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Dobermann breed health report September 2018

This update is for clubs to provide to committees and members and for dobermann owners generally. I am pleased to note that the ten breed clubs are working well together on health issues.

Breed Health and Conservation Plan
The Kennel Club is setting up these plans for all breeds and the dobermann plan has been formulated during 2018. The Kennel Club conducted an exhaustive literature review to identify all diseases, however esoteric, that seem to have higher prevalence in dobermanns. There was then a meeting to which all ten breed clubs were invited, at which the report was reviewed and a number of priorities were set. The main priorities were dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), cancer (especially lymphoma and mammary tumours), and Wobblers. Vestibular deafness (DINGS) and hypothyroidism were also flagged. An action plan has been set for these diseases. This has been a very encouraging example of all the clubs working together.

Estimated Breeding Values
The Kennel Club and I have been looking at some research into Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for DCM. EBVs can be used in diseases with complex inheritance. The Kennel Club already uses them for hip scores in some breeds, where the scores not just for the dog itself, but for all its recorded relatives (antecedents, siblings, progeny etc), are used to provide a better assessment of risk than the dog’s own score. It enables breeders with dogs with a high EBV to select a mate with a low EBV. A research team at Edinburgh have done some preliminary work with a huge database compiled by volunteers that contains 350,000 dobermanns from many countries with their pedigrees and, in many cases, age at death and sometimes cause of death. If it was possible to have this information on UK dobes, it would be possible to produce a risk score for each dog (in a similar way to the current coefficients of inbreeding on the MyKC database) so that breeders could pair higher risk dogs with lower risk ones.

There are many issues raised by this, but we have scheduled a meeting between the researchers, the KC and the clubs in November to discuss it further.

Stem cell research

My main focus as BHC has been on ways to cure, or at least manage, DCM, as I for one do not believe we will be able to prevent it in the short-medium term. To this end, I have been working with a group at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) who had carried out some initial in vitro research into the use of stem cells to restore heart contractility. They needed funding to take this further and were planning a grant application. I was able to send a letter of support on behalf of all ten clubs and I am pleased to say that the grant was awarded. This will be a three-year project starting early next year and, if successful, it may be followed by an early-stage clinical trial. The team ideally need a piece of equipment for which we shall raise funds. We would be closely involved in any clinical trial.

2-Deoxyadenosine triphosphate (dATP)
A group in Canada have been looking at the role of dATP in restoring heart contractility, but have currently abandoned this due to lack of funds. I am liaising with them to see if anything can be done.


A novel protein concerned with human heart function
The RVC and University of London are collaborating with regard to some very interesting research that has emerged looking at a specific protein on the surface of T cells (a form of white blood cell) and its role in humans with DCM. They are keen to see if a similar protein is found on Dobermanns with DCM because targeting this protein may have significant therapeutic potential – and is being looked at in humans. I worked with them in February to recruit a number of dobermanns (some with DCM and some without) to have blood taken for an early stage test to see if there might be scope to work on this protein. I am very grateful to the owners who brought their dogs, very appropriately on Valentine’s Day.

Biomarker testing
The Liverpool University/UK Dobermann Partnership biomarker project has finished but we have not yet received the final report, which I am chasing. Whilst echo and Holter are still the ‘gold standard’ heart tests, owners who cannot afford this are encouraged to carry out biomarker testing (high sensitivity Troponin I and NT-pro-BNP). If the results are high, echo and Holter should be used to investigate further, but this will usually then be covered by insurance. The Dobermann Club and Welsh Dobermann Club have carried out low-cost biomarker testing at their shows, and other clubs are encouraged to do the same.

Low-cost Holter monitoring
SE England Dobermann Club and SW Dobermann Club have purchased Holter monitors and are lending them to members at a much lower cost than normal. Please contact the relevant club for more detail.

