Acral mutilation syndrome or AMS is a hereditary health defect that leads affected dogs to mutilate their own limbs by means of excessive grooming, licking and biting. While the condition often appears to be a behavioural problem, it is in fact a type of polyneuropathy that affects the dog’s ability to feel sensation in the skin of their limbs and paws, including pain, leading to the dog ultimately damaging themselves, to the point of gnawing off their own claws or part of the foot pads in some cases.
Understandably, this can be very disturbing to witness as well as having a wide reaching negative impact on the dog’s health and wellness, and because the condition is hereditary and so, passed on from dog to dog via their breed line, it is important that affected dogs are not used for breeding.
The Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association run a testing scheme to identify the markers of the condition in high risk breeds, so that would-be breeders can make an informed decision about the viability of breeding from their own dogs.
In this article, we will look at acral mutilation syndrome in more detail, including what type of dogs it can affect, how it is inherited, and how to get your dog tested for the condition. Read on to learn more.
Acral mutilation syndrome begins with the affected dog appearing to obsessively groom their paws, feet and possibly limbs, to the point that they bleed and become damaged. Puppies with the condition may appear to be smaller than others in the same litter, and they may begin to display the signs of the condition before they have even been weaned.
The obsessive grooming occurs due to a lack of feeling and pain response in the affected limbs, and can progress as far as the dog chewing off their own claws and severely damaging the pads of the paws. It can even lead to breaks and fractures in the bones of the feet, but the dog will not feel the usual pain response that tells them that something is wrong.
The condition may affect any or all of the limbs, and even when the dog has severely damaged their paws, they are still apt to walk on them without showing any signs of pain or lameness.
Acral mutilation syndrome is a hereditary health condition that can only be passed from dog to dog by means of inheritance, and the condition has been identified as present in the gene pools of several different breeds of dog. The cocker spaniel is the breed that is best known to be potentially affected by the condition, and others include the English pointer, German shorthaired pointer, and the miniature schnauzer.
The condition usually begins to present in affected dogs from a very young age, often before they have even been weaned and left their dam.
Acral mutilation syndrome in dogs is an autosomal recessive condition, which means that any given dog needs to inherit a certain combination of genes from their two parent dogs in order to be affected by the condition.
In breeds that are known to have the gene mutation that causes acral mutilation syndrome in their gene pools, would-be breeders are strongly advised to have their own breeding stock tested for their status prior to breeding, and to find out the results of the dog that they intend to mate their own dog with too in order to gain a complete picture of the future status of the puppies.
In order to test for the condition, you will need to ask your vet to take a simple DNA sample from your dog, and then send it off to The Kennel Club’s approved laboratory for testing. You can find a list of Kennel Club-approved laboratories here.
Once the test has been performed, results on the dog’s status will be returned to their owner, and a further copy of the results retained by The Kennel Club for inclusion in their breed health database, which can be searched by potential breeders looking for a breeding match for their own dogs.