The Assured Breeder Scheme and the importance of health screening

Posted on January 29, 2019 by Nick Sutton

Since the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) launched fifteen years ago, its intention has been to keep canine health and welfare at its heart. Its original aim was to become the place to go for puppy buyers looking for responsible breeders. A decade and a half later, it has almost 5,000 breeder members producing around 18,500 puppies each year. The scheme is a project of passion and is constantly evolving to give increasing reassurances to puppy buyers that the breeders they deal with are trustworthy, conscientious and helpful, and that the puppies they buy have the best chance of being happy and healthy. We inspect all of our breeders, we require them to adhere to strict guidelines that prioritise welfare over profit and we ensure that our breeders health screen their dogs before using them for breeding.

The importance of health screening

From the outset, health screening has been a big part of the scheme. Each breed has its own list of specific health testing requirements and recommendations, including DNA tests, Breed Club health initiatives, and BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes. Compliance not only demonstrates to puppy buyers that our breeders have taken every step possible to ensure that their puppy is healthy, but it also aligns with our long-term goal of improving the health and welfare of dogs for generations to come.

The BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes – an integral part of the AB

Currently the ABS provides specific health screening requirements and recommendations for 136 breeds. The BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes, which first began in 1965 with the Hip Dysplasia Scheme, are of course an integral part of the ABS, with 90 breeds advising the use of the Eye Scheme, 87 breeds advocating the Hip Dysplasia Scheme, 20 breeds encouraging the use of the Elbow Dysplasia Scheme and one breed promoting the Chiari malformation/ Syringomyelia Scheme

The complicated nature of complex inherited disorders

Most of the conditions screened for by the BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes are complex inherited diseases, meaning that the way they are inherited is not straight forward and that factors such as diet, exercise etc. also contribute to how severely affected an individual can be. Due to the complex nature of these conditions it is difficult to quickly eradicate these issues from a breed. However, by making these health schemes a significant part of the ABS, it assists breeders in reducing the risk of producing puppies affected by these conditions and, over a period of time, reduces their overall prevalence in the breed.

Reviewing health guidelines

The health requirements and recommendations for each breed under the ABS are constantly evolving.  New DNA tests, newly published data, the latest research etc. all necessitate that our guidelines are constantly under review. Despite its importance, health screening can be expensive and time consuming and making all possible tests and screening schemes mandatory for each breed is unrealistic and unreasonable. For example, the Labrador alone has over 20 different DNA tests for known health conditions, many of which will be irrelevant to a large proportion of the breed. It is therefore important for us to be able to make both evidence based and experienced based decisions to prioritise those conditions that pose the greatest risk to each breed.

Collaboration is the key to establishing breed health priorities

To help us review and update our guidelines we are regularly guided by advice and information from breed clubs (who work tirelessly to collect and monitor data from health surveys and collaborative research), veterinary researchers, testing laboratories and our colleagues at BVA (who provide us with data and guidance on how breeds are affected by conditions examined under the health schemes). Our collaborative partnerships enable us to utilise the experience and data of others, ensuring that the ABS continues to prioritise relevant breed specific health issues and maintain our goal of keeping canine health and welfare at the forefront of the Scheme.

The positive impact of promoting health screening

By promoting our health requirements and recommendations, it allows us to normalise health testing (something which can sometimes have a stigma attached to it), it raises the standard for those breeders outside of the ABS who do not currently health screen their dogs and it also highlights important breed specific health issues to those thinking about buying a puppy. Our close working relationships with those most passionate about each breed, assist us in improving the ABS, which in turn enables puppy buyers to more easily find the healthiest of puppies and ensures that our breeders contribute towards making a healthier future for dogs.

Nick Sutton

Written by Nick Sutton

Science Communication Advisor at the Kennel Club

Nick is the Science Communication Advisor at the Kennel Club and currently develops health related initiatives and resources for puppy buyers, dog breeders and owners. Nick helped gain UKAS accreditation for the Assured Breeder Scheme and sits on the ABS subgroup.