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American Kennel Club/Canine Health Foundation
2001 National Parent Club
Canine Health Conference

October 19, 20 & 21, 2001 --- St. Louis Airport Marriott
Prepared by Karyn Colman B.Vet.Med., M.R.C.V.S.


The 2001 AKC-CHF parent club health conference was held in St Louis. It was heavily sponsored by Ralston-Purina who were very much in evidence and the events of September 11th also had a big impact on the proceedings, both in terms of content and in terms of organization/scheduling.

The event was very well attended by representatives from breed clubs and the lunchtime and evening opportunities to talk to the speakers and discuss issues was very popular. There were also a number of posters and presentations by breed clubs (e.g. Tibetan Terriers, Dalmatians, Boston Terriers, to name a few) giving details of their work with various diseases or problems, their efforts to build open databases of conditions and/or information on various research projects funded by the breed clubs, as well as posters and presentations from some speakers and, of course, various "commercial" stands (e.g. AKC, Ralston-Purina, OFA, Bayer) giving information on their various products.

Overall, I felt the conference was very interesting, educational, stimulating, and a great way to keep up with AKC's latest ideas and strategies on genetic diseases as well as to find out what other breeds are doing as far as hereditary disease control is concerned.


Due to airline cancellations and rescheduling (which was rampant at this time), I was unable to arrive as planned, in the middle of the day on Friday, but rather arrived after the bus transportation for the meal in the evening had left. So I missed the epilepsy meeting and the AKC/CHF research update, as well as a very fine meal (so my roommate told me on her return). I also had to leave earlier than planned on Sunday so I missed the later sessions which included a talk about PRA, one about allergic skin disease and, in theory, a "master session" on cancer, but since it was all running very late even by the time I left, I'm not sure what was left in or out at the end. My "roomy" was a very nice (but rather talkative, even by my standards!) woman from the Newfy club and hailed from California. The program included the following presentations that I was able to attend (I have marked the most interesting ones by red print for those who don't have the time to read all the masses of information I shall impart, at least initially!):

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1) Development & Application of Tools & Approaches for Genetic Mapping of Disease Genes in Dogs

A very scientific presentation on the canine genetic maps and their development using 3 kinds of information: microsatellite markers, EST's (Expressed Sequence Tags), and BAC's (Bacterial Artificial Chromosomes) and their various uses & applications. Cone degeneration in Malamutes was used as an example of how using the various technologies available for gene mapping and also making use of the human genome, one can locate & map similar genes in dogs. You will (of course!) all be delighted to hear that day blindness (cone degeneration) in Malamutes is caused by the same gene that causes human achromotopsia (ACHM = day blindness) which is also recessive and very rare except in Pingela! Apparently in man there are three forms of ACHM (1, 2 & 3) and in the Pingelese ACHM 3 affects about 10% of the population!! In any case, the gene in Malamutes is on canine chromosome 29, if anyone is interested. This fascinating part of the presentation was followed by a discussion of the use of SNP's (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) to map the genes/chromosomes for each breed and there was a call for help with this part of the research. They would like samples of DNA (blood samples) from 2 dogs of each breed who MUST NOT share grandparents, and MUST be representative of the breed as a whole. Further details of what this group is doing and the canine genome project are on their website ( . The following are the active grants awarded to these researchers by AKC's CHF:

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Active Grant No. 1808: An Integrated Linkage and Radiation Hybrid Map of the Dog

Elaine Ostrander, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Francis Galibert, PhD, Faculté de Medecine, Rennes, France

