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Breed Manipulation

DogFor centuries, humans have selectively bred dogs  to bring about certain desired traits. Over time, this selective breeding gave way to hundreds of different dog  breeds. In more modern times, groups like the American Kennel Club (AKC) uphold a set of “breed standards” – that is sets of measurable characteristics that are viewed as desirable in breeding and show dogs. Breed manipulation can be a dangerous game for animals.

Do breed standards create better dogs?
No. “Breed standard” describes arbitrary characteristics desired by animal fanciers. Examples may include leg length, tail length, and color pattern. Animals who do not meet “breed standard” are not any less healthy than those who do.

Can breed manipulation harm animals?
Yes. The pug was selectively bred to feature an extremely flat face, which contributes to breathing difficulties and eye injuries. Disorders like hip dysplasia, commonly seen in large purebreds, such as German Shepherds have emerged due to the breeder’s desire for a sloping back. King Charles Cavalier Spaniels are more likely to be born with brain deformities due to the domed shape of their heads, which give them a “puppy look” throughout their lives.

Does genetic manipulation occur in cats and other animals?
Yes. Like pugs, some cats are purposely bred for flattened faces—Persians and Himalayans, for instance. By selectively breeding for flat faces, we have created cats who suffer a higher risk for breathing problems and almost constant runny eyes. One of the most unfortunate examples of breed manipulation occurs in thoroughbred horses. Bred for light bones to promote speed on the racetrack, thoroughbreds are particularly susceptible to broken legs and ankles.

What is inbreeding and how does it harm animals?
Inbreeding occurs when offspring are produced from a male and female who share the same family line. By virtue of his or her genetic profile, an animal may have a natural predisposition to certain maladies or carry a recessive gene for a disorder. Males and females from the same nuclear family are likely to have very similar genetic profiles, and therefore the same predisposition to the same maladies and the same recessive genes. Their offspring therefore,  inherit a “double dose” of their parents’ genetic vulnerability to certain health problems. This is one reason the offspring of inbred animals are likely to have poor overall health.

Is there any harm in the breeding of “designer dogs?”
“Designer dog” is simply a moniker for “mixed-breed.” Because puppies are born of parents of two different breeds, the offspring will likely benefit from greater genetic diversity than a purebred puppy. However, some designer dog breeds are bred for extreme traits – such as a tiny size as in the “teacup” varieties, which make a dog prone to injury.

How Can I Discourage Breed Manipulation?

  • Educate your friends and family about the risks of breed manipulation.
  • Adopt your next friend from an animal shelter or rescue.
  • If you must purchase a purebred, make sure you have investigated the breeder and his or her reputation for careful and responsible breeding.
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