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Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals

An information resource for prospective pet owners



Quick Links

What is this site about?

UFAW has started this website 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, cat, rabbit or any other 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 and vet nurses in the PDSA's Animal Wellbeing Report 2011: www.pdsa.org.uk/pawreport

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 (CAWC 2006). 'The idea for this website was stimulated by the CAWC Report on Breeding and Welfare in Companion Animals (CAWC, 2006).

What is the particular role of this website among other efforts being made to tackle 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. 

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. As is apparent from the information at this website, these efforts are by no means limited to the UK – research is being undertaken, and breeding strategies developed to tackle these diseases in many countries. Here we list some UK organisations only so as to provide a brief overview of the shape of part of one nation's 'team' as an example. Many individuals and organisations are involved – a complete list would be far too extensive to present here.

The Independent Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding (http://dogadvisorycouncil.org.uk/) is working to develop coordinated strategies to tackle priority diseases.

The Inherited Diseases in Dogs website (http://www.vet.cam.ac.uk/idid/) 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 (http://www.aht.org.uk/cms-display/genetics.html).

The 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 (http://puppycontract.rspca.org.uk/home).

The 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 (http://www.bva.co.uk/atoz/1392.aspxhttp://www.bva.co.uk/news/2742.aspx)

The Kennel Club funds and promotes research into tackling genetic diseases in dogs and works to develop strategies to tackle them (http://www.doggenetichealth.org/). Under its umbrella, many of the specific breed clubs have genetic health schemes.

The 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 (http://www.dogbreedhealth.com/). 

There is searchable on-line database on genetic (DNA) tests available for canine and feline hereditary diseases and 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. 

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.

Would you like to help us to develop this site?

Collecting and collating information for this website is a very large task but we have begun to make a start with this, and hope that the initiative will gather pace. We are keen to develop the site to cover a wide range of disease conditions and species, and to better present the information, and in a more user friendy way, by including illustrations and cross-links.

We are seeking funds to develop the site in these ways and would be pleased to discuss this with anyone who may be able to assist. Alternatively, if you would like to volunteer to collect information on a particular condition or breed for example, click here for details

The information contained in this site is provide by UFAW in good faith as being accurate. However, should you be aware of any inaccuracies or further information that you think might be valuable please let us know (ufaw@ufaw.org.uk).


We are most grateful to all those who have helped in collecting information for, and with drafting, this site, and for comments on it, including David Godfrey, Rosie Godfrey, Emma Buckland, David Brodbelt, Dan O’Neill, Carol Fowler, Hazel Bentall, Alex German, Lord Soulsby, Emma Goodman Milne, Claire Rusbridge, James Yeates, Sean Wensley, Sandra Webber, Daniel Mills and all those acknowledged at the description of each condition.


Companion Animal Welfare Council (2006) Welfare Aspects of Modifications, through Selective Breeding or Biotechnological Methods, to the Form, Function, or Behaviour of Companion Animals. CAWC. www.cawc.org.uk.

Lindblad-Toh K, Wade CM, Mikkelsen TS et al (2005) Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog. Nature 438: 803- 819.

Credits for photos above:

Cats http://depositphotos.com/43835139/stock-photo-black-and-white-cat-sitting-in-green-grass.html?sst=60&sqc=93&sqm=428&sq=3pazax ©Depositphotos.com/sjallenphoto

Rabbits http://depositphotos.com/7611819/stock-photo-bunny-rabbit.html?sst=0&sqc=10&sqm=502&sq=3pazpd ©Depositphotos.com/elenathewise

Horses http://depositphotos.com/9901626/stock-photo-two-horses-in-a-field-in-spring.html?sst=180&sqc=237&sqm=5924&sq=3pb0e3 ©Depositphotos.com/bobbigmac

Guinea pigs http://depositphotos.com/3291352/stock-photo-cavy-in-a-grass.html?sst=0&sqc=49&sqm=62&sq=3pb3bp ©Depositphotos.com/voronin-76

Birds http://depositphotos.com/47837219/stock-photo-fancy-pigeon.html?sst=0&sqc=4&sqm=49&sq=3pb50b ©Depositphotos.com/hlavkom

Fish http://depositphotos.com/1283788/stock-photo-goldfish-in-aquarium.html ©Depositphotos.com/Lenorlux