All about in-breeding: the challenge of producing healthy pedigree pups. Podcast from Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

This week’s podcast discusses the tricky topic of “in-breeding” i.e. breeding of dogs to closer rather than further-away relatives. I say “tricky” because I already sense that many breeders of pedigree dogs feel that I am criticising them when tackling this topic. This is not true at all: I am simply trying to lay out the facts clearly for the public to understand. So at the start, can I stress, that I fully support those breeders who are taking care to ensure best practice in the dogs that they are producing. As I say in the podcast, at its best, breeding of pedigree dogs is fantastic. It should be about healthy, good-looking dogs, and as long as it is, I am fully supportive. So please do not berate me for the misplaced idea that I am somehow “anti” the entire pedigree dog establishment: this is just not true.

All pedigree dogs are, to some extent, inbred: you are only allowed to breed using dogs from that particular breed, which means that there is a restricted pool of animals. Therefore, compared to the general population of dogs, they are more likely to breed with dogs that are related to them.

How is in-breeding measured?

The degree of inbreeding is assessed by a factor known as the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI): the UK Kennel Club has a marvellous “Mate Select” computer programme which allows you to enter in the names of the two dogs you wish to breed from, coming up with a COI figure which represents the degree of inbreeding.

What do different COI values mean?

  • The COI for a grandfather-granddaughter direct mating is 12.25%
  • Mating of first cousins produces a COI of 6.25%.
  • Mating of full siblings produces a COI of 25%
  • The harmful effects of inbreeding are seen above a COI of 5%.
  • At a COI of 10%, there is significant loss of vitality in the offspring as well as an increase in the expression of deleterious recessive mutations. In general, the more inbred a dog is (i.e. the higher the COI), the more likely it is that there will be health issues.
  • The breed average for Pugs is 4.9% (and so the aim should be to only breed from dogs that are sufficiently un-related so that the figure is lower than this).
  • The COI for the Pug that won Best of Breed at Crufts was 19.8%, meaning that there must have been multiple shared ancestors on the mother’s and father’s side.
  • This is significantly higher than the 10%, as mentioned above.
  • In fairness, this statistic is not considered in the judging process in the showring but arguably it should be if progress is to be made on breed health. Winners in top dog shows are certain to have a wide ranging influence on the breed as a whole, so they should surely be chosen with great care.

Can cross-bred dogs be in-bred?

There is a risk that any dog can be in-bred: arguably, pedigree dog breeders can be in a better place to ensure that puppies are NOT inbred because they have records of exactly who is who amongst the pup’s ancestors. However, randomly cross bred dogs are unlikely to be in-bred, because their ancestors are from such a large pool of many thousands of dogs, rather than solely dogs belonging to a specific breed.

Where did my cross-bred dog come from?

For curious pet owners, you can get a genetic analysis of your own dog, by sending off a cheek swab that you can order online, for £75 (€88).
I did this for my dog Kiko, and discovered who her ancestors were – a cross between a Jack Russell terrier (that was her mother) and other terrier which was less clearly defined (eg Cairn, Dandy Dinmont). It may be that her father was a very mixed cross bred terrier himself which is why the results were a bit vague. Still it was interesting, and the rationale for doing this is that you will learn more about your dog’s background, and this may help you understand them more deeply.

Questions from listeners about pets

The following questions were asked by listeners today:

  • I have to mind my friend’s budgie for a week. Can I let it out of the cage to fly around the living room? I would make sure that windows and doors are old.
  • Is there anything that I can buy to self-clean my fish bowl. It gets dirty so often and it’s such a pain to clean.
  • Is there any breed of dog that I could get for an apartment? I don’t have a huge amount of space, but I would be bringing them in and out to the park.
  • What is Pete’s opinion of CPD oil for an arthritic dog?
  • My 12 year old cat is losing weight and his saliva smells. Should I take him to the vet?

To listen to Pete’s answers to the above questions, listen to the podcast below.

To watch the Facebook Live video that Pete did after the radio spot, follow this link.

Listen to the podcast:

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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