Breeding for improvement in canine health

Presenter Joanna Ilska
Authors Joanna J. Ilska
Affiliations The Kennel Club
Presentation Type Talk


This year, The Kennel Club (KC) celebrates its 150th anniversary. Initially focused on dog showing and field trials, The KC has evolved with the world of dog fancy and modernised to suit the needs of our ever-changing customer base. Nowadays, while still playing an important role in governing a growing number of dog activities, The KC forms an important link between the world of canine science and breeding.

Over the more recent decades, The KC has been actively involved in research into canine health through funding, recruitment assistance, and provision of data to numerous projects, as well as our own in-house research. The outcomes of these projects have been used to develop and monitor practical tools that are used by breeders to reduce the risk of producing puppies affected by inherited conditions. For example, The KC offers a free online database of DNA test results (The Health Test Results Finder), which allows breeders to assess the compatibility of breeding candidates through the display of their genotypes for known and recorded mutations. At this time, the database includes >1M results, covering >100 mutations across >80 breeds.

Simultaneously, The KC has been actively involved in the development of screening schemes (and recording of their results) for many complex diseases – from the development of the first ever canine health screening scheme (the British Veterinary Association/KC Hip Dysplasia Scheme in 1965), to the recent development of high-profile schemes for some of our most popular breeds, such as addressing respiratory health in brachycephalics (The KC/University of Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme in 2019), neurological disease in Dachshunds (The Intervertebral Disc Disease scheme for Dachshunds, supported by Dachshund Health UK, in 2021), and cardiovascular disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (The Kennel Club’s heart scheme for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, supported by the Veterinary Cardiovascular Society, in 2019). Where sufficient data have been generated through the schemes, The KC converts the results to freely available Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), which offer opportunity for faster response in selection against complex diseases, compared to selection on the phenotypes of breeding candidates alone.

Further, utilising the database of pedigrees, The KC provides breeders with a coefficient of inbreeding (COI) calculator, encouraging breeders to select matings which will result in puppies with COI at, or below, breed average.

In the coming years, The KC will expand on the number of relevant tools offered to breeders, ensuring we are encouraging the use of modern and gold standard practises. At the same time, we are generating larger than ever amounts of data, ready for use in further research. This creates a fertile ground to strengthen our collaboration with the scientific community, and ensure we are always providing relevant and accurate advice to the dog owning community, with the ultimate aim of enacting meaningful improvement in canine health.