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Dobermann Breed Health Co-ordinator end-year update
This update is for clubs to provide to committees and members and for dobermann owners generally.

Club activities
A reminder that several clubs carry out health-related activities. Welsh Dobermann Club and The Dobermann Club carry out biomarker testing at their champ shows. Midland Dobe Club arrange reduced price echo and Holter testing for members. Several clubs also now provide Holter monitors at a reduced rate to members, including SEEDC and SWDC and shortly also to include WDC.

Breed Health and Conservation Plan
A reminder that we have this plan, developed with the KC. The priorities are dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), cancer (especially lymphoma and mammary tumours), and Wobblers. Vestibular deafness (DINGS) and hypothyroidism were also flagged. Longevity The Kennel Club’s 2014 survey (100 dogs) gave longevity at eight years. My own database, currently with over 600 dogs, gives a mean of 9.2 years and a median of 9.8. Thus, almost half had died before their 9th birthday, and more than 1 in 7 before their 6th birthday. Please keep sending 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. The mean of 9.2 hasn’t changed now for a couple of years and so is probably accurate. I have data on sex, colour and COI, so I am talking to the KC geneticist about a scientific article analysing my data, which would require the input of a statistician.

I always think of any disease from five angles:
can we prevent it; can we predict which dogs will get it; can we diagnose it early when they do get it; how can we manage it; and can we cure it?
There have been interesting developments in most of these areas.

Can we prevent it and can we predict which dogs will get it?
These two go hand in hand and usually require a genetic test. The two problems here are that it cannot be a single gene, and also that, even if it was, given the prevalence, removing all affected dogs from breeding would mean removing at least half the population and thus reducing the gene pool unsustainably and almost certainly introducing new health problems. Most of you will know that the PDK4 gene identified in the USA by Dr Kate Meurs has been shown not to be significant in UK and Euro dogs. Titin looks more promising, not least because it is known to be involved in human heart disease. Again, it won’t be the only gene involved, but it may be a better candidate for suggesting avoiding mating two dogs carrying the variation.

I raised with Dr David Connolly at the Royal Vet College about whether this can be validated in the UK and we are currently involved in a project to test UK dogs to see if it is significant. I have so far sent swab kits out to the owners of 19 dobes and would like some more volunteers. The dog either needs to have DCM or to be at least 5 years of age and have tested clear within the last 12 months. Blood biomarkers (Troponin and NT-pro-BNP) or echo/Holter are both acceptable.

Dr Dukes-McEwan’s paper on biomarker testing has now been published and funds have been raised by the health clubs to make this available by Open Access. The paper concludes that biomarker testing is a reliable first line of test for DCM, provided the dog is referred for echo and Holter if the results are elevated. This means that almost all owners can afford to carry out annual testing.

Can we diagnose it early?
If we test our dogs regularly, we can spot DCM in its ‘occult’ or hidden stage before there are any visible symptoms. This makes it more likely to be susceptible to successful treatment to extend life and delay the onset of congestive heart failure or sudden death. There have been many reports now of dogs living 4 or 5 years of healthy life post diagnosis due to these drugs and it makes very clear the importance of annual heart checks.

Can we manage it? Can we cure it?
At the moment management is by means of vetmedin and other drugs, which are very successful at prolonging life if started early. We also have the ‘How to Fix a Broken Heart’ project with Dr Connolly at the RVC. This is a research project into the potential for cardiac stem cells from healthy dogs to be injected into DCM dogs to reverse the symptoms. If successful, it would require regular injections, so it is not a cure, but it would manage the disease. The project was delayed by Covid and there’s no definite news yet. The Dobe community provided a piece of equipment that will improve the project. Of course, this project is research, and so by definition might not work.

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs)
I’ve mentioned before about EBVs in terms of being able to predict whether a dog is more or less likely than average to produce DCM pups. 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.

I have had some discussions with the KC geneticist, but we would require data on many dogs to set this up. This is one reason why it’s so important to keep sending me details of your dogs’ longevity (see above).

KC and health testing
Most of you have probably picked up that eye testing for ABS breeders is now only required once, prior to initial breeding.

If you carry out vWD tests, please check whether the company you use automatically sends the result to the KC, and send it on yourself if not. We really do need good records on this.

A number of you have been sending hip x-rays to Australian vets, who usually return them within a day or two, especially while the BVA had huge delays. The KC will record these values if sent them, but do not add them to the dog’s visible record. This is because they haven’t yet validated whether they are consistent with BVA x-rays, but a project is under way to establish this.

Sue Thorn
Breed Health Co-ordinator
March 2022

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