Pedigree Dogs FAQ

Pedigree Dogs FAQ

1st and 2nd degree mating research

Is there a problem with pedigree dog breeding in Australia?
Yes. A wide range of serious welfare problems currently exist in pedigree dog breeds in Australia due to selective breeding to breed standards. This is a major concern for the RSPCA. These problems include: difficulty breathing, difficulty walking, difficulty giving birth without veterinary intervention, serious problems with their eyes, serious problems with their skin and chronic back and hip problems.

What are Australian breed standards?
In Australia, pedigree dogs are judged primarily on their appearance and how closely they adhere to the breed standard. Unfortunately, we have seen a preference for some of the more exaggerated and extreme physical traits such as excessive skin folds, extremely shortened and flattened faces, large bulging eyes, very long backs, very short legs and massive heads. These exaggerations can seriously compromise the animal's quality of life.

“There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way purebred dogs are selected and bred in Australia.”

What is the RSPCA asking for?
There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way purebred dogs are selected and bred in Australia. The RSPCA would like to see breeders put health, welfare and functionality ahead of the appearance of pedigree dogs. This will involve acknowledging the health and welfare problems in each breed and reviewing and revising breed standards. We'd like the ANKC to prohibit the registration of 1st and 2nd degree matings, to open studbooks and outcross (with another breed) then backcross where necessary to increase the genetic diversity within particular breeds.

Prospective buyers also need to be able to recognise responsible breeding and to be aware of any potential problems in breeds before they purchase an animal. Buying an animal from a breeder without asking the right questions will only contribute to this problem. We need to support responsible breeders who are breeding ethically and ensure prospective buyers are well informed.

Whose responsibility is this?
Ultimately, decisions on what dogs are bred lie in the hands of pedigree dog breeders. However overcoming the welfare problems faced by pedigree dogs is a complex challenge that will need the cooperation of all interested stakeholders, including breeders, buyers, dog show conformation judges, the Australian National Kennel Council, State Canine Councils, Breeder associations/clubs, the veterinary profession, geneticists and other scientists and companion animal welfare groups.

Does the Government have a role to play?
Governments can encourage responsible breeding. RSPCA Australia advocates a compulsory registration and licensing system for breeders, which would include aspects of breeding practices.

What constitutes a responsible breeder?
A responsible breeder prioritises health and welfare over appearance: they work to breed away from known inherited disorders, they provide a very high standard of care for their dogs and conscientiously work to match supply with demand. They are open and transparent, ensure compatibility between the pup and new owner and provide a health guarantee and ongoing support.

What are the most popular ‘registered' purebred dog breeds in Australia?
According to the ANKC National Registration statistics, in 2008 the ten most popular purebred dogs were:

•       Labrador Retriever
•       German Shepherd
•       Staffordshire Bull Terrier
•       Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
•       Golden Retriever
•       Border Collie
•       Pug
•       Rottweiler
•       Cocker Spaniel
•       Poodle (toy)

Are cross-bred dogs healthier than purebred dogs?
The science tells us that dogs that are the result of matings between unrelated animals have a fitness advantage due to their genetic diversity, they are more resistant to both infectious and genetic disease. Perhaps the best indicator that mixed breeds are generally healthier is that it's more expensive to purchase pet insurance for a purebred dog, because the average vet bills for pedigree breeds are much higher than for crossbreeds.

Isn't pedigree breeding really about bettering the breed?
Unfortunately in many cases ‘bettering' the breed simply means producing animals that increasingly fit the breed standard description. Many breed standards are not fit for purpose and have led to the exaggeration of physical features that compromise welfare and health. ‘Bettering' should mean breeding for happy, healthy, fit dogs that are suited to their environment - after all the vast majority of dogs become family pets. If one is truly committed to ‘bettering' a breed we would be increasingly breeding dogs that can breathe easier, walk without pain or discomfort and once again give birth naturally.

Are the issues in Australia similar to those in the UK?
The documentary - Pedigree Dogs Exposed - uses specific examples about problems with pedigree dogs in the UK, however, we do have similar problems here in Australia. All the breeds featured in the program are present in Australia. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the 4th most popular ‘registered' breed, Pug 7th, Boxer 11th and Rhodesian Ridgeback 19th. While the full extent of these problems in the Australian pedigree dog population is currently unknown, there is no evidence to indicate that they are significantly different from those experienced overseas. Dog breeding in Australia is subject to the same breed standards and breeding practices as in the UK. The only major difference is that the pedigree dog population is much smaller, which means there are less individuals in each breed.