Vestibular deafness (DINGS)
Two groups in the USA have identified different genes that they believe to be associated with DINGS. I arranged for some dogs to be tested with one of the tests (courtesy of the UKDP), but there was no correlation between the results and the dobes that were related to pups believed to have had DINGS. I hope to get these dogs retested for the second gene.

We are monitoring research on this. I recently recruited several dobes in the north-west to a walking study at Liverpool University that aims to improve understanding of what happens to the neck during everyday tasks (walking, running, drinking) with a long-term aim of improving Wobblers surgery.

The Kennel Club’s 2014 survey (100 dogs) gave longevity at eight years. My own database, currently with almost 300 dogs, gives a mean of 9.07 years and a median of 9.5. Almost half had died before their 8th birthday, and about 16% before their 6th birthday. Please send me details of your dogs (email address at the end of this report). I just need pedigree name, date of death, and cause of death if you are fairly confident of it. I need to get to about 500 to obtain really good data.
I am also liaising with VetCompass, a project run by Dr Dan O’Neill at the RVC. They have access to data from a large number of vets’ systems and can use this to provide data on longevity and on prevalence of all diseases. They have almost 2500 dobermanns on their database. I may also need to raise some funds for this.
The Dobermann Longevity Program ( enables owners to add details of dobes that have lived to at least 10 and who can awarded a Longevity Certificate; also those whose parents both lived to 10, who can have a Bred for Longevity 1 certificate. If both parents and all four grandparents lived to at least 10 (I wouldn’t hold my breath for any of those), then they can have a Bred for Longevity 2 certificate. Please do enter your qualifying dogs – and perhaps use it when researching breeding?

Changes to ethics
The ten clubs have agreed two changes to the Assured Breeder Scheme recommendations. These are:
1. To add a recommendation that bitches should not be bred from before the age of two. There is currently nothing in the dobe recommendations, but a lot of breeds do have this.
2. That eye testing should be carried out once before breeding and once at age 8. The initial test will pick up PHPV as well as other disorders. The repeat test will give the Kennel Club a better picture of the prevalence of other disorders such as PPM and cataracts, which are thought to be more prevalent in dobes than in many other breeds. The current recommendation is for annual testing, which very few breeders do, so this is a reduction in the burden on breeders – especially as almost half the dobes will be dead before the second test comes around...

My next task is to complete the necessary paperwork to have these changes made.

All the clubs have also added to their Codes of Ethics that owners must ensure vWD and other test results are entered on the dogs record at the KC. This is particularly necessary for vWD as there are now multiple test providers and it cannot be guaranteed that the test provider will do this.

Give a Dog a Genome
We participated in this project of the Kennel Club and Animal Health Trust and raised a total of £3000 towards sequencing the genomes of two dobes; one with DCM and one older dobe with several clear tests. I am very grateful to all the clubs and individuals who participated. These genomes are available for any researchers to use, whether for DCM or any other disease. In some cases, it will be useful to use genomes of multiple dogs, where several breeds suffer from the same disease. Breeds that do not suffer from that disease could be used as controls. This is a long-term project and 75 breeds were sequenced as part of it.

Kennel Club annual seminar for Breed Health Co-ordinators
This is held annually in September. There were interesting talks this year on cancer and skin disease. The cancer talk was by a researcher from the Animal Health Trust (AHT). As two of the cancers they are researching (lymphoma and osteosarcoma) are prevalent in dobes, I plan to liaise to get more information and to see whether we can help with any funding or publicity.

Kennel Club annual health report
This is due to the Kennel Club by the end of September and is currently with the clubs for comment.

Breed health survey
We really do need to do such a survey. I would like to set up an online survey that can remain permanently open so that the data can be added to it over the years. We can then find out more about the prevalence of key diseases.

As and when I have information on projects (such as the equipment needed for the stem cell research mentioned above), I plan to come to the dobe community (pet owners as well as breeders) to raise funds. The UK Dobermann Partnership has some funding available for grants and other clubs may also with to contribute.

Sue Thorn, Breed Health Co-ordinator
September 2018

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