no part in any meaningful process. It gives us evidence to take to experts, demonstrates that we are taking some responsibility for our breed by addressing breed health within the breed. Information from a Death Survey is so important to a breed as it can initiate all kinds of follow up actions, many would say that a Death Survey is an essential starting point for all health initiatives. Indeed there are countries where they realise the importance of this data and completion of Death records for every dog you lose is compulsory to stay in the club and you need to be in a club to function in the breed in such countries.

Principle

It is understood that some may even find the concept of looking at deaths upsetting or distasteful but it is an essential aid to improving the future of the breed. Studies of deaths play a big part in human medicine and health care planning around the world and help medical researchers to pick up on trends. It is about recording death but the information relates to life as we have to learn from today to improve tomorrow. We have to start by realising there are things we can and should be monitoring with a view to improving our breed. You cannot start to look at ways to address possible problems until you identify and evaluate those problems and establish as many facts as you can.

The story so far

The current Death Survey was launched in December 2016 to provide information about the breed both in summary and detailed form. The intention was to publish an ongoing information on this web site giving a variety of data about deaths in our breed and this has happened with summary reports being printed periodically in the club magazine and being available on this web site.

There was also to be another list with all the details of each dog given by the owners of breeders. This list was to act as information for people looking at the breed for various reasons whether as breeders, researchers,  puppy buyers. Due to the personal information volunteered by people it was always intended to delay this list until it had reached a significant size to reduce any emphasis on individuals. It was supposed at concept that such a figure would be reached within maybe 6 months or so. However, the support was very poor and the list only grew very slowly and, before we reached any significant size, the new data protection process of GDPR introduced in summer 2018 also made us think further about the publication of this list and the wording of the data collection. In order to encourage support it has been decided to suspend the publication of any list giving any individual dog’s details pending further consideration and acceptance for the foreseeable future. People will still be asked to either give permission for this or indicate if they do specifically do not want this to happen in which case it absolutely never will in any case, but as I update this is in 2020 it is extremely unlikely that any individual details will ever be published even if individual permission has been given.

However, we continue to collect data and the summary list continues to grow and is available from the link below (periodically updated). Owners are still asked if they are happy to be on any individual list and have to opt in or out still opt out of publication ever happening simply by ticking/clicking on a box.

Already Contributed?

A massive thank you if you have already contributed details of your dog (or dogs) to this list. Even with such a simple low level of detail being requested it is not always easy for everyone to be completely frank and honest and filling in the form could bring back painful memories so we really do appreciate every submission.

I especially thank and appreciate those who have been very open about their dogs and especially those who have contributed more than the minimum details required. Some people feel any negative news about their dogs very personally and it can take courage to be honest with upsetting news so please applaud and acknowledge these people rather than just criticising their dogs as some tend to do. I also REALLY thank and appreciate those who have completely embraced the initiative and researched all their owned and bred dogs that they can by checking with vets and puppy owners to obtain historic details. There is a lot of historic information out there if only a few more people would take the trouble to find it out.

How to Contribute

Please complete a form for each Bernese you have lost, whether recently or back in time. You may have records of your own but feedback has been that vets are happy to give you details of your historic dogs, it is only a few moments work for the receptionist to look at your records on the computer system and give you dates of birth and death as well as the cause of death recorded at your vets. The information you can gain from a quick phone call to your vet can be of great assistance to this survey so please make the effort to do this and then complete the form either in hard copy or on line, both can be simply done via the links on this page. If you do not know the full details of your dog’s name or other information then partial details can be of value as we have access to full records and can often look up the bits we need from the incomplete data we receive.

Please Please Please Please Please Help

Please take a few minutes to understand the potential importance for the breed of this survey and if you do that you will realise just how helpful it is to send in all your departed dog’s details.

