The Royal Veterinary College helps shape international agreement on what constitutes naturally healthy body shapes for dogs - Veterinary Practice
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The Royal Veterinary College helps shape international agreement on what constitutes naturally healthy body shapes for dogs

The ICECDogs helps owners to recognise good innate health in dogs

The International Collaborative on Extreme Conformations in Dogs (ICECDogs) has published a position paper, heavily informed by research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), that helps owners to recognise good innate health in dogs. The international agreement is the first of its kind and provides a guide for animal caregivers and the wider public to identify healthy natural physical characteristics in dogs and to predict and assess potential health and welfare based on body shape. This will help anyone who cares about dogs understand how likely a dog is to suffer from negative impacts from extreme conformation.

Innate health is a concept developed following a decade of research at the RVC. It refers to a dog’s capacity to enjoy life without limitations from health issues linked to extreme conformations. Common examples of these health risks include chronic pain caused by, for example, eye ulcers because of protruding eyes, or physical incapacity, such as being unable to sleep or exercise fully due to breathing difficulties caused by being flat-faced.

Also acting as an informative guide, the new paper identifies examples of extreme conformation that prospective owners can look out for and hopefully avoid when deciding the type of dog they will acquire. These include:

  • Flat-faces (brachycephaly)
  • Large and protruding eyes
  • Shortened, twisted legs
  • Facial or body skin folds
  • Tailessness
  • A clearly overshot or undershot jaw
  • A disproportionately broad head and shoulders
  • Eyelids turned in or out
  • A bulging or domed skull
  • A sloped back with an excessively low rear end and excessively flexed hind legs

Conversely, a dog with good innate health because of its naturally healthy body shape should have the ability to breathe freely and oxygenate effectively; maintain body temperature within a normal physiological range; move freely without effort or discomfort; eat and drink effectively; hear, smell, see, self-groom, eliminate and sleep effectively; communicate effectively with other dogs; and, where applicable, breed without assistance.

Dr Dan O’Neill, associate professor for Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and co-founding ICECDogs member, said: “I have spent the past decade researching and developing the innate health concept at the RVC in London. No owner ever wants an unhealthy dog but the huge popularity of dogs with extreme conformations suggests that many owners have not fully grasped the link between body shape and quality of life for dogs.

“The new ICECDogs position on innate health helps owners understand that extreme conformations are not natural, normal, healthy or desirable for dogs. Innately healthy body shapes can now become a new normal for dogs that we can all celebrate.”

The RVC and other evidence suggest that many dogs with extreme conformations endure a lifetime of potential or real suffering from poor innate health, which can significantly reduce their overall quality of life. The ICECDogs paper has received support from major UK dog welfare groups that are part of the UK’s Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG) and builds on the RVC’s wide research in this field.

Dr Dan O’Neill, who is also chair of the UK BWG, further added: “The UK BWG welcomes this international position that consolidates our shared human ethical commitment to avoiding extreme conformation in dogs. The BWG supports all welfare-focused activities that aim to protect the health and welfare of dogs from the adverse impacts of brachycephaly as an extreme conformation in dogs.” 

Aiming to raise awareness about what a naturally healthy body shape in dogs looks like, as well as hopefully contributing to a decline in ownership trends of dogs with extreme conformation, the ICECDogs is calling for support from owners, breeders and the general public to improve the welfare of dogs by:

  • Not promoting, breeding, selling or acquiring dogs with extreme conformations
  • Carefully considering the issues relating to extreme conformations before taking a final decision on what type of dog to acquire
  • Understanding the criteria for good innate health and insisting that every dog must meet these innate canine norms

Dr Michelle Groleau, ICECDogs member and director of animal welfare, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), said: “The escalation of extreme conformations in animals and the serious harms resulting from them are a priority issue for the CVMA. There is an urgent need for the public to be made aware of the severity of the current situation and to learn how they can contribute to a solution”.

The full ICECDogs paper, can be accessed at the ICECDogs website.

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