Selective Breeding & The Resulting Health Problems – Part 1

Gemma | September 21st, 2008
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Jock was everything we wanted in a collie puppy bright, playful and affectionate. My children thought Jock was going to live forever, a long healthy life.

What could possibly go wrong?

In time we noticed that he was also clumsy, so clumsy that he banged his head on doors, tripped over small toys, tripped over the baby, and never learned to walk down stairs. But we adored him still!

When he was about three months old, Jock developed a slight hernia and off we went to the veterinarian to have it checked. Feelings of relief that the hernia was unimportant gave way to panic when the vet said, Let me check his eyes while you have him here. We make it a point to check all collie eyes.

Trying to pass it off, I made a joke about Jock’s clumsiness, but the joke turned sour when the veterinarian spoke again. I’m surprised this dog gets around at all. He’s totally blind. He has been since birth.

Blind?

We call it collie eye the doctor continued, He has massive detachments of the retina in both eyes. There is one small retina where he may be getting minimal vision, but not enough to call it functional sight.

The American Obsession With Breeding The Perfect Canine

Jock was a victim of the American obsession with dogs and dog breeding, for his blindness was due to a genetic condition bred into collies during the process of seeking the perfect collie.

Collie eye, technically called ectasia, is a condition of purebred collies, proven to be congenital and hereditary. Fanciers have long prized the narrow head and pencil nosed face of the collie, and breeding programs have continually been directed toward achieving this type of look.

Too little attention has been paid to breeding to eliminate hereditary disease conditions. As a result, it is estimated that up to 90% of all collies to date experience some form of the disease, and the numbers may be slightly higher. And this of course is speaking of only one breed.

Many Breeds Are Affected With Their Own Problems

To cite collie eye as a lone example of genetic flaws in purebred dogs is grossly unfair. There are a few breeds not affected by some kind of inbred problem. One expert claims, for instance, that we now produce Irish Setters that are beautifully gazelle-like but totally lacking in the work habits or capabilities of the original breed.

Another less-kind comment came from an Irish Setter owner who bitterly said that breeding for a narrow head has squeezed all the brains out of the dogs. Poodles are subject to hypoglycemia and progressive retinal atrophy; Basenjis have eye problems too, and so the list continues.

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