Sponsor: Ralston Purina Company

Abstract: Genome maps or organisms are essential for locating and identifying genes that cause inherited disease. They consist of a series of markers, positioned along each chromosome, which act as reference points or address labels for different regions of the genome. Currently, the canine map is composed of about 400 such markers, which, in principal, provides "addresses" for about 75 percent of the genome. This early version of the map has proven useful for identifying the general location of disease genes in several breeds of dog. But a much more highly refined map is necessary if we are to have the ability to actually identify disease genes (not just their location) and to develop highly reproducible genetic tests for canine diseases. In addition, the current version of the map allows us to navigate around the genome only in relatively outbred pedigrees of dog. Many disease genes of interest are found in pedigrees or breeds where a limited gene pool has forced significant levels of inbreeding. A much higher resolution map with many additional markers is necessary to map disease genes within inbred families. This proposal aims to identify numerous additional markers and place them on the canine genome map. In addition, it aims to map many more genes on the map. Finally, it will link the evolving canine map to the better-developed maps of the human and mouse genomes. The resulting map will be useful for the identification of disease genes in all breeds of dog, and should allow canine geneticists to increase the rate at which they identify genes responsible for inherited diseases in the dog.

Active Grant No. 2003: Anchoring the Canine Map Through BAC Mapping

Elaine A. Ostrander, PhD; Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Sponsor: Newfoundland Club of America Charitable Trust

Abstract: Genome maps are essential in identifying genes that cause inherited disease. They consist of a series of markers, positioned along each chromosome, which act as reference points for navigating different regions of the genome. Currently, the canine map is composed of about several hundred such markers, which provide "addresses" for over 90 percent of the genome. This early version of the map has proven useful for identifying the general location of several disease genes. But a much more highly refined map is necessary if we are to actually clone disease genes of interest (not just identify their location) and, subsequently, develop highly reproducible genetic tests. This proposal aims to characterize several hundred random clones, each containing a small portion of the canine genome, and then mapping them on the existing map relative to the markers and genes already in place. These clones, called BACs, will serve as "entry points" along the canine genome. Once a region of the genome is identified where a disease gene lies, the BAC clones will serve as starting points for investigators to genetically "walk" up and down the region and eventually clone the gene of interest. The work done as a result of this proposal is not breed specific, rather it will benefit all breeds of dogs equally.

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2) Companion Animal Recovery

AKC's microchipping & recovery scheme. Pay them the money & they'll keep a database of your animals' details should they get lost.

3) Canine Autoimmune Disease

Another very technical presentation on the various different so-called "Major Histocompatability Complex" (MHC) genes and their potential influence on susceptibility to autoimmunity. Essentially there are breeds that seem to be predisposed to autoimmune disease and others which seem to be more resistant, and there may be a link to the specific alleles (variable forms of genes) of the Class II MHC genes, of which there are 4 main types & multiple alleles of each type (e.g. the gene DRB1 has about 70 alleles!!), that the different breeds express.

4) Managing Food Hypersensitivity with Hydrolyzed Protein Diets

Basically a sales pitch for Ralston Purina's new "hypoallergenic" diet with some science thrown in to make it look better.

5) Canine Health Information Center (CHIC): Pilot program and next steps

This was actually quite an interesting presentation despite its "sales pitch" aspects. It was given by 4 different people who all talked about their various involvements with the project, two from OFA and two from CHF. This AKC CHF/OFA initiative being run by OFA & CHF rather than directly by AKC (but I have some difficulties working out where the lines are drawn, I must confess!!). OFA are responsible for the "infrastructure and documentation" of the project whilst CHF & OFA jointly will be "communicating and listening" to the breed clubs, evaluating and approving the test criteria and protocols, identifying research projects which may benefit from the data within CHIC and educating the community about CHIC. They emphasized repeatedly that co-operation and collaboration with breed clubs is what this was all about. I have copied the "presentation summary" below with some additional notes and if you want further info their website is:

Currently (as of October 19th 2001) they have 7 breeds included with a wide variation in no.s of dogs included (e.g. Lab's have 5,205 dogs' results included from OFA (HD & ED) and CERF, whilst Basenji have 1! Four more breeds were being considered for inclusion.

