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How to choose the right companion dog

Genetic Health Problems in Companion Animals
Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) focus is on Science in the Service of Animal Welfare. The UFAW website aims to help reduce the severity and incidence of breed-related welfare problems in companion animals by providing information for prospective pet owners, breeders and others.
The idea is that if you are thinking of buying a dog or any other companion animal of a particular strain or breed, you will be able to find information on what inherited welfare problems may occur, and what checks you may need to make with breeders or suppliers in order to avoid buying affected or carrier animals and, in so doing, unintentionally perpetuating the problem.
What is the problem?
The problem of health issues related to unsuitable breeding was listed as the top welfare concern of vets & vet nurses in PDSA’s Animal Wellbeing Report 2011
Many genetic diseases occur in companion animals (eg see Lindblad-Toh et al 2005). Some of these diseases arose due to random mutations that became established in some breeds, but in other cases, adverse welfare impacts have arisen as direct consequences of the features being selected for. So, respiratory difficulties occur in some breeds because of selection for shortened noses, and others are predisposed to bacterial skin infections as a result of breeding for excess, deeply folded skin.


Although efforts by responsible breeders, veterinarians and geneticists to try to tackle some of these diseases are gathering momentum, it is surprising that there has been rather little concern about these matters until very recently in view of their very significant welfare impact. The idea for this website was stimulated by the CAWC Report on ‘Breeding and Welfare in Companion Animals’ (CAWC, 2006).
Why genetic welfare problems?
Tackling genetic welfare problems requires the concerted efforts of breeders, geneticists, vets, pet owners and others. A team approach is needed and the particular role of this website is to provide information on the welfare aspects of genetic diseases and conditions – to explain what they are and why they cause pain or discomfort. 
Shar-Pei gets facelift to save eyesight because his skinfolds had overdeveloped
and were covering his eyes & ears so badly he was becoming both blind & deaf.

UFAW believes this is a key component of efforts to tackle these problems but there are other crucial aspects also and others are currently working on these. Some of the main initiatives in the UK are listed below:
  • Independent Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding ( is working to develop coordinated strategies to tackle priority diseases.
  • Inherited Diseases in Dogs website ( contains a guide to diseases/conditions of pure-bred dogs which are likely to be transmitted wholly or partly through a genetic mechanism.
  • Scientists, for example, at the Animal Health Trust, are working to identify the genes involved and to develop tests so that carrier animals can be detected (
  • British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF) and the RSPCA have developed a ‘puppy contract’ scheme so that prospective puppy buyers are given information relevant to genetic health before making a purchase (
  • British Veterinary Association works with the Kennel Club to develop screening tests for genetic diseases/conditions based on clinical findings (eg aimed at tackling hip dysplasia in various breeds and syringomyelia in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (;
  • Kennel Club funds and promotes research into tackling genetic diseases in dogs and works to develop strategies to tackle them ( Under its umbrella, many of the specific breed clubs have genetic health schemes.
  • Dog Breed Health website is a user-friendly source of information, providing advice for prospective puppy buyers on what diseases can occur and how to avoid them ( 
  • Searchable on-line database on genetic (DNA) tests available for canine hereditary diseases which provides contact details of laboratories that provide these tests at:

I wish to buy a pet – what can I do?
Prospective pet owners have a very important role to play in helping to eradicate genetic diseases and poor welfare traits. If people only bought animals from problem free breeds or lines, the disease-prone lines would be replaced by their healthier cousins.

For 10,000 years the selective breeding of dogs has been focused on aspects of performance, behaviour or appearance. This approach characterises the breeding of many other species of companion animals as well. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many genetic diseases. It is now time for priority to be given to breeding for the animals’ welfare. To drive this change, prospective pet owners, and breeders need information on the welfare consequences of these diseases. 

This website includes information not just about the physical effects of genetic diseases but also assessments of their effects on the animal’s quality of life, for example through causing pain or discomfort, to inform prospective pet owners’ choice of their new pet. 

To learn more visit UFAW’s webpage on Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals –

UFAW’s Aim

The aim of this project is to describe genetic conditions affecting companion animals and to explain their welfare consequences – their impacts on the animals’ quality of life – as clearly as possible. It is an information resource for prospective pet owners. For example:
Select a condition:

Dr John Bradshaw and Dr David Sargan discuss the problems 
genetic disorders can cause in dogs,and how they can be prevented.