Many purebred dogs are in worse health than ever before and this is due, in part, to irresponsible breeding practices. Many genetic disorders including cancer are inherited, so one way to help prevent cancer in your canine companion is to start with a healthy puppy. Understanding the potential health issues of your chosen breed and doing some homework to find a reputable breeder, will go a long way to ensuring your puppy grows up happy, with fewer health problems.
But how, in such a technologically advanced society, are irresponsible breeding practices still the norm when it’s common knowledge that these practices result in unhealthy puppies? The answer is complicated and steeped in the deep-rooted beliefs and traditions of many purebred dog breeders.
Long ago dogs were bred for function such as hunting, herding or guarding. All that changed in the 1850s when the focus shifted to breeding for good looks at the expense of the overall health of the breed.
During the Victorian era, dogs became status symbols and it was believed that if they were bred from a narrow group of ancestors (with no mixing between breeds), it would make the dogs superior in all aspects, especially appearance. The popularity of dog shows during this time prompted the creation of breed clubs, complete with their own set of rules — called breed standards — that outlined what a particular breed should look like and became the basis for how the breed would be judged in the show ring.
In order to achieve these breed standards, breeders chose to inbreed and line-breed, common practices even today in North America, Western Europe and Australia. Inbreeding mates daughters to fathers or sons to mothers while line-breeding mates dogs to their granddams or grandsires. Although this type of breeding heightens the desired traits of the breed, it doesn’t eliminate the undesirable ones such as genetic disorders and diseases.
Another problem that goes hand-in-hand with inbreeding and line-breeding is what’s called “popular sire syndrome.” This has had tragic consequences for several breeds, especially the Golden Retriever.
In the U.S. in the 1970s there were two popular Golden Retriever sires — Misty Morn’s Sunset and Gold-Rush Charlie, who between them sired about half a million puppies. Unfortunately both of these sires died of cancer at a young age. Today, it’s estimated that about 60 per cent of Golden Retrievers will die of cancer.
In the 2008 BBC documentary called Pedigree Dogs Exposed — produced by British filmmaker, Jemima Harrison — Steve Jones, a geneticist from University College London, cited inbreeding as a major contributor to the health problems of purebred dogs while Mark Evans, chief veterinarian at the RSPCA in the UK, blamed competitive dog showing.
The documentary showed many examples of purebred dogs suffering from genetic disorders and diseases and the devastating effects this had on both the pets and their families. The documentary brought to light the refusal of some breeders to recognize the obvious link between their breeding practices and the prevalence of disease in their dogs.
The film also shone the light on the culture of today’s dog shows that continue to celebrate breeds that have serious genetic defects and compromised health. Just two examples include the Pekingese, that can’t cool itself properly because of a shortened nose and the German Shepherd, with its dramatically sloped backend that causes all sorts of problems including hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis and chronic balance issues.
The good news is there are many breed clubs and other organizations in Canada, the U.S. and around the world that have implemented breeding programs that put the health of the dogs first. This is welcome news to the many people who have their heart set on purchasing a purebred dog.
To have the best chance at acquiring a healthy puppy you’ll need to do some research on the type of breed that would best suit your family, understand its particular health challenges, and find a reputable breeder. The Canadian Kennel Club’s “Golden Rules” to finding a breeder offers eight tips to help you find a reputable breeder you are comfortable with and feel you can trust beyond the purchase.
This page has been reviewed by our Panel of Experts for accuracy. Our Panel of Experts is comprised of practitioners with varying specialties and perspectives. As such, the views expressed here may not be shared by all members of our Panel.
The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.