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  • Mission
    • To provide a source of health information for owners, breeders and scientists that will assist in breeding healthy dogs.
  • Goals
    • To work with parent clubs in the identification of health issues for which a central information system (read database) should be established.
    • To establish and maintain a central health information system in a form and manner that will support research into canine diseases and provide health information to owners and breeders.
    • To establish scientifically valid diagnostic criteria for the acceptance of information into the database.
    • To base the availability of information on individually identified dogs at the consent of the owner.
  • Operating Guidelines
    • Parent Clubs - the active involvement of parent breed clubs in the identification and of breed-specific health issues in a central information system is essential to the success of CHIC
    • Data - the data entered and maintained in CHIC must be accessible and useful for authorized scientific research into canine diseases and must be maintained in a format that makes such information available to interested breeders and owners.
      The availability of information on individually identified dogs in CHIC will be subject to the consent of the owner
    • Test Acceptance - there must be scientifically valid diagnostic criteria and procedures established in advance for the acceptance of information about any disease into the CHIC database
    • Identification - there will be a requirement for permanent identification of each dog from whom data is to be entered into CHIC (microchip, DNA &/or tattoo)
    • DNA Storage - CHIC, once established, will offer DNA storage services for families of dogs with specific diseases
  • How CHIC can benefit you & your breed?
    • Breeding information - information for breeders (central data storage provides breeders with a reliable source of information about a dog they may be planning on using in their breeding program, they emphasized the "one-stop shopping" benefits of having a central database with all relevant health clearances/results related to the individual breeds).
    • Buyer's information - information for new owners (breeders can provide copies of CHIC records for new puppy owners and other breeders or refer them to the CHIC database for accurate information about the results of their health testing).
    • Research information - for parent clubs (can access CHIC data on their breed to help determine health research priorities and evaluate the participation and effectiveness of testing programs and incentives they have established and they stressed that it would be FREE for breed clubs to access the info); for breed research (scientists can get accurate information on multiple generations of dogs in order to conduct research that can benefit breeds and eliminate genetic disease, CHIC database can serve as a resource for these scientists); for all breed research (as CHIC database becomes more complete (?? Not sure complete is the right word but as more information is gathered) researchers will be able to utilize the information for epidemiological studies that will enhance our knowledge of health issues affecting all breeds of dogs).
  • How to participate:
    • Call CHF or OFA for an application form!!
    • The following steps must then be completed:
      • Each parent club should have a health committee and a health committee chairman that conducts a survey of breed health issues and recommends health research priorities among other breed activities
      • The health committee should work with the club (breed club) to determine what health tests should be conducted for each breed. Things to consider when recommending testing include:
        1. What tests are currently being used by breeders
        2. What tests are available for significant breed health problems
        3. At what age are these tests appropriate and reliable
        4. It is usually better to start with the basics
        5. CERF testing should be considered for all breeds to prevent the spread of eye disease
      • The parent club should provide specific recommendations to CHIC for testing in their breed. This recommendation should include the minimum age at which the test is appropriate. Also, as in the case of some tests, what test interval is appropriate?
        E.g. Rottweiler:

        Hip Dysplasia Test OFA (>24 months), GDC (>24 months), or PennHip

        Elbow Dysplasia Test OFA (>24 months), GDC (>24 months), or PennHip

        Cardiac Exam OFA (>12 months)

        Eye Exam CERF (annual exam)
      • Application forms are to be sent to CHF or OFA and the application will be reviewed by the CHIC board
      • The breed club will be contacted within 30 days to discuss the timetable for inclusion into the database
    • In general the CHIC database operates on the principle of owner choice in terms of the release of information about an individual dog. A club may request an open database but all owners must sign a release for the information about their dog.
    • Owners have a choice of what information they will release about their dog
    • Dogs that are known to be positive for a disease, or test as affected for a genetic disease, with the owners' permission will be listed at no charge.
    • For breeds not included, they "encouraged" us to work with the breed club to develop recommendations stating that all OFA & CERF results are currently being inserted into the database, even as we speak, free of charge!!
    • Test reports are available for all tests taken for individual dogs even if the breed club has not applied to be included. OFA & CERF results are included FREE; results from other registries have a ONE TIME fee of $25 per dog (i.e. not per registry as far as I understood it), however if the dog is affected or a carrier there is NO FEE for inclusion (quite what happens if one has entered the dog at a $25 fee for, say, one DNA test that is clear but subsequently has another test performed which shows the dog to be a carrier or affected, they didn't say - no mention of refunds was made!).
    • A CHIC number and CHIC report will be provided to dogs who fulfill the following criteria:
      1. All results identified by the parent club are included
      2. Dog receives a "normal" result for every one OR
      3. Dog receives an "affected" or "carrier" evaluation and the owner has signed the release form so that it is in the public domain.
    • The breed club may add optional tests to the list that can be included on the report but these are not required for the issuance of a CHIC no. or report.

