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CHS month: What exactly is the BVA KC ISDS Eye Examination Scheme?

07 Jan 2019 | Peter Bedford


To ensure that your dog has healthy eyes, particularly for breeding purposes, a routine examination for the presence of inherited problems is necessary - but what exactly does that entail?

Well it's precisely that, a national scheme organised through the British Veterinary Association, the Kennel Club and the International Sheepdog Society to promote the breeding of dogs that are free from inherited disease of the eye and eyelids. It’s been running for some 50 years and started when several of our breeds suffered blindness caused by a number of inherited diseases of the retina, collectively referred to as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), the PRA that many breeders recognise and has been responsible for the loss of several breeding lines.

Since then the scheme has expanded to cover all the inherited diseases of the eye and now includes focus on the conformational abnormalities of the eyelids. Many will be familiar with the terms “entropion” and “ectropion”, sadly defects which have been selected for in the production of some of our most celebrated breeds.

Sadly, because breeding for a desired appearance can result in severe corneal disease characterised by inflammation and ulceration. And for “severe” read pain and blindness. Thus, the scheme exists to help our breeders select only healthy stock from which to ensure that future generations of dogs are free from these wretched problems.

My interest in the eye

My interest in the eye started as a student too many years ago to remember and I`ve worked with several breed societies during the last 40 years to help concerned breeders control some of the many diseases that we know to be inherited. Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) was my introduction into this work and although this disease still exists in our Collie breeds, large scale testing sessions and the development of a DNA based test have resulted in a considerable reduction in its incidence.

This is also the case with several types of PRA, diseases of the lens and of recent times the control and possible eradication of glaucoma has become a reality. Disease control inevitably involves heartache for the owners of affected and predisposed dogs but the reward is healthy future generations.

Routine clinical eye examination through the BVA/KC/ISDS Scheme

Routine clinical eye examination through the BVA/KC/ISDS Scheme has played a major part in the successes so far achieved, but with only some 20,000 dogs examined annually more could be done. More and more genetic tests are being developed and in combination with routine clinical examinations we are in a good position currently to combat inherited eye disease very efficiently.

Moreover, part of the Kennel Club` s registration system requires that the necessary examinations for these diseases are completed and this is an excellent development. Currently there is a high level of disease awareness amongst breeders, significantly through breed society involvement in organised testing sessions and if one were to highlight one such activity it would be the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel societies` very comprehensive routine testing programme.

So, what does an eye examination entail?

The current panel of veterinary ophthalmologists who are qualified to do this work for the scheme has 38 members scattered throughout the British Isles. Dogs can either be examined individually in certain veterinary practices or in group sessions organized by breed societies. Your veterinary surgeon can help you find an ophthalmologist and the BVA website lists all the sessions, with contact numbers provided.

Only microchipped dogs can be examined for certification and you need to take the dog`s KC certificate of registration along with you (if your dog is Kennel Club registered, the scheme is open to all dogs).

For the routine basic examination drops are used to dilate the pupils and for glaucoma examination a local anesthetic drop is used. The result and certificate describing the details of the eye examination are given at the time and the panelist will discuss the meaning of the result with you, should that be necessary. An appeal system is available should you wish to challenge the result. Any breed can be examined, but there are currently 62 breeds with known inherited eye problems and another 47 being investigated for possible disease.

Disease control is a breeder responsibility

Disease control is a breeder responsibility and I personally know that routine eye testing is very effective – just ask the owner of a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen now that a DNA test has been developed for a type of glaucoma on the basis of some 300 dogs examined through the Club`s organized testing sessions. Glaucoma is a blinding condition and once established successful treatment is not possible, but testing has resulted in the selection of normal dogs for breeding and early treatment to slow down the blinding process.

So, it should come as no surprise that I believe that your dog and any offspring it may produce should enjoy normal eyesight throughout their lives and that a simple inexpensive routine test for inherited disease under the BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Examination Scheme is a requirement for responsible ownership. And always remember that your dog is part of a breed and its problem may reflect on the wellbeing of the rest of the breed.


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