Not just the ‘good news’ long living ones or just the ‘bad news’ not so long living ones, but all the ‘average ones’ you can provide whether current or historical. They don’t have to have a dramatic or emotional story to be of value to the survey which is only concerned with the basic details. If trends are identified, for example certain cancer deaths, all the non cancer deaths are just as important to give correct context to these deaths. If people only reported their cancer deaths then 100% of Bernese would be shown as dying of cancer. Context is very important here so we need ALL deaths to be reported.

Whatever the cause of death, whether illness or accident, euthanised or died naturally, young or old, dramatic or quietly passing away, upsetting or a reason to celebrate, last week, last year, a decade ago or even from the last century if you can get them, the details of ALL OF YOUR Bernese’s deaths are important to this survey.

Whether your dog originated from big winning show background, a working background or was bred by a well known breeder or an unknown one off breeder, whether it lived quietly at home with it’s family or was well known at shows or attended other club events we want to know about it.

Even if you do not know a certain cause of death but just have the dates of birth and death, or if you feel your dog simply died of ‘old age’  your dog’s details will add value to the survey. If you are not certain or have no proof of a cause of death but have your own idea this too is of value to the survey. In the UK hardly anyone has a post mortem on their dog or biopsy of tissues so, strictly speaking, the cause of death is often only an opinion, whether yours or your vets, but added together these opinions are of great value for the breed but they can only be of value when they are contributed to a survey like this.

As long as it is a Bernese that lived in the UK there is no fact that can make YOUR Bernese of today or yesterday not of interest to this survey SO PLEASE make sure YOUR Bernese is a part of this list.

By just ticking a box you can even opt out of having all your dog’s details ever being made public in the list and just allow them to contribute to the overall summary picture. Your own details, name and contact information will never be given out in any case and are only asked for for contact to clarify things and to authenticate the dog’s details.

Only owners or breeders of dogs can contribute the dog’s details.

The form is very simple and will only take a few moments to complete for each dog and can be done on line via the link on this page. PLEASE  DO NOT casually assume this request is for someone else’s Bernese and doesn’t apply to yours, because the survey absolutely does ask for all UK Bernese details, there are no restrictions that rule out any UK Bernese. Some people have gone back in time and contributed the details of every Bernese they have owned over many years. I cannot thank these people enough for their support of this survey.

CONTEXT IS ALL IMPORTANT. IF WE ONLY HEAR ABOUT THE SICK DOGS THEN WE GET A FALSE IMPRESSION.

Context Matters

Details of ALL Bernese are required as context is important. If we were only told about dogs like the sickly dog on the left we would have a completely wrong impression and have evidence that 100% of our dogs were unhealthy. Of course we really need to know about the ones represented by the one on the left but we also really need to know about the others to keep the one on the left in context.

It’s not rocket science to understand that the more Bernese we hear about the more realistic the results we get, so please forward information about your dogs when you can.

Thank You

Summary Causes of Death

The table below shows a summary of the causes of death reported up to the date shown at the bottom. Whilst the ongoing figures fluctuate slightly, we consistently have around two thirds of our dogs dying of cancer and about a quarter of the total reported deaths are due to ‘Histio’. These figures are consistent with Bernese populations in other countries who run surveys, sometimes with much higher numbers than these, the percentages are similar. In America where typically more money is spent on biopsies and Post Mortems than other countries the cancer figure is higher at around three quarters. As always there is more to the bigger picture than just simply causes of death, relative ages for example, but as a simple guide to the biggest serious health issues in our breed the picture would appear very clear.

