When the regular winter session of the AVMA House of Delegates convenes Jan. 13-14 in Chicago, one of the items delegates will consider adopting is a proposed policy stating the Association’s opposition to breeding dogs, cats, and other companion animals with heritable traits that negatively impact the animal’s health and well-being.
The AVMA Animal Welfare Committee recommended the policy, “Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals,” not as a condemnation of any particular breed but rather to express the veterinary profession’s support for responsible husbandry in not breeding animals that have a familial history of inherited disorders or exhibit any themselves.
The AVMA Board of Directors considered the welfare policy at its Nov. 17-19, 2016, meeting and voted to send it to the HOD with no recommendation. However, AVMA President-elect Michael Topper reflected the Board’s sentiment about the proposal when he called it “extremely necessary” for the AVMA to have a policy on the issue. The recommended policy reads as follows:
Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals
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). The AVMA encourages veterinarians to educate breeders, pet owners and the public on the responsibilities involved with breeding and selecting pets to ensure that they are not contributing to poor welfare issues.
If the AVMA were to adopt the policy, the Association would then be in a position to engage in the ongoing conversation involving the health and welfare implications of breeding companion animals, the Animal Welfare Committee explained in the background of its recommendation. The policy makes explicit an AVMA position on responsible breeding that can be communicated clearly.
Tiny nostrils, elongated soft pallets, and small windpipes are characteristics common to the English Bulldog, making the breed prone to brachycephalic syndrome.
The committee recalled that in 1999, the Association had adopted a policy opposing the intentional breeding of “twisty cats,” cats with various degrees of radial hypoplasia in conjunction with other genetic and congenital abnormalities and with substantially shortened life spans. While that policy was eventually rescinded after the twisty cats fad had passed, the committee noted intentional breeding that propagates the existence of inherited disorders nevertheless continues to affect a variety of companion animal species.
The AWC believes the veterinary profession should advocate against the deliberate or careless breeding of genotypes known to produce suffering, serious disability, or premature death in companion animals, according to the recommendation. As the committee explained, the policy would clarify the expectations of the AVMA and support veterinarians working with their clients to advocate for responsible breeding practices.
This may necessitate outbreeding until appropriate individuals can be identified within a breed, the AWC explained, adding that it recognizes that selecting against inherited disorders would result in gradual results that may take generations to resolve. Veterinarians should work with breeders, however, to reduce the need for medical interventions, such as artificial insemination and cesarean sections for breeding English Bulldogs, in future generations.
The policy uses the term “companion animals” because, as the AWC noted, the issue of breeding harmful traits is not limited to dogs and cats. Similar to brachycephalic breeds of dogs, flat-faced breeds of rabbits are more predisposed to dental disease, specifically malocclusion, because of the conformation of their skull. Some rat fanciers intentionally breed rats that are tailless, which is a variable trait that produces impaired and nonviable offspring.
“Traits that significantly compromise welfare will continue to arise in a wide range of companion animals and the committee wishes to include all these species and sectors in their advice relative to responsible breeding,” the committee stated in the background.
The AWC believes the policy, if approved, will support productive collaborations between the AVMA and other veterinary, breed, and pet industry groups to reduce the prevalence of inherited disorders, discourage faddish extremes of conformation, and promote the appreciation and responsible care of sound and suitable household pets.
Proposals going to the House of Delegates are available here.
Members of the AVMA can find contact information for delegates here.