Dear Mr Lambert,
Re: Open Letter
You may be surprised to hear that I don’t disagree with everything you said when we were both interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme on 23rd April to talk about the health crisis affecting Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
I appeared in the studio to argue the case for mandatory testing for the two most serious and widespread hereditary conditions: mitral valve disease and chiari-like malformation/syringomyelia (CM/SM). The Kennel Club opposes this, arguing it is a quick fix.
However, I am in agreement with you that Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) would play an important part in the fight to tackle these horrendous hereditary health problems. Tools such as EBVs, which help breeders make decisions based on indicators of genetic risk of inherited disease, can only help the dire situation facing these little dogs.
There is a question I wasn’t given the opportunity to ask on the radio programme: how does the Kennel Club propose to obtain the data (health test results) required to create EBVs for Cavaliers?
There is no official heart testing scheming for the breed, despite one being promised in 2008, and fewer than 200 scans have been submitted to the CM/SM scheme since its launch in early 2012. While the £30,000 recently put forward by the Kennel Club to allow older scans to be graded and submitted is a welcome step, at best this would only add 300 scans.
The Kennel Club’s own website says of EBVs: “An EBV can only be calculated for a breed if enough individual dogs across the breed have been scored.” The majority of Cavalier breeders have proved their unwillingness to have health tests officially recorded so it seems logical that making testing mandatory is the only way the Kennel Club can possibly obtain the data it so badly needs.
Offering EBVs as a solution to the plague of Cavalier health problems when the Kennel Club has no means of actually creating them makes me doubt the sincerity of the statement you made on air that the Kennel Club is “trying to improve the health of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel”. In case you need reminding of what you said during the interview, here is the link to the podcast.
I very much look forward to receiving an answer to my question.
On 29th April 2014 Bill Lambert responded to Charlotte’s open letter.
Thank you for your letter.
The Kennel Club does not argue, as you claim in your letter, that mandatory testing for CM/SM and MVD in Cavaliers is a quick fix – quite the opposite. Making testing mandatory for registration would not fix anything in terms of improving breed health, and could serve to drive away responsible breeders and owners from the Kennel Club’s umbrella of influence, information and education, which could have a negative effect on the breed.
A recent paper by the RVC’s Vet Compass project supported by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, estimated there is a prevalence rate for Syringomyelia of around 1.7 percent in the breed. We know that much more information needs to be collected for a fuller picture to emerge and we are leading the charge in saying that this must not make us complacent, because of the seriousness of this terrible condition, but we need to consider the evidence about prevalence, alongside the costs of testing and the fact that the test requires people to put their dogs under general anaesthetic, in order to understand why there is some resistance to testing. Making testing mandatory for those who register with the Kennel Club would not have any impact on the thousands of Cavaliers outside of our fold and would likely drive those who might be potential friends into forces of resistance.
You say in your letter, quite rightly, that the number of results submitted for dogs screened for CM/SM under the KC/BVA CM/SM Scheme (currently 253) is not sufficient to develop Estimated Breeding Values – however, we are not far off. The £30,000 pledged by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and the British Veterinary Association to have old scans assessed by the BVA/KC CM/SM Scheme may ‘at best’ add 300 scans, but an additional 300 scans on top of the existing number could be enough to calculate initial EBVs, which would give us a good start at enabling inherited risk factors to be generated for the breed – and as more results get submitted, the more precise in risk assessment the EBV becomes.
You ask how we plan to get more people to submit results. Our belief is that with education and with increased and improved communications we can increase the number of people who are voluntarily submitting results, for the good of the breed. Anyone with a Cavalier can screen their dog and submit the results – not just breeders – so dog owners who wish to help improve the health of the breed can do so by having their pet health tested. We would gladly work with others to help us mobilise those who care about the breed. Some 10,000 people have signed the Cavalier petition – presumably many are Cavalier owners and breeders – so can we mobilise them to health test their dogs? Surely they would want to contribute towards the solution to the breed’s health issues by having their dogs tested?
We are confident that with a collaborative approach we will get there. As we’ve seen for Hip Dysplasia and Elbow dysplasia we can encourage breeders and owners to screen through education, motivating people to screen, getting breed club support, encouraging vets to recommend this screening for breeding animals in particular (not forgetting of course that data from any animal can contribute to EBVs, whether they are used for breeding or not).
Regarding heart testing, a major study into the prevalence of all health concerns in Cavaliers, funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, has been recently undertaken and confirmed that heart murmurs do seem to be a particular concern for the breed. It is commonly accepted amongst cardiologists that the Cavalier form of mitral valve disease is complex and behaves differently than other dogs’ manifestations of the disease.
The Kennel Club has been working collaboratively with the Cavalier breed clubs, British Veterinary Association and Veterinary Cardiology Society to develop heart schemes for a number of breeds, and as with many complex inherited diseases the development of a scheme is not a quick, simple process. We need to understand the disease, determine heritability, come to a consensus on the best technology for assessing the heart, when the optimum time(s) for heart testing throughout a dog’s life are, understand the progress of the disease, determine a system of assessment that is clinically and scientifically robust, plus provide breeding advice and recommendations. There needs to be a protocol and assessment accepted and agreed by experts before the Kennel Club can make a scheme mandatory for Kennel Club Assured Breeders. Until that time we make tests, such as heart testing for Cavaliers, recommendations under the Assured Breeder Scheme, and work with owners and breeders to encourage them to health test their dogs and submit results in order that the Kennel Club and breed clubs can build a fuller picture of how conditions are likely to be inherited.
I can assure you that the Kennel Club is dedicated to improving the health of dogs and does far more than any other organisation to achieve this, and we will continue to do so.
We would very much welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how you see the future of the breed being protected as we are open to ongoing dialogue on this issue.
Kennel Club Health and Breeder Services Manager