 Given Cause of DeathNumberAverage Age (yrs)% of Total
1Cancer (General)1057.8640.9%
2'Histio'647.1924.9%
3Kidney Failure127.074.7%
4Orthopeadic - Rear109.523.9%
5=
Heart Problem - non specified
86.333.1%
5=Bloat87.963.1%
5="Old Age"68.123.1%
8Orthopeadic -Unspecified410.821.6%
9=DM38.601.2%
9=Orthopeadic - Hips38.581.2%
9=Pnuemonia35.001.2%
12=DCM211.100.8%
12=Liver28.080.8%
12=Neurological26.120.8%
12=Pancreatitis29.680.8%
16=Abcess17.350.4%
16=Abdominal Abnormalities111.640.4%
16=Aneasthetic Reaction16.300.4%
16=Auto Immune18.450.4%
16=Epilepsy14.450.4%
16=Collapse of Larnyx muscles15.510.4%
16=Heatstroke14.030.4%
16=IMPA15.540.4%
16=Injury15.510.4%
16=Lung Problem17.530.4%
16=Meningitis11.010.4%
16=Orthopeadic - Elbow13.450.4%
16=Orthopeadic - Hips & Elbows15.760.4%
16=Parvovirus10.490.4%
16=Peritonitis17.970.4%
16=Pyometra14.000.4%
16=Rage Syndrome10.930.4%
16=Shock after surgery17.140.4%
16=Spine Injury (car crash)112.120.4%
16=Steroid Responsive Menigitis (SRM)10.720.4%
General Cancer & Histio combined1577.6566.0%

Notes

  1. Causes of Death are as given by owners and/or their vets. Sometimes this is a factual point and sometimes technically a ‘best guess’ based on symptoms, sometimes supported by lab testing of blood or biopsies, very occasionally as result of Post Mortem. Overall these ‘most likely’ causes still contribute to the picture as without them the numbers would be extremely low and lots of totally independent people coming to the same conclusions has to be meaningful.
  2. Percentages are out of the total with causes given and do not include the dogs who did not give a cause of death.

Table Breakdown

The table below gives some summary details about the survey results to date, December 2020. The number of current dogs contributed is massively disappointing with very few owners managing to report their dog’s details despite regular pleas in the club’s publications. It is really disheartening that there is such low response but a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed details of their own dogs but it has to be said there are alot of people out there who could send in details to help this survey and make it more and more representative. Please consider looking up your deceased dogs and making their figures a part of these summaries.

Number of Dogs in Survey271
Average Age at Death of ALL Dogs in Survey7.71
Number of dogs giving a cause of death257
Number of Dogs (males)135
Number of Bitches136
Oldest Reported Death in Survey (yrs)13.36
Youngest Reported Death in Survey (yrs)0.20
Most Recent Death in SurveyDecember 20
Oldest (Longest Ago) Death in SurveyAugust 85
Most Recent Birth in SurveyMay 18
Oldest (Longest Ago) Birth in SurveyDecember 76
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 2020
4.0%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 20197.7%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 20189.6%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 201712.9%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 201614.0%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 2011 - 201528.7%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 2006 - 20109.9%
Percentage of Reported Deaths in 2001 - 20057.7%
Percentage of Reported Deaths 1991 - 20003.7%
Percentage of Reported Deaths 1981 - 19901.5%

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE HELP THIS SURVEY

If you find this information even remotely interesting or can appreciate its potential value to the breed and you haven’t already done so, then

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE 

make sure your Bernese are a part of the overall picture to make it as reflective as possible. It is really easy to do via the link below. Of course, it won’t bring your dog back or help his or her final days, but it might just contribute to improving the outlook for the next generation of Bernese. It isn’t morbid, it isn’t ‘dishonouring your dog’ and it isn’t disrespecting their memory. On the contrary for many people it helps give just a little bit of respect to their loss by making it a part of helping the future. We understand it is a difficult and emotional time for all owners and there will be a massive sense of loss to deal with a huge hole in your lives to come to terms with but of course there is no need to complete this immediately, just whenever you are ready. The important thing is to please help by contributing the simple details at some time.

I know I am repeating the point over and over but, especially in view of the poor response so far, it simply cannot be said too many times that EVERY SINGLE BERNESE DEATH IS IMPORTANT to this survey so please send in as many of YOUR dogs’ details as you can, whether ‘recent’ or from the past.

If you have any queries about any of this please feel free to get in touch with me.

Thank you

Steve Green

BMD Breed Health CoOrdinator

health@bernese.co.uk