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Dog lovers urged to think twice before choosing a high-needs breed

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NZVA head of veterinary services (companion animals) Sally Cory with her two Hungarian vizslas.

Dog owners are being encouraged to think carefully before choosing a pet with extreme conformations – protruding eyes, deep skin folds, and twisted legs – that can lead to long-term suffering and costly veterinary bills.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association Te Pae Kīrehe (NZVA) has contributed to a recently released position paper by the International Collaborative on Extreme Conformations in Dogs (ICECDogs) to help owners identify healthy, natural characteristics in dog breeds.

Extreme conformation describes the physical traits in dogs that have been so significantly altered through years of breeding practices to exaggerate certain characteristics, that they no longer resemble their ancestral appearance. These changes to a dog’s natural body shape can seriously affect the health of the animal, for instance, bulging eyes can lead to ulcers; flat-faced dogs (brachycephalic) can experience breathing issues, and excessive folds can contribute to skin conditions.

NZVA head of veterinary services (companion animals) Sally Cory said potential owners can reduce the risk of their pet developing these issues by doing their research and choosing a registered breeder through Dogs New Zealand.

“It’s not about avoiding certain breeds, it’s about understanding the risks associated with extreme conformations,” she said.

“A good breeder will undertake genetic testing to identify potential hereditary diseases, along with recommended or mandatory health testing, and take an evidence-based approach to improving breeding practices. They will do their best to ensure their puppies have good conformation with a good quality of life.

“Unfortunately, there are still breeders out there who are knowingly breeding animals with traits that are perceived to be desirable yet will result in the puppy having a higher risk of health issues throughout its life. Many of these animals can’t exercise freely, can’t maintain a normal body temperature, can’t smell because their nostrils are too small, live with chronic pain and suffer eye issues.”

NZVA does not advocate for banning breeds, it instead aims to educate the public to make informed decisions, and to help reduce the demand for dogs bred with extreme conformations.

NZVA companion animal veterinarians (CAV) president Becky Murphy.
NZVA companion animal veterinarians (CAV) president Becky Murphy.

NZVA companion animal veterinarians (CAV) president Becky Murphy, who also works as a canine reproduction consultant, said many breeders are making great progress by importing genetics and taking great care in improving their breeding practices.

“There are a lot of really good breeders who want to do the right thing because they genuinely love their breed,” she said.

“The key points owners need to remember is to do their homework; buy from registered, responsible breeders; view both parents; make sure they have viewed and understood the sire and dam hereditary disease tests; and sign a puppy contract. We also need to stop normalising the effects of extreme conformations in society, for instance, snoring, which can actually indicate respiratory issues.”

The ICECDogs position paper involved collaboration from experts in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The paper is based on the innate health concept, which provides information to help predict and assess a dog’s health and welfare based on its body shape. It has been developed through a decade of research at London’s Royal Veterinary College.

Basic innate health functions include a dog’s ability to:

  • Breathe freely and oxygenate effectively
  • Maintain their body temperature within a normal physiological range
  • Move freely without effort or discomfort
  • Eat and drink effectively
  • Hear, smell, see, self-groom, eliminate, and sleep effectively
  • Reproduce without assistance
  • Reproduce naturally
  • Communicate effectively with other dogs.

“If you’re thinking about getting a dog, consider what it is about the particular breed you are being drawn to,” Cory said.

“Do your research and go through a registered breeder, but also consider rehoming. There are so many dogs filling up our shelters that would make perfectly good pets. Getting a dog is a long-term commitment, so it’s essential to consider all associated health risks and costs that will add up throughout its lifetime.”

Murphy adds that she hopes to see more work being done at a national regulation level to protect dogs and puppies into the future.

The ICECDogs group encourages animal lovers to help protect the welfare of dogs by never promoting, breeding, selling or acquiring dogs with extreme conformations.

The Dogs New Zealand website features a list of recognised breeders and advice on health screening tests relevant to each breed. For more, visit:

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