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6) Restoration of vision by gene therapy in the rpe65 mutant dog

This was an interesting presentation on some research at Cornell where a gene was injected in the eye to restore vision in dogs with a recessively inherited congenital night blindness. Injection of the active/normal gene into the eye resulted in some restoration of night vision in the dogs, thereby heralding the onset of new treatments for genetic diseases in dogs (and indeed humans) by supplying the patient with the correcting/active gene (so-called gene-therapy).

7) Ground Zero: Search and Rescue

A presentation by one of the veterinarians at ground zero who was working with the search and rescue dogs there. For more information, see the web page:

8) Epilepsy

A talk about epilepsy which covered the clinical signs, incidence levels in different breeds, modes of inheritance in different breeds that have been established (kind of), and hereditability calculations. There were two main messages:

  • It is likely that 100's of genes will eventually be detected that cause epilepsy
  • The condition may be monogenic or polygenic (and there is some discussion about the role of mitochondrial DNA in the male predisposition!) i.e. no single mode of inheritance in all breeds.

Further information on canine epilepsy can be found at:

9) Genetic Disease of the Reproductive system

This was something of a misnomer. The veterinarian giving the presentation gave a clear and concise overview of female reproductive abnormalities. One fact that I found quite interesting was that singleton females in large litters of males "frequently have reproductive problems as a result of the excessive exposure in the uterus to the influences of the male siblings". So, there you are.

10) American Kennel club 9/11/01

A talk by Alfred Cheauré on the impact of 9/11 at AKC and what AKC did in response.

11) Breaking new frontiers with sled dogs

This presentation was given by a veterinarian working for Ralston Purina and based in Alaska with a large kennel of Alaskan Huskies. It was also something of a misnomer, since the talk was about the nutrition of hard working dogs and didn't actually contain anything new (I subsequently learned that his presentation was also based on work done with another food manufacturer, most of which had already been published, explaining why it was nothing new!). The take home message was (as we all know!) that dogs need optimal levels of good quality protein and decent levels of good quality fat (dogs use fat as their main energy source, not carbohydrates, so low fat diets for dogs are not a good thing) for optimal performance.

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12) Canine vaccination today

This presentation was given by a veterinarian, who went through all the various vaccines available for dogs (16 currently available and 11 more are in development!) and distinguished between those that are "core" vaccines and those that were "optional". Core vaccines included parvo, distemper, hepatitis and rabies, whilst optional vaccines included leptospirosis, Lyme disease, parainfluenza and several others. Core vaccines were said to be essential for puppies and young dogs and the "optional" vaccines may or may not be important depending on the area in which you live & the risks of contracting the disease and it's likely effect on the dog's health if it did (some, like the coronavirus vaccine, were considered unlikely to be of any real benefit to any dogs). He briefly touched on vaccination schedules and duration of immunity - basically he said that one needs to vaccinate puppies and young dogs. As the dogs get older they become less susceptible to some diseases and there was some discussion about boosters being required every year, every other year or every three years for some vaccines. Research was/is required as no one had done much work on the duration of immunity and whether vaccine antibody titres could be accurately transposed to predicting actual levels of protection.

