Extreme conformation - How vets can play their part

Posted on October 23, 2018 by Hayley Atkin

It goes without saying that this year BVA’s #BreedtoBreathe campaign has taken centre stage. Given the population-based rise in ill-health that we are seeing in brachycephalic dogs, we’ve been working hard to raise awareness about their conformation-related health issues and to empower vets and other stakeholders to influence a reduction in the negative health and welfare impacts of brachycephaly.

However, we know that the issue of extreme conformation does not just affect brachycephalic breeds or just companion animals. Far from it.

Not just companion animals

It’s with this in mind that BVA has developed its position on extreme conformation. We want to provide the veterinary profession and other stakeholders with overarching principles that can be applied across species to reduce the negative health and welfare impacts of extreme conformation and achieve healthier future generations of animals.

In drafting the position, we worked closely with our species divisions to draw out examples and recommendations across sectors, both companion and farm animal. As you would expect, the position draws on example from the feline and canine world, but also reaches further, covering ornamental bubble-eyed fish, rabbits, ‘silk back’ inland bearded dragons, ‘cartoon’ arabian colts and poultry.

So, how can vets play their part in day-to-day practice?

Here’s how we think vets across practice areas can work towards reducing extreme conformation across species:

  • Where available, participate in reporting schemes regarding surgery to correct health and welfare problems relating to conformation
  • Advise owners and keepers not to breed from companion or production animals that have required a caesarean section as a result of extreme conformation
  • In companion animals, encourage neutering to prevent the perpetuation of extremes of conformation
  • Support breeders to make informed decisions as to whether certain animals can be responsibly bred to confer healthy conformational traits
  • Offer pre-purchase consultations to prospective owners to ensure informed choice regarding the health and welfare problems associated with certain breed types
  • Avoid the use of images or videos of animals with extreme conformation in practice advertising and marketing materials

Veterinary profession as advocates, striving for welfare improvements

We wanted to use the position to highlight the crucial role of the veterinary profession in preventing, reporting and treating extreme conformation across species. These actions are cross cutting in both companion and farm animal practice, from reporting caesarean operations on Kennel Club registered dogs in companion animals, to monitoring abattoir and FSA reports to identify the health and welfare impacts resulting in extreme conformation in livestock. Vet are also well placed to support breeders to make responsible breeding decisions and ensure prospective owners and keepers are making informed decisions about the health and welfare of the animals they are purchasing.

BVA and other veterinary associations also have a role to play in supporting their memberships to take action on these issues by developing resources and guidance, producing targeted and consistent communications and facilitating collaborative working across stakeholders where there is a particular concern for a species or breed type affected by extreme conformation.

Collaboration is key

Fundamentally, society as a whole, including the veterinary profession and other key stakeholders such as owners, breeders, registering bodies and show judges, have a social and moral responsibility to work collaboratively to tackle the issue of extreme conformation across sectors. We hope BVA’s position on extreme conformations sets out some helpful overarching principles to enable these key players to strive for healthier future generations of animals together.

Hayley Atkin

Written by Hayley Atkin

BVA Policy Officer

Hayley provides the secretariat to BVA Scottish Branch and works with BVA members to develop evidence-based policy spanning companion animals, animal disease surveillance and farm assurance.