Managing a premier breeding program
Managing breeding and genetic diversity in our Gundogs at Glasybont kennels including Leadon Court Kennels. We operate under the UK higher welfare standards and are licenced and inspected annually. We have been awarded a 5 Star rating to the higher welfare standards by Herefordshire council (N-DOG10) during our latest inspection in December 2020.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be closely observing the government and veterinary guidance published on the breeding of dogs to ensure the highest standards are followed. Richard has over 20 years of professional experience in working with viral conditions and we have adapted all of our procedures to ensure the safety of our family, our dogs and clients who have contact. Using of digital methods for communication is being adopted wherever possible to minimise physical contact.
There are a number of ways in which we can help preserve genetic diversity and minimise inbreeding, some of which are outlined below.
With simple autosomal recessive disorders, remember that a carrier will not be affected by the condition you have tested for, but that they could pass on a copy of the faulty gene if they themselves are bred from. Only when a dog inherits two copies of a faulty gene (one from its mother (Dam) and one from its father (Sire) will it be affected. When used responsibly, carriers are an important part of any breeding plan and should not be overlooked. By breeding from carriers, you can keep good, healthy dogs in the breeding population, helping to maintain genetic diversity.
Similarly an affected dog could still be used in a breeding program, but this will very much be dependent on the condition and whether the dog's welfare would be affected by the mating process. If only clear dogs are used for breeding, they are only known to be clear for the condition that they have been tested for, and may carry other unknown mutations which can be passed on to their offspring. These unknown mutations may then increase in frequency in the breed and a new inherited disease could emerge. In other words, no dog is completely risk-free, but there are ways a breeder can reduce the risk of known and unknown inherited disease.
At Glasybont we only breed from DNA clear breeding stock.
If you are considering a mating that may produce carrier puppies then there are several precautions that it is strongly recommended you take.
1.It is important that carriers and affected dogs should never be used to produce affected dogs and so should never knowingly be mated to another dog that has one or more copies of the faulty gene. This means that carriers should never be bred to other carriers of the same condition or to affected dogs. Affected dogs should only ever be mated to a dog that is either tested clear or is hereditarily clear for the condition (i.e. both its parents are DNA tested clear). Sticking to these rules will mean that you can still use these dogs for breeding, while maintaining genetic diversity within the breed.
2.Never over use a carrier or affected dog for mating. If a dog has one or two copies of a known faulty gene it should never be over used for breeding. Over using these dogs increase the frequency of the faulty gene within the population, making it more difficult for future generations to breed without increasing the risk of producing affected dogs.
3.Do your research. If all breeders decided to use carriers or affected dogs for mating, then there is a possibility that as the frequency of mutant genes increases, then the proportion of 'clear' dogs would decline. You can use carriers & affected, but you always want to make sure you have a big enough supply of clear dogs. You may wish to talk to health representatives at your local breed club who will have access to summary information on the results of dogs that have been DNA tested and can advise you appropriately on the current situation in your breed.
4.Any possible carrier puppies that go on to be bred from should be DNA tested prior to mating. If you do decide to produce puppies that are potentially carriers, but are concerned that they may be used by their new owners for breeding, then you may wish to consider placing an endorsement on the puppy, or include a statement in your puppy contract that that any puppies used for breeding must be tested prior to mating and if the puppy is a carrier, it must only be mated to a clear dog.
Many people are concerned about breeding from a carrier or an affected dog because they are worried about making carriers more prevalent in the breed. Remember that every organism is already a carrier for many autosomal recessive conditions. Often, there is no way to know that these faulty genes are present until they are expressed in a dog with two copies of the gene or unless a DNA test is available. DNA tests are available for only some of the known mutations in dogs, but there are likely to be many more recessive mutations that we know nothing about. Every time you breed any dog you are already most likely breeding a dog that is a carrier for an autosomal recessive condition (this will be the same for all organisms). The only difference with breeding a dog that has tested positive for a carrier is that you know what disease the autosomal recessive gene can cause.
