Inbreeding in Dogs
One of the things I’m doing right now is grading papers from my UW students on the “Biology and Philosophy” of one of five topics. They could choose to write their papers on one of the following: Eating Farmed vs. Wild-caught Salmon, Should Apes Have Rights?, Game Farms, Dolphins in Entertainment, and relevant to the blog, Breeding Regulations in Domestic Dogs. They were charged with first writing a paper objectively describing both “sides” of the issue and then writing a paper that relates one of the philosophies we’ve studied to the issue and their own beliefs. Grading their papers is daunting (there are 150 of them; thankfully I have a wonderful Teaching Assistant who shares the job) but also fascinating. Each year I learn a tremendous amount that is often relevant to both my personal life (I rarely eat shrimp or scallops any more because their harvest causes so much environmental damage, although boy do I miss them!) and my professional life, as illustrated the article mentioned below, which was included in a student’s paper (thanks!).
Researchers Federico Calboli et al in the UK examined the breeding records of eight generations of 10 common breeds, including Boxers, Chows, English Bulldogs, Rough coated Collies, Goldens, Greyhound, GSDs, Labs, Springers and what they call Akita Inu (is that our Shiba Inu?). I won’t go into the mathematics of their study, in part because it would take pages and pages and in part because I don’t even pretend to understand it (I’m putting my faith in the reviewers for Genetics, which is a prestigious enough journal for us to assume at least someone else checked the math). But the bottom line is simple, and not surprising: All the breeds were extremely inbred except, interestingly enough, the Greyhounds. The extent of the inbreeding can be summarized thusly: 90% of the genetic variation was lost over a period of 6 generations. (The paper is in Genetics 179, May 2008, pp 593-601.)
Heaven help me, because I know I’ll take flack for this, but as a biologist and a dog lover, I just have to comment that there is something terribly wrong with the way we are defining “pure bred” dogs now. Insisting on 100% “purity” of blood lines is relatively new: It was common in the past, less than 100 years ago, to mix and match lineages and breeds to combine desired traits and keep the lines healthy. The idea of bringing in new genetics, if necessary, was considered to be a good thing, not something that would destroy the breed.
I’ll have more to say about this in the next post, but I’m interested in your comments first. I know how much many people love their breeds and are dedicated to “preserving and improving” them. But isn’t there an elephant in the room here? I’m hardly the first to bring up this issue, but I’d like to know first what you think about the issue of decreasing genetic variability and inbreeding in purebred dogs? I’m listening . . .
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie and I had a scary couple of days; he began vomiting on Friday night and couldn’t keep any food down. I was out of town with my sister-in-law, but he has a great sitter who is vet student who took good care of him til I returned. Sunday didn’t go well, he vomited 6-7 times, so he was in the vet clinic first thing Monday morning. (FYI, if he had seemed to be in any distress otherwise I would have taken him in sooner, and his vet actually came out to check on him and bring me medications on Easter Sunday. That’s right, a vet who did a house call on Sunday on Easter. Seriously. His name is John Dally at Spring Green Animal Hospital and surely he deserves kudos, yes? And besides, he looks exactly like I imagine James Herriot to have looked when he was younger). Things are much better now, Willie is on 3 meds, very limited food, and seems to feel better. Our working hypothesis is mild stomach ulcers, possibly from the NSAIDs he’s been taking (no more needless to say). He got acupuncture last night, is super hungry but is definitely not 100% yet. I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s the perfect April in Wisconsin image: Daffodils and snow. We had quite a storm last week. I’m happy to say the daffs all recovered and are happily bobbing in the rain right now. It’s been a cool and rainy month so far, which many people hate but I like that it keeps the spring bulbs blooming longer. Seems like the yard has been full of pots of gold for over 2 weeks now, such a joy.
And here’s the silly cake I made for my BFF for her 65th birthday. Can you tell we both love flowers?