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New Evidence from RVS Research Show Long-Backed Miniature Dogs at Greater Risk of Back Disease

Posted on Monday, 05 August 2013 02:01PM by Andi Godfrey


Recent research carried out at the Royal Veterinary College by *Rowena Packer et al. has supported the idea that dogs bred to be long in the back and short in the leg such as the Dachshund, Pekinese and Basset Hound are more vulnerable to back-disease than other breeds and has highlighted the theory that dogs bred with exaggerated morphologies tend to suffer from associated inherited disorders.  This study specifically addressed Inter-vertebral Disc Extrusion (IVDE), a common disorder in certain breeds that causes pain and neurological problems through spinal cord compression or injury.

700 dogs entering a small referral hospital over a period of 14 months were measured for back length and height at the withers.  Out of this group of dogs 79 were diagnosed with IVDE and it was found that there was a significantly higher risk in dogs that were both overweight with a smaller skeletal framework.

Miniature Dachshunds were shown to be in the highest risk group with cross breeds a close second.  The data obtained from this research also revealed that pet-owned Dachshunds were twice as likely to be reported with back disease as show-owned dogs.  

While the research has proved many of the points that have already been recognised, there are still many questions left unanswered, such as the differences in potential risk between the different varieties of Dachshunds, why cross-breeds were the second most presented with back problems and why does a short-backed breed like the Cocker spaniel also appear to have back problems?

The key issues that this research raises are:

•    Breeders should avoid extreme morphologies and should select away from exaggerated morphologies

•    The Breed Council may need to review its Breed Standard, in particular its recommendations for body length to height ratio.  

•    Exhibitors and judges should be aware of the evidence that longer dogs are more prone to back disease and stick to the Breed Standard recommendation that calls for a ‘moderately long dog with good ground clearance’.  Judges should be able to report any concerns to the relevant Breed council under the Kennel Club’s Breed Watch system.

•    Owners should be made more aware of the danger in allowing long dogs with small frames to become overweight and vets should be proactive in educating owners on this matter and addressing issues of diet and exercise

A final and serious concern is the general public’s desire for fashionable ‘teacup’ and ‘handbag’ dogs that encourage disreputable breeders who advertise and sell their puppies on the internet. This could be a factor in explaining why so many crossbreeds in the study were found to be at risk of back disease, and emphasises the need to take further steps to educate the general public.

*Rowena M. A. Packer, Anke Hendricks, Holger A. Volk, Nadia K. Shihab, Charlotte C. Burn 2013. How Long and Low Can You Go? Effect of Conformation on the Risk of Thoracolumbar Intervertebral Disc Extrusion in Domestic Dogs

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