Reduce the use of popular sires
Popular sires, or male dogs, that are used to produce large numbers of puppies, are one of the biggest contributors to a reduction in genetic diversity, an increase in inbreeding and elevated levels of genetic diseases within a breed. These dogs are often chosen because they have good characteristics, such as traits associated with good health. Breeders will use these dogs because they wish to improve the breed, but excessive use of any males can be detrimental to the over-all population. Unfortunately many stud dogs are chosen because of their trained ability to perform and win the title FTCH. This often is not a testament to their genetic, more so to the ability of the handler and trainer that has competed with them.
Popular sires and autosomal recessive conditions
A sire, will pass on both good and bad genes to each of his offspring. Every organism is a carrier for many autosomal-recessive conditions. These are health conditions that can only affect a dog when it has two copies of a faulty gene (inherited from both its mother and father). Dogs with only one copy of the mutant gene are said to be carriers and are unlikely to show any sign of the disease, but can pass the gene on to their offspring. The mutant genes for autosomal-recessive conditions can be the most difficult to predict, because they can be passed on from generation to generation without being noticed or identified. As long as a dog also has a healthy copy of the gene to do its normal job, then the mutant gene may never be noticed. Often, there is no way to know that these mutant genes exist, or what they cause, until they are expressed in a dog with two copies.
Impact on the gene pool
In addition to increasing the risk of autosomal-recessive conditions, the over use of popular sires can also impact on the size of the gene pool. A breed’s gene pool is the total amount of genetic variation within a breed, and unless new dogs are introduced into a breed, it is likely to become smaller over time. The genes from the other dogs which were not chosen for mating will become rarer and may even disappear from the gene pool entirely. The smaller the gene pool becomes, the more difficult it can be to find unrelated individuals for mating. Smaller gene pools may be more difficult to manage and may result in further increasing levels of inbreeding, like a vicious cycle.
To prevent the popular sire effect, stud dog owners should restrict the number of times their dog is used for stud.
The number of times a dog should be used will be dependent on the actual population size and size of the gene pool, so providing guidelines on how many puppies a stud can safely produce will be breed dependant and is difficult to estimate. We also need to consider that the popular sire effect will only occur if his puppies go on to produce litters themselves. So monitoring the level of contributions (whether sires are having breeding pups) is more effective than simply monitoring the number of pups a dog sires.
However, owners of bitches looking to use a stud dog should enquire how many times a dog has been used and should avoid using known popular sires. Using a wider variety of dogs will help maintain genetic diversity.
Use COIs before making breeding decisions
Taking proactive preventative steps to avoid inbreeding is much easier than trying to counteract the health complications that inbreeding can cause. One such proactive method is to look at how related two individuals are to help decide whether they are suitable mates. Inbreeding can be measured using a Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI). This is the probability that two copies of a gene have been inherited from an ancestor common to both the mother and the father. The lower the degree of inbreeding, the lower the inbreeding coefficient.
Using Mate Select
The Kennel Club's online health resource, Mate Select, provides breeders with inbreeding coefficient calculators for all dogs found on the Kennel Club's Breed Register. These calculators use all pedigree records stored on the Kennel Club's database to help breeders calculate the COI for puppies that could be produced from a hypothetical mating.
Every dog will be a carrier for many unknown autosomal recessive conditions and there is currently often no way to know that they exist, or what they cause, until they are expressed in a dog with two copies of the mutant gene. Dogs that share similar genes (i.e., are closely related) are more likely to be carriers for the same autosomal recessive conditions.
Inbreeding and health risk
If two related dogs mate, then their puppies have a higher risk of inheriting two copies of the mutant gene, and therefore being affected. These effects could be significant, or they can be small. If a dog is affected for a large number of these small conditions then the effects can be accumulative and can impact on the overall health of the dog. As the inbreeding coefficient increases, so too does the chances of the dog having poor health.
Using the COI calculator enables breeders to minimise the degree of inbreeding in future litters and reduce the risk of puppies developing inherited health problems. It is important to note that the inbreeding coefficient is a measure of risk, rather than a direct measure of health. It is possible that two closely related dogs do not have the same autosomal recessive genes, while two seemingly unrelated dogs do - it's all down to chance. Although the COI is not a guarantee of health, it is a measure of risk with a higher COI suggesting a higher risk.
As a breeder DNA tests their dogs, they are taking steps to avoid a known risk. By using COI calculators when selecting potential mates, they are reducing the risk of unknown conditions.