Cosette

Cosette

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Laying a Necessary Smackdown on the Purebred Hype

I see so many animal-related posts on the internet that are short-sighted, misleading or just plain inaccurate.  For the most part, I ignore them.

But I recently came across this article that made me want to weep for how poorly and manipulatively scientific information can be disseminated to the public.  Let me explain what the veterinarian author (a purebred dog enthusiast and former advertising writer, for full disclosure) has done. 

The author has taken a single research study, and before its findings have been published, has given an incomplete, slanted representation, and then generalized/oversimplified the findings for the sake of achieving an end.  I'm not expecting to see the most research-oriented minds in the profession congregating on VetStreet.com (it is a veterinary marketing hub), but come on, this is abysmal.

The article is plainly misleading, as plenty of non-veterinarian readers pointed out.  It uses "mixed breed" as a blanket term for all non-purebreds, as though "designer breeds" (resulting from 2 purebreds ) are genetically comparable to Heinz 57 mutts who haven't had purebreds in their lineage for generations. 

It then states, "it was assumed crossbreeding would eliminate: hip dysplasia, epilepsy, cancer, hypothyroidism, eye disorders and more."  In actuality, no person with an elementary school level handle on genetics would have ever "assumed" these diseases would be eliminated, or claimed any dog was “immune to genetic disorders.” 

It's obvious that first generation mixes still have a likelihood of displaying the same disorders as one or both purebred parents.  The article misrepresents this finding as a sensational, newfound revelation equally applicable to all mutts.  Any veterinarian who has examined tens of thousands of dogs can tell you that purebred dogs and designer breeds are afflicted with inherited disorders much more frequently than Heinz 57’s.

It is already well-known that people in closed ethnic groups are more prone to predictable genetic diseases.  Dogs on the whole are unfortunately an inbred lot, much moreso than people.  However, creating an impression that all dogs are equally inbred and equally afflicted is absurd.  If the mixed breeds at UC Davis were showing the same disorders as purebreds, it's most likely because purebreds have become so rampant and overbred that more and more "mixed breeds" are closely related to them and therefore more likely to carry on their traits.  Heinz 57's are like an endangered species at this point...thanks to our ever-glorified obsession with breeding and selling dogs.

Many people who have purebreds and designer breeds are completely unaware that their animal’s problem results from a genetic predisposition.  They falsely attribute it to food, environmental factors, or just don’t think about the underlying cause at all.  I see this constantly.  Or they might say something like, "I've had several of this breed live past 13!"  However, life span does not correlate with a dog's inherited disorders.  Many dogs live out normal life spans with mild to severe genetic illness or have genetic predispositions that never manifest (because a dog is not exposed to a trigger allergen, etc).  It doesn't mean they aren't carriers of genetic traits that may manifest in their siblings or potential offspring.

After years of hearing people say that they purchased a purebred to “know what they're getting”, it's past time to debunk that.  Most people who say this to veterinarians do not know what they are getting with regard to health problems.  Often they don't understand the responsibilities that come with having any dog...and hope to minimize their responsibility by believing "good breeding" will put their dog’s behavior and health on some kind of cruise control or autopilot.  It is not uncommon for people to abandon these dogs when strong breed-related behaviors or health problems become more than they wish to handle.  Sometimes they've placed so much stock in finding and paying for the "well-bred" dog that following through on basic responsible care--like spay/neuter or microchipping--becomes a secondary concern or is forgotten.

I can't say for sure if that VetStreet article was just written carelessly or if it was written carefully for the sake of marketing propaganda, but it clearly wasn't written to help the millions of mixed breed dogs who are put to death in shelters every year because society already has misconceptions about the value of mixed breed dogs.  This article appears to be giving a shot in the arm to the breeding industry as its reputation plummets further and further downhill.  As a culture, we are being duped into patronizing that industry, whose primary purpose was never breeding for utmost health, but rather for appearance and performance.  Now the industry breeds more recklessly than ever before, primarily for superficial appearance and marketed breed stereotypes.

If we as a society are going to claim we regard dogs as “family members” and “best friends”, we need to reconsider why we are viewing them as mere genes to be molded or uniform objects to be bought and sold.  If veterinarians are going to push propaganda, at least have the propaganda benefit our canine patients, like this: 

Adopting a mutt is a great way to say “no” to the objectification of dogs that is growing out of control in our culture.  It is a great way to reduce the sickening number of genetically afflicted dogs that are overrunning veterinary clinics across America, apparently including UC Davis Veterinary Hospital.  Dogs are wonderful simply for being dogs.  If they are treated more like individuals and less like models of cars coming off a factory line, we (and they) will be better off. 

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