Campaigners for tighter health checks on Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a breed beset by hereditary health issues, say they are “dismayed” the Kennel Club is “ignoring” their concerns – after a dog crowned ‘Best in Breed’ at Crufts has “been bred flouting health guidelines.”
Cavaliers suffer in high numbers from an inherited heart condition called Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Syringomyelia, a painful neurological disorder. Almost 31,000 have signed an online petition asking the Kennel Club to only register puppies from Cavaliers screened for these conditions.
Last Friday, Margaret Carter, Charlotte Mackaness and TV vet Emma Milne presented Bill Lambert, Health and Breeder Services Manager at the KC, with comments from the petition at Crufts. They told Mr Lambert that there would be no need to petition the KC if sufficient breeders were carrying out health checks and followed guidelines.
The three have since written an open letter to Mr Lambert expressing their dismay that the Cavalier that won the Best of Breed title at Crufts later that day had seven litters of puppies registered with the UK Kennel Club before he was 2.5 years old.
“Two years ago the Cavalier awarded Best of Breed had sired a litter of puppies before his first birthday. If one looks only at the dogs entered in the Crufts’ show guide for this year’s Open Dog Class, eight sired litters registered with the UK Kennel Club before they reached 2.5 years old, some well before this age,” they write.
Breeding guidelines put in place in the 1990s state that Cavaliers should not be bred before this age.
The Cavalier Club’s website states: “Reputable breeders are aware of these health problems. Those intending to purchase a puppy are recommended to buy from a breeder who health tests their stock, who follows breeding guidelines issued by veterinary experts, and who is prepared to discuss and advise the purchaser on health issues.”
In addition, the health campaigners claim that not only is the Best in Breed winning dog, Castlewytch Rave On With Russmic, owned by a Cavalier Club committee member but his second registered litter was bred by the then chair of the Cavalier Club who is still the Kennel Club Cavalier Breed Health Coordinator.
The group also highlights that one of the dogs entered for the class they examined starting siring puppies before his first birthday, despite being bred and owned by a regional Cavalier Club puppy coordinator.
TV vet Emma Milne explained: “When the people giving breed advice, including the Club’s own health liaison and puppy coordinators, are producing animals outside of protocols, what hope is there for the breed or for puppy buyers trying to be responsible.”
There is no official heart testing scheme in the UK for Cavaliers, despite MVD being their biggest killer and 20 times more prevalent than in other breeds. There is a long-standing heart scheme run by the Cavalier Club that campaigners would like the Kennel Club to adopt but make mandatory.
“Research published earlier this year by respected cardiologists found that in 20 years the age of onset of MVD has improved by only six months and only in bitches examined by a GP vet,” says Margaret Carter. “Only four per cent of breeders were following the MVD guidelines at some stages of the study.”
Many European countries have mandatory health testing for Cavaliers, including Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, which has seen it’s the risk of MVD in Cavaliers fall by 73 per cent since introducing a compulsory heart testing scheme for the breed.
“The winner of this year’s Best of Breed at Crufts makes a total mockery of the breed club and Kennel Club claims that they are committed to Cavaliers’ health and welfare,” believes Emma Milne. “Litters should not be registered from breeders that are so blatantly ignoring well-accepted specialist research and advice. These health problems are widespread and devastating for the dogs and their owners. Nothing concrete has been done to improve things for decades. It’s way past time for change.”
In response, Bill Lambert, Kennel Club Health and Breeder Services Manager, said: “We fully support attempts to highlight the health and welfare issues that can affect Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and as dog lovers, we fully understand how passionate those who have signed the petition are about their Cavaliers. We are glad that Crufts is able to shine a spotlight on dogs and provides a chance for these types of issues to be discussed more widely.
“Whilst the Kennel Club promotes health screening and makes many tests a requirement under its Assured Breeder Scheme when they are proven to work, health testing is not a legal requirement for breeders and registration with the Kennel Club is only voluntary. Therefore making the test mandatory for registration will simply drive breeders away from the Kennel Club, where they will continue to breed, resulting is us having fewer health test results and less information about the specific condition. The Kennel Club only registers an estimated thirty per cent of the pedigree dog population, so it is important that we maintain influence over those who do register their dogs with us.
Mr Lambert added: “Instead, we need to understand breeders’ concerns about tests if they are not all using them, and support and incentivise them to do so. Where tests do not produce definitive results about whether puppies will be affected by a condition, such as the CM/SM test for syringomyelia, and because of the cost and risks associated with tests like this, we believe collaboration with breeders who are passionate about improving breed health will be much more effective than making the test a mandatory requirement for Kennel Club registration.
“We are realistic and we know that not all breeders will wish to put their dog forward for testing, but we do not need large numbers to produce results and to build a picture about the health of the breed in order to improve it.
“We have recently agreed to publish results of the Danish heart scheme for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and are working with both breed representatives and veterinary cardiologists to develop a UK-based scheme that will be easier for breeders to access. We will continue to work with the relevant experts to develop solutions for all health conditions, to assist breeders in breeding healthy puppies and help buyers make informed choices.”