The AKC CHF are sponsoring research on the duration and extent of core vaccine immunity, which is now in its third year. Details of the grant can be found on the CHF site at

Grant No. 1604. Antibody Response and Duration of Immunity in Dogs Vaccinated with Attenuated Canine Distemper Virus, Canine Adenovirus Type 2 and Canine Parvovirus Vaccines from Commercial Sources.

13) Update on hip dysplasia and a new treatment for canine cancer

An M.D. from the University of Michigan gave this talk, which briefly touched on HD and then went into some detail, and at some length, on the use of lowering copper levels with tetrathiomolybdate for the treatment of cancer (low copper restricts blood vessel growth).

As far as HD was concerned, he talked about the efforts going into trying to determine the genetics of the condition. At the moment the mode of inheritance is not known. What they do know is that the distribution in the population is not compatible with a single gene effect, BUT it is also not "hopelessly" polygenic (i.e. more than 10 genes involved). They think it may, possibly be monogenic (i.e. a single gene) in some individual breeds but they really don't know!

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14) Breeding strategies for the management of genetic disorders

This was a very interesting talk given by Jerrold Bell DVM, who has also written several articles published in the AKC Gazette (and the latest AMCA Newsletter) about breeding dogs.

The take-home messages were:

  1. Primary goal of dog breeding is to maintain/enhance the quality of the breed
  2. Secondary goals
    - do not produce affected/ill dogs
    - decrease the incidence of carriers

For the genetic disorders:

  • Look at the confidence levels of the gene marker tests (usually around 80-90%)
  • To help check the confidence levels of gene markers, you need to look at the parents and grandparents (i.e. have their test results available)
  • For direct gene tests, only need to have the results of the actual dog
  • For phenotypic (i.e. what you, or a specialist, can SEE) or gene linkage tests or where there is no test for the carrier status, you need to have a knowledge of the test results for as many relatives as possible to estimate the relative risk.

Jerrold went into quite a bit of detail about width and depth of pedigrees and gave specific advice on breeding strategies based on the availability of tests and the mode of inheritance. He emphasized heavily the fact that genetic disease was NOT a stigma, and that OPEN health registries were of paramount importance so that as much information was available to as many people as possible, to enable them to make informed choices. Without open registries, breeders cannot easily assess the depth (i.e. how many generations back) or breadth (i.e. how many littermates) of the pedigree and, therefore, the information behind their dogs. For polygenic traits (or those with unknown modes of inheritance), the breadth of the pedigree is of equal, if not greater, importance than the depth (i.e. as many of the litter as possible should be screened, not just breeding stock) to get an idea of how likely any given animal is to pass on some of the responsible genes).

Each breeder needs to assess their own breeding stock and assess their own rate of progress. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water!

Finally he summarized by saying that a good breeding program:

  • Does not continually multiply carriers
  • Replaces breeding stock with quality, healthy stock

I can talk for hours on this subject and he did promise that the presentation would be published in the AKC Gazette in the near future so I'll leave it at that.

15) The purina parent club partnership program (ppcp)

At some point during the weekend (I forget exactly when, since it was not a "scheduled" presentation) someone from Ralston Purina presented their wonderful and magnificent Breeder's Club and then went on to explain how the breed clubs could get money from RP for every one of their members who became a member of the Breeder's Club. Basically, the breed club had to hand over its membership list to RP who would then check off all its Breeder Club members against the membership list and give x dollars to the breed club (related to the amount of dog food the members bought) for health research. At least 50% of the money had to go to CHF recognized health research (to a so-called Donor Advised Fund with CHF) & the other up-to-50% could be used for rescue or educational programs. The information on the program should have been sent to the parent clubs by the end of December and enrolment of breed clubs for participation is from 1st December 2001 through 31st March 2002. Of course, they also want the breed clubs to "encourage" their members to feed Purina (preferably exclusively) & join the Breeder's Club, to maximize the money they get (all highly dubious if you ask me, but then I have always had problems with these kinds of marketing strategies) and they promised they will only use the membership lists for their own purposes (whatever those might be!!).

the end!

If anyone wants further information, or has any questions, just give me a call or (preferably) e-mail me at:

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