What are some of the problems facing the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS) in Australia?
Syringomyelia is a devastating and painful disease caused by the dog's skull being too small for its brain. The incidence of Syringomyelia in Australia is likely to be comparable to other countries such as the UK and USA because Australian Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are descended from the same ancestors and there is a regular exchange of genetic materials between these countries. Unfortunately, many dogs can carry this disease without showing any symptoms until they have already been bred from, thus passing it on to the next generation. Responsible (CKCS) breeders are involved in research to try to eradicate this disease. Heart defects in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in Australia are comparable to those in the UK. Some breeders acknowledge heart defects and organise regular heart clinics to screen breeding animals. However, there is still no requirement for disclosure of these diseases to prospective owners.

Are ‘ridgeless' Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies culled in Australia?
We know of cases where healthy Rhodesian Ridgeback pups are euthanased (or culled) simply because they do not have a ‘ridge'. The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club Inc. does say that pups without the ridge also make good pets - but are not for the show ring.

Are dogs with breathing problems common in Australia?
There are many Brachycephalic (short-skulled) breeds living in Australia such as the English Bulldog, Pekingese and Pugs. These dogs experience breathing difficulties due to their selectively bred flat/short face (features required by the breed standard). Some require surgery to alleviate these breathing problems just like "Danny' the Pekingese ‘best in show' in the documentary. As in the documentary, Pugs in Australia can also have such serious breathing problems that they may faint or collapse due to a lack of oxygen (especially when exercising or if they get excited). Given that Pugs are the 7th most popular ‘registered' breed in this country, this is a significant welfare problem. Breathing problems have also been reported in English Bulldogs in Australia.

What are some of the problems that can be experienced by Boxers?
Boxers in Australia are also predisposed toward developing certain cancers and epilepsy has been reported in this breed in Australia. A predisposition toward heart problems has also been documented.

Do all English Bulldogs need caesarean sections to give birth?
In most cases English Bulldogs in Australia cannot give birth naturally. This is because they have been bred to have large heads, broad shoulders and a narrow pelvis, so the puppies heads are simply too large to move through their mother's pelvis. These dogs require a caesarean section and general anaesthesia to be able to give birth.

What is state of the Dachshund in Australia?
Dachshunds are predisposed to spinal problems, not only due to their excessively long spinal column and excessively short legs but also because they may inherit abnormal cartilage that can lead to ruptured discs. The disc prolapses and puts direct pressure on the spinal cord, causing extreme pain and potential neurological problems. Many Dachshunds require expensive remedial spinal surgery to address this problem.

How have Bull Terriers been impacted by selective breeding?
Bull Terriers have been bred to have prominent noses that differ greatly from the conformation of a traditional dog. Over time, the skull shape of a Bull Terrier has been selectively modified. Bull Terriers in Australia are predisposed to a number of health problems including serious skin allergies and hereditary kidney diseases.

Are Labradors predisposed to any disorders?
Labradors in Australia can also have eye and joint problems. Responsible breeders screen their animals via the Australian National Kennel Council/Australian Veterinary Association Canine Hip Dysplasia/Elbow dysplasia and Eye Schemes.

Do Australian English Springer Spaniels present with enzyme deficiencies?
Yes. The enzyme deficiency mentioned in the documentary that is specific to the English Springer Spaniel is also present in English Springer Spaniels in Australia.

Do West Highland White Terriers in Australia suffer from allergies? 
West Highland White Terriers are predisposed toward serious skin allergies in Australia. These allergies can be severe involving intense and continuous itchiness, discomfort and pain. Quality of life is compromised.

What is the dog show circuit like in Australia?
The dog show circuit is active in Australia and is taken very seriously by the pedigree dog breeders who frequent them. The dog show circuit uses the written breed standard as the basis in determining ‘winners' just as they do in the UK. The RSPCA would like to see a fundamental change in the attitudes of show judges, with much less emphasis placed on physical traits.

Is inbreeding a problem in Australia?
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) regulations prohibit the registration of progeny that are the result of matings between first degree relatives for e.g. mother-son, father-daughter, brother-sister. However, the ANKC does not prohibit the mating of second degree relatives (such as grandfather-granddaughter) which is of great concern given that this is very close inbreeding (the second closest form of inbreeding possible). Some pedigree dog breeders deliberately mate close relatives, which increases the chances of inherited disorders in puppies and makes puppies less resistant to both infectious and genetic disease. Closed stud books, where only animals registered with the ANKC can breed, also decrease the gene pool. A lack of genetic variation increases the chances of inherited disorders, compromises the immune system and may lead to infertility. 

What is Popular Sire Syndrome?
The habit of using popular sires at stud has led to the wide dissemination of a few animals' genes across breed populations. This means that those animals may pass on any undesirable traits/exaggerated features/inherited diseases to a large proportion of the existing population. This also reduces genetic variation and increases the chance of inherited disorders being expressed in the population. As far as the RSPCA is aware the problem of Popular Sire Syndrome also occurs in Australia.