New policy encourages research, continuing education, and outreach on inherited disorders in companion animals
Posted Feb. 15, 2017
The AVMA House of Delegates has passed a policy that supports minimizing inherited disorders in the breeding of dogs, cats, and other companion animals.
Delegates passed the policy unanimously to applause during their regular winter session, Jan. 13-14 in Chicago. The House met in conjunction with the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference (see story).
The AVMA Animal Welfare Committee proposed the policy, “Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals,” and the AVMA Board of Directors forwarded the proposal to the House. Delegates in a reference committee revised the wording extensively to address stakeholder concerns while preserving the intent of the original. The final policy reads as follows:
Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals
To maximize the health and welfare of companion animals, the AVMA supports research in genetic and inherited disorders to better educate the profession and breeders on identifying and minimizing inherited disorders in companion animal breeding programs. To assist with this, the AVMA encourages veterinarians to pursue continuing education in the emerging area of genetic disease in companion animals. The AVMA also encourages veterinarians to educate breeders, companion animal owners, and the public on the responsibilities involved with breeding and selecting companion animals.
Policies, proposal, letters
The new AVMA policy is consistent with existing guidance from the American Animal Hospital Association. According to the AAHA position statement on “Pet Breeding,” “Breeders should ensure their breeding programs strive to eliminate hereditary disorders and minimize genetic defects.”
The policy proposed by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee was more consistent with the Canadian VMA position statement on “Dog Breeding.” According to that statement, “The CVMA supports the responsible breeding of dogs such that only animals with good temperament, sound structure and no known health or other deleterious inherited disorders are selected for breeding. The CVMA encourages breeders to become familiar with inherited disorders known to occur in their breed(s), and to make use of any recognized breed registries and screening tests for these disorders. This will minimize transmission of genetic defects.”
The British Veterinary Association has taken a rather different tack. The BVA policy position on dog breeding reads, in part, “We believe that out breeding programmes should be considered in breeds with small gene pools that have major health and welfare problems associated with hereditary diseases, namely, those unable to mate or give birth naturally.”
In 2016, the BVA and British Small Animal Veterinary Association issued a statement on brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats. According to the statement, “BVA and BSAVA both strongly recommend that animals which show extremes of conformation that negatively affect their health and welfare should not be used for breeding.”
The last sentence of the new AVMA policy, which encourages outreach by veterinarians, is similar to wording that the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee proposed.
However, the AWC proposed a policy that would have started as follows: “The AVMA supports the responsible breeding of companion animals such that only animals without deleterious inherited disorders are selected for breeding. Companion animals exhibiting inherited characteristics that negatively affect the animal’s health and welfare should not be bred, as those characteristics and related problems are likely to be passed on to their progeny. This would include inherited conditions such as brachycephalic syndrome, some joint diseases, bone deformation (e.g., radial hypoplasia ‘twisty cats’, munchkin), heart and eye conditions, or poor temperament (e.g., Springer rage syndrome).”
Ahead of the regular winter session of the House, delegates received several letters regarding the proposed policy.
Members of the Humane Society VMA wrote in support of the proposal. According to the HSVMA policy statement on “Purebred Dog and Cat Breeding Practices,” “Breeding animals for exaggerated physical characteristics, particularly when it compromises overall health, is irresponsible.”
Representatives of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, the Bulldog Club of America, and the American Kennel Club wrote in opposition to the proposal as worded. Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer, expressed concerns about two potential outcomes:
“First, if all dogs showing any genetic disease (regardless of its effect on the individual dog) are removed from breeding, it could effectively eliminate large portions of breeds and could potentially lead to the extinction of many breeds.
“Second, because the statement is overly-broad and generalized, it may be used to legislatively advance new breed-specific ownership or breeding restrictions.”
Dr. Jerold Bell, adjunct professor of clinical genetics at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, wrote in a letter to individual delegates, “The AVMA resolution is a welcome addition to the conversation concerning the breeding of companion animals.” He expressed concerns about portions of the proposed policy and background provided.
Revising the wording
In the reference committee, delegates discussed the details of the proposal. Dr. Cia Johnson, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, said the Animal Welfare Committee began looking at drafting a policy on responsible breeding in 2015. The issue came up repeatedly in 2016, partly as a result of the statement from the BVA and BSAVA, with AVMA staff receiving inquiries from the media and others about what the AVMA position was.
Members of the AWC wanted to ensure that the policy wasn’t targeting any breed in particular, but rather, focused on health and welfare. Dr. Johnson acknowledged the House discussion of whether they had achieved that goal.
Before the meeting of the reference committee, the Connecticut VMA suggested an alternative policy on “Inherited Disorders in Companion Animal Breeding.” The wording was as follows: “The AVMA supports research in genetic and inherited disorders to better educate the profession and breeders on identifying and minimizing inherited disorders in companion animal breeding programs. The AVMA encourages veterinarians to pursue continuing education in the emerging area of genetic disease to better serve breeders, companion animal owners and the public.”
In the committee meeting, Dr. Richard Sullivan, California delegate, said small animal practitioners work with breeders to recommend what is best for the breed and best for the animal. He said, “I think the Connecticut statement says that, and it’s much simpler, it’s much more concise, and it’s positive.”
Dr. Cathy Lund, Rhode Island alternate delegate, suggested removing the statement regarding specific negative inherited characteristics from the policy proposed by the AWC: “This would include inherited conditions such as brachycephalic syndrome, some joint diseases, bone deformation (e.g., radial hypoplasia ‘twisty cats’, munchkin), heart and eye conditions, or poor temperament (e.g., Springer rage syndrome).” Dr. Johnson said the AWC Management Subcommittee believed that the removal of that sentence would not alter the heart of the sentiment of the proposed policy.
Referring generally to “inherited characteristics that negatively affect the animal’s health and welfare” could be problematic, said Dr. Anne Del Borgo, Maine delegate. She said, “What will be left to anybody to interpret is what is a negative characteristic and what is a negative effect on animal health.”
Dr. Beverly Purswell, delegate for the Society for Theriogenology, noted that the SFT has a position statement on “Welfare of Breeding Dogs.” In part, the statement reads: “Dogs intended for breeding should be evaluated for hereditary disorders before being bred. Owners of breeding dogs should develop a breeding plan with a veterinarian to minimize or eliminate production of puppies with hereditary defects.”
Dr. Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer, said, “The spirit of this, we all agree on.” He said the aim is to educate the public about responsible pet ownership, veterinarians about genetic testing and resources, and “breeders to work alongside veterinarians to improve the status of dogs and cats or other companion animals.”
The reference committee combined portions of the proposals from the Connecticut VMA and Animal Welfare Committee, and the full House approved the resulting policy.
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