As Crufts 2017 gets underway many are questioning how the organisation behind intends to secure a future for one of Britain’s most beloved, but health riddled breeds – the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Or if they even care about the pain and suffering these dogs endure?
TV Vet and animal lover Emma Milne was one of the 30,000 who signed an online petition calling on The Kennel Club (KC) to tackle the breed’s health crisis and feels so strongly that she is set to break her 18-year boycott of the show to hand the petition to the organisation in person tomorrow (Friday).
Pictured above, Beebee (L) and Isla (R). Beebee is 4 years old but looks much older because she has Syringomyelia.
Milne has been an outspoken supporter of the pet owners’ campaign. In an interview with the Vet Times last year she called on the veterinary profession to be more vocal about this issue and said leaving testing to breeders wasn’t working.
“If show winners had to prove they had been health tested or face elimination, I can tell you things would change pretty damned quickly,” she said.
Supporters of the petition, including Craig Revel Horwood, Deborah Meadon, Pixie Lott and the RSPCA, want the KC to make testing mandatory for the two most serious conditions: a heart disease called Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Syringomyelia (SM), a distressing neurological disorder caused by dogs being bred with skulls too small for their brains.
“For too long those with the power to make a difference to Cavalier health – the breed clubs and Kennel Club – have done nothing. The pet-owning public have said enough is enough,” says Margaret Carter, a former health representative for the national committee of the CKCS Club turned whistleblower, who started the petition at Change.org.
“Research proves that breeding from dogs tested clear increases the chances of healthy puppies yet the KC refuses to take proper action. Families are seeing their loved pets living in pain and dying young. They want the KC to live up to its claim of “making a difference for dogs,” she adds.
Milne says, “I vowed I’d never return to Crufts on my last visit but I feel very strongly about this important campaign. Cavaliers are being let down very badly in this country. When will the KC stop seeing pound signs and start seeing sense? The UK is way behind much of Europe where other countries have seen dramatic improvements in disease prevalence in Cavaliers through robust testing.”
Many European countries have mandatory health testing for Cavaliers, including Denmark where the risk of MVD has fallen by over 73 per cent for the breed since compulsory heart testing was introduced. The condition is the biggest killer of Cavaliers in the UK (20 times more prevalent than any other breed) and the KC’s own Breed Health Survey stated they are dying 17 months earlier than a decade ago. However, there is no KC heart scheme in this country.
The distressing neurological condition SM came to the public’s attention in 2008 when the BBC aired the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed. This showed dogs screaming in agony and revealed top show Cavaliers with this inherited disease being used for breeding against veterinary advice. In the aftermath, the BBC ditched its coverage of Crufts and the KC launched a screening scheme for SM.
However, the health scheme has been boycotted by breeders (in five years results for only 256 KC-registered Cavaliers have been submitted while thousands of puppies have been bred) and campaigners say many successful show breeders continue to set a bad example by ignoring breeding guidelines.
“Internationally accepted breeding protocols state that Cavaliers should not be bred before 2.5 years old but again and again we see dogs with more rosettes than health test certificates and being bred far too young, such as a recent Cavalier Best of Breed winner at Crufts that had fathered a litter of puppies before his first birthday,” says Margaret Carter.
“The many thousands of comments on the online petition illustrate not only how widespread these health problems are and the terrible impact they have on Cavaliers and the families who care for them but also how out of step with public feeling the Kennel Club and small but powerful inner circle of show breeders are.”