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Dobermann breed health report February 2018

Give a Dog a Genome project
This is a joint project of the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust. The plan is to store genomes of
dogs from 75 breeds as a long-term resource for researchers into any disease. In addition to the use of
individual breed genomes, where several breeds suffer from a disease the genomes could be compared,
and where some breeds don’t suffer from a specific disease, these could be used as controls. The first
genome (from a dog with known DCM) has been sequenced in the laboratory of Dr Tosso Leeb in Bern,
Switzerland. We now have the full amount of £2000 guaranteed for sequencing a second dobe. I am
very grateful to the clubs and individuals who have contributed. Swabs have been received by AHT from
two mature dobes with a record of clear DCM tests. This has been a good example of the ten breed
clubs working together for the good of the breed.

A reminder to everyone to ensure their vWD test results are sent to the KC. This doesn’t always happen
automatically and it’s important that these results are registered in the dogs’ records. A proposal about
including this in clubs’ codes of ethics has been sent to the breed clubs.
Eye testing
I have been communicating with the Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association about this for
some time because the ABS recommendations include annual eye testing, although PHPV is a one-off
test. The issue of testing in all breeds was brought forward for discussion by the two groups with a view
to basing the requirements on evidence about specific issues. I had argued for a single PHPV test, but
the KC and BVA have now proposed a single test before breeding, followed by one at 8 years of age. This
second test would be to get better information on other eye issues. For example, during current eye
tests on dobes, small numbers of cases have been found of issues such as persistent pupillary
membranes and various cataracts/posterior capsular opacities. Without tracking dobes’ eye health later
in life, we don’t know the prevalence of these, nor if they are progressive, nor if they may have a genetic
basis. This is certainly an improvement on the previous regime and I am grateful to the Kennel Club staff
for having taken our views into account. The KC would like this to become a requirement of the ABS
scheme (it’s currently just a recommendation) and the clubs have been consulted about this.

DINGS is a distressing neurological disease that involves deafness together with balance and behavioural
issues. Affected puppies are often PTS. This issue has been raised because a number of litters have been
born with pups that appear to have DINGS. I am in touch with the KC and with an American group who
have carried out some research into a genetic test. I sent some initial samples for testing, but these all
came back clear, so either the researcher has not identified the correct gene or the UK pups had a
different (but indistinguishable) neurological disorder; or possibly the genetic basis varies between the
UK and USA, as for the PDK4 DCM gene. I am looking at retesting some dogs and have also consulted the
RVC as to whether there could be a similar neurological illness.

Cardiac biomarker project
Testing was completed during mid-2017. The data is being analysed at Liverpool University and Principal
Investigator Dr Jo Dukes-McEwan estimates that the final report will be available around the middle of
2018. When she has the results, she will discuss how to present them to the dobe community.

Other research
It is pretty clear that the genetic basis of DCM is complex and we are unlikely in the near future to
identify all the genes and how they interact in any way which would enable us to exclude dogs from
breeding on the basis of genetic tests. Therefore, research that might lead to a cure, or to preventing
progression of the disease, gains even more importance.

I am in touch with researchers who are doing cell-based work on the use of stem cell therapy to repair
the heart. Their current research is aimed at establishing whether stem cells from one dog could be
implanted in another without rejection. If this is successful, they will involve me in any clinical trial.
Unfortunately, money is an issue for the next stage of this. I am waiting to hear further.
I am also in contact with researchers in Canada who have identified a substance that appears to restore
contractility of the heart. Sadly, this is also on hold for lack of funds, but I am liaising with the lead
researcher to see what can be done.
A protein has been identified that seems to be involved in human DCM. I am working with the RVC and
the University of London to take blood from eight dobes to make an initial evaluation of whether this is
something of value to follow up in dogs.
I now have death records for about 200 UK dobes. The average age is currently 8.8 (median 9.2). Very
worryingly, almost 20% died before their sixth birthday. Some of you may have seen an article by Carole
Beuchat of the Institute of Canine Biology that showed a graph of average age decreasing from >15
years in 1980 to <10 in the early 2000s. This was based on data in a Russian database and shows the
problem of using statistics without knowing the underlying data. I had looked at this database and noted
that there were clearly some errors for the early years where some dogs were shown as having lived
into their 60s. It wouldn’t take many of those to skew the average! The database has since been
amended and is now showing 8.9 years for dobes born in 1985 and 7.8 years for those born 1999-2001.
The Kennel Club’s 2014 survey gave an average age of 7.6 (median 8) years. Their 2004 survey gave a
mean of 9.8 (median 10.5). Both these were based on only 100 dobes and the KC say there were
variations in the methodology that mean they may not be directly comparable. Nonetheless, all these
datasets do show a decrease in life expectancy, so we ignore this at our peril.

Understanding breed health
There are several current projects aimed at better understanding breed health issues:

Kennel Club Breed Health and Conservation Plan (BHCP) – the Kennel Club are working through breeds
setting up health and conservation plans. The dobermann is in the 2018 list. They are collating relevant
medical and scientific literature and there will be a meeting with the clubs on 1 June to discuss it.

Collating a spreadsheet of all the diseases we are aware of and the information we have on them –
this has been another example of collaboration by the clubs and we have a starter spreadsheet that the
Kennel Club will use as part of the input to their BHCP for dobermanns during 2018.

Carrying out a breed health survey – the spreadsheet will inform the questions for this and I have
started working with the KC on this. Expect the survey in the first quarter of 2018.

VetCompass is a project run from the Royal Veterinary College, which uses data captured from many vet
practices and analyses this to derive information on specific diseases. VetCompass contains the details
of about 1500 dobermanns, which is enough to allow significant analysis. At my request, the dobermann
has been added to the list of projects available for participating students and postgrads. So far, most
emphasis has been on high-risk breeds, but I am hopeful that this may be picked up on at a later date.
The KC have reinforced this with VetCompass due to the BHCP being imminent.

Sue Thorn, Breed Health Co-ordinator (
February 2018

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