Dobermann breed health report March 2019

I am pleased to note that the ten breed clubs are working well together on health issues. In the light of the recent successful fundraising activities, a bank account is being set up to handle health funds on behalf of all ten clubs.

Breed Health and Conservation Plan
The Kennel Club is setting up these plans for all breeds and the dobermann plan was 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.

We all know that DCM is very prevalent and that there is currently no way to predict whether a specific mating will generate DCM dogs, no way to predict whether a particular dog will get it, and no way to cure it once they have it. However, there are two possible lights at the end of the tunnel – actually three, because we now have all ten breed clubs working strongly together on this, with massive support from breeders and owners.
There have also been some interesting other pieces of work, mentioned briefly below.

‘How to Fix a Broken Heart’
The first project is the ‘How to Fix a Broken Heart’ research project at the Royal Vet College. This is a three-year lab research project aimed at establishing whether stem cells from a canine heart can be injected into DCM dogs to restore contractility of the heart. It’s not certain to be successful (that’s the nature of research projects) and it’s not a cure – dogs would need to be injected every six weeks or so – but it could be a way of keeping dogs from becoming ill and dying of DCM. The clubs put in a letter of support to the RVC team with the grant application, which was successful and, at the time of writing, the RVC were recruiting the researcher to carry out the work. It’ll start in earnest later this year and is scheduled to take three years. There may be a small clinical trial at the end of it in which case I’ll be involved in recruiting dogs for it. This research would be improved by a piece of equipment called a hypoxic chamber. The dobe community has come together in an amazing way to raise funds for this and we have reached our target of £8000 (the RVC will contribute the rest). Any excess money will go into the new health fund being set up. I want to give my heartfelt congratulations to all the clubs and individuals, too many to mention by name, who have raised funds for this and generated such a sense of community at the same time.

Estimated Breeding Values
The second project is to do with being able to predict whether a dog is more or less likely than average to produce DCM pups. It is planned to do this with Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). These are currently used for hip and elbow scores. Hip dysplasia, for example, is about 40% genetic and the rest is
due to external factors. So, a dog’s hip score is not necessarily a good predictor of its progeny’s hip health. However, there is a genetic component, so if you look at the hip scores of the dog and all its known relatives, you get a better idea of the genetic risk. EBVs are presented as a variation from the
breed average and the point is not to be a stick to beat people, but to be a tool whereby the owner of a dog with a high EBV can look for a low EBV mate.

A team at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh have been looking at the potential of using databases that have cause and date of death to generate EBVs for DCM for dobermanns. They’ve made an initial ‘proof of concept’ assessment and confirmed that it could be possible. It’s a real shame that we don’t have a comprehensive database of UK dogs with their date and cause of death. To roll this out as a usable tool we need such a database and will probably need to set one up from scratch, which will only work if most breeders and owners submit their data. This is likely to take some time to set up, but could be one of the most important dog projects ever, as the same methodology could be used for other diseases with complex genetics and also for other breeds. In the meantime, I am liaising with the two lead researchers to see if they could help us set up a database for an ongoing breed health survey, which could possibly generate data for the EBV project in due course.

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.

Predictive biomarkers
The same Canadian group have carried out some initial work into biomarkers that might be able to predict in healthy dogs that they are at high risk of developing DCM later, so that they can be removed from the breeding pool before they pass it on. However, again due to lack of funds, this project is not
being taken any further at present.

A novel protein concerned with human heart function
The RVC and University of London are collaborating with regard to some interesting research that has emerged looking at a specific protein (c-Met) 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 2018 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. I now need to find some young dogs for further testing and I will be in touch about this soon.

Heart testing
The Liverpool University/UK Dobermann Partnership biomarker project was intended to establish definitively whether the low-cost biomarker tests (about £100-150) could be used as the initial annual tests, with the more expensive echo and Holter being used only if indicated by the biomarkers (and
would then be covered by insurance). The testing phase of this project has finished but we have not yet received the final report, which I am continuing to chase. 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. Some clubs (notably South East and South West) have purchased Holter monitors for use by members at a much reduced rate.

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 am following this research.

We are monitoring research on this. I 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 about 330 dogs, gives a mean of 9.19 years and a median of 9.8. Almost half had died before their 8th birthday, and about 15% 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.

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. This has been on hold due to the demands of the two heart projects, but is still on the to-do list.

All the clubs have also added to their Codes of Ethics that owners must ensure vWD and other test results are entered on the dog’s 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 last year on cancer and skin disease.

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 mentioned above, I am liaising with the EBV researchers with regard to this.

Sue Thorn, Breed Health Co-ordinator (
March 2019

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