The WSAVA has called on vets to take a proactive role in tackling hereditary disease and advise breeders on the tests available to them.

Speaking at a press briefing during BSAVA Congress, Cathryn Mellersh, head of canine genetics at the AHT and a member of the WSAVA hereditary disease committee, also urged vets not to shy away from telling owners if they have made a bad choice to deter them from making the same mistake.

Growing concern

Cathryn Mellersh
Dr Cathryn Mellersh called on vets to take a proactive role in tackling hereditary disease and advise breeders on the tests available to them.

During her briefing Dr Mellersh explained concern about hereditary disease, particularly in dogs, had grown significantly thanks to an increased awareness of the risks it poses to animals, both within the veterinary profession, and among owners and breeders.

She said the proactive approach and financial support offered by The Kennel Club to tackle the problem was to be welcomed.

She also explained how this heightened awareness had coincided with a period of rapid progress in the development of tools and resources to tackle hereditary disease, including the DNA database created by the WSAVA’s hereditary disease committee and supported by Mars, which is accessible for free to vets.

Mendelian diseases

Dr Mellersh focused on Mendelian diseases, typically caused by mutations in a single gene, explaining these diseases, usually restricted to single breeds, could be highly debilitating and required specialist diagnosis.

The example she gave was that of primary open angle glaucoma in Shar Pei – a painful and blinding inherited eye disease for which her research group has just developed a DNA test. She emphasised most Mendelian diseases were amenable to DNA test development, however, and, if the gene was recessive, they could be difficult to eliminate without one.

Damaging genetic diversity

She said: “We ask vets to advise breeders to use DNA test results to avoid breeding clinically affected dogs and reduce the frequency of mutation within a breed, over time, without damaging genetic diversity. When selecting a test, it is important they ensure the test they are using is based on sound science and the right mutation for the breed tested.”

Dr Mellersh also warned vets not to advise against breeding with carriers and said dogs should not be excluded from breeding on the basis of a single mutation they could test for.

She added: “The disease mutation the DNA test is for is not the only mutation a carrier has.

“Most dogs carry at least 50 recessive mutations, so, if carriers are not bred from and only clear dogs used, there is a risk other mutations carried by these clear dogs will increase in frequency within the breed and new inherited diseases could emerge.”

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