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How The Animal Welfare Regulations Changes (2018) Aim To Tackle Harmful Health Issues In Dogs

Everyone who breeds dogs on any scale from just one litter a year to a full commercial operation needs to know about the upcoming changes to the Animal Welfare Regulations that pass into law in October of this year.

The changes under the remit of the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) Regulations 2018 are broad and far reaching, and are designed to tighten up the regulation of dog breeding and selling in the UK, as well as to improve the welfare and conditions of dogs bred for sale. Some of the Regulations’ key concerns include the conditions in which breeding dogs are kept, provisions made for their welfare, socialisation and health, and tougher licencing restrictions for even small-scale breeders.

How animals can be advertised for sale and the conditions under which they can be sold has also been revised.

However, there is also a very important but quite commonly overlooked caveat to the Animal Welfare Regulations 2018 that has received much less attention, yet that will perhaps be the most far-reaching and impactful element of them all – additional legislation to reduce the likelihood of genetic and conformation defects in future litters.

In this article we will examine what the new legislation means for puppy breeders and how it will impact upon the choices breeders make – as well as how this should in theory help to reduce the numbers of pups born with health problems and hereditary defects that affect their health and quality of life. Read on to learn more.

What do the Regulations say about hereditary health issues?

The full remit of the Animal Welfare Act (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) Regulations 2018 covers a wide range of different factors that relate to the wellness, welfare and rights of animals kept and sold as pets, which includes other species as well as dogs.

The majority of the new Regulations as they relate to dogs are concerned with the registration of breeders and puppy sellers, and what they must do to legally breed and sell dogs, in terms of licences, restrictions, and standard of care.

However, the section of the Regulations that refer specifically to canine health and the wellness of dogs bred for sale states that “No dog may be kept for breeding if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype, phenotype or state of health that breeding from it could have a detrimental effect on its health or welfare or the health or welfare of its offspring.”

What does this mean?

Breaking down the above statement can make it a little easier to understand, so we’ll begin with some basic definitions.

A dog’s genotype is the set of genes that it possesses, based on the DNA it inherits from its ancestors. “Phenotype” refers to the core traits that a dog possesses and that can be observed, such as its conformation, physical appearance, temperament and core behaviours.

Ultimately, the Regulations state clearly that if the genotype, phenotype or health of any dog can reasonably be expected to result in a negative outcome for any pups it produces if bred – such as in terms of their health or welfare – the dog must not be kept for breeding.

This means that should a dog have a known conformation, health or hereditary issue that is likely to result in health or welfare problems for its pups, the Regulations state that this dog cannot be bred from.

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Why was this addition made to the Regulations?

Hereditary health issues and conformation defects can be found across virtually all pedigree dog breeds, and in certain very popular breeds, problems of this type have been increasing over time rather than lessening.

Despite breed standards and dog show judging guidance stating that dogs that are unhealthy, overexaggerated or otherwise suffering due to their genetics or conformation are not considered to be good examples of their breed and should not win prizes, the reality is often very different.

Unscrupulous breeders who deliberately produce dogs with exaggerated traits or without paying mind to health and wellness are common today, particularly within certain very popular dog breeds for which there is a great demand for puppies.

Coupled with this, the very health issues that can potentially have the greatest negative impact on the dogs themselves often produce a quirky, cute or distinctive appearance that appeals to buyers, many of whom have undertaken little or no research into how these traits affect the dogs themselves.

What dog breeds will the new Regulations affect?

The new Regulations can be applied to dogs of all types and breeds – and even theoretically to non-pedigree dogs too that are deliberately bred for sale.

However, it is high-profile dog breeds with a well-publicised and well known track record of prevalent health issues that were kept in mind when the Regulations were drawn up, such as the French bulldog, English bulldog and pug.

What does this mean in practice?

Theoretically, the changes to the regulations will certainly mean that if a breeder knows that a dog they intend to breed from has a health condition, genetic defect or conformation exaggeration that can reasonably be expected to have a negative impact on their pups, they cannot breed from them.

A clear example of a dog that should not be bred from under the remit of the new Regulations would be a dog that has been DNA tested positive for a harmful genetic anomaly or health condition that would be passed onto their pups.

However, few cases are likely to be as cut and dried as this, and there is a lot of scope for interpretation within the grey areas of the Regulations – such as whether failing to health test and producing a litter that consequently suffers from health issues or if a subjective conformation exaggeration would be judged as deleterious and so, outside of the remit of the Regulations.

Ultimately, how and how strictly the Regulations will be enforced has yet to be seen, as does whether or not the Regulations will genuinely prove effective and do anything to help to improve the health of dogs.

The scope for interpretation and somewhat subjective nature of this part of the Regulations may mean that this section of the changes will be difficult or even impossible to enforce, unless an individual or body (such as a puppy buyer, breed club or welfare organisation) builds a case against a specific breeder.

However, if the caveat was not added to the new Regulations, not even this could be achieved – and so the change should perhaps be best seen as a step in the right direction, and a stern warning to unscrupulous or irresponsible breeders to change their breeding protocols or risk the ongoing viability of their operation.

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