Each year the Breed Health Co-ordinator, Professor Steve Dean, publishes an annual report from the group. Please read on for the full 2019 Breed Health Report.
Breed Health Report 2019
Making progress in understanding breed health issues always takes longer than might be expected. The bedrock of effective solutions is provided through carefully commissioned research and yet despite all efforts, there will always be pitfalls in research plans that cause delay or produce results that seem to add to the complexity rather than providing greater clarity.
We are fortunate the genetic mutation for Spongiform-Leuco-Encephalo-Myelopathy (SLEM)/ Shaking Puppy Syndrome (SPS) was relatively quickly found, thanks to some sound investigative genetic groundwork in the USA, followed by some co-operation with several puppy owners in the UK and the Animal Health Trust (AHT) allowing samples from affected pups to be used to confirm the research findings and help complete the testing arrangements. A few years on and we now have experience of use with no surprises in the test results. Therefore, we can be confident this solution is accurate and effective.
Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS)
One aspect that helped the research on SLEM was the typical clinical presentation with fairly minimal variation. This produced a high level of diagnostic accuracy which is a helpful starting point prior to developing a research plan. Samples from cases with a high degree of diagnostic identity enables robust research.
Genetic research worked well for SLEM. However, the same approach is not possible with CECS. This is an illness with highly variable symptoms that may occur in a variety of combinations. This makes diagnosis challenging and analysis of suspected clinical cases subject to error.
Clinical research thus far has been focused on efforts to characterise the symptoms to produce a verifiable diagnosis. The next step is the planned Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS), with the intent to identify potential candidate genes that may be associated with the symptoms of CECS.
The outcomes of this study will be determined by the accuracy of diagnosis of each case used. Thus the selection of cases and unaffected controls needs to be done carefully. It has taken some time to prepare the way for this work to start but the researchers are now seeking dogs with CECS to commence this work.
However, new clinical cases that have not had any remedial therapy are proving challenging to find. The suggested link with gluten in the diet has led many owners with suspected cases towards using a gluten free diet pre-emptively and this is confounding attempts to locate novel cases for the study. Therefore, any Border Terrier owners that believe their dog may be affected by CECS are encouraged to contact the research group prior to modifying their dog’s diet or attempting to treat the condition.
Gall Bladder Mucocoele (GBM)
A third condition has emerged over the past few years. Gall Bladder Mucocoele (GBM) is very different from either SLEM or CECS. It is not a neurological condition and it clinically affects the function of the gall bladder in the later years of life. The condition is fairly well characterised with typical symptoms and a confirmatory diagnosis can be obtained through ultrasound scanning. More information can be found on the Breed Health Website.
However, it is still not clear what factors lead up to a clinical case of GBM and the Border Terrier is not the only breed affected. The research team at Nottingham Vet School have informed the Health Group of some 2,000 responses to their call for clinical cases in our Breed. This is an astonishing number but at present we do not know how many of these cases will result in confirmed positive examples of the condition. Nevertheless this is a condition that appears to have emerged in significant numbers in a short period of time.
We can assume there will be genetic risk factors that make our breed susceptible to GBM but we are some way from any genetic research at this moment in time; first we need to understand the disease itself. Our objective is to identify the primary factors involved in the development of GBM, establish the possibility for developing a screening programme and facilitate research to identify genetic risk factors associated with the development of GBM. Ultimately we would like to provide breeders with advice on how to avoid producing dogs with a high risk of developing the illness.
Effects on Health and Welfare
All three conditions affect health and welfare in different ways. SLEM is an acute disease that seriously affects the survival of young pups. It is distressing for the pup and the owner and almost always ends in death. Thus a genetic solution was vital to provide the accurate test that is now being used by breeders to avoid producing clinically affected puppies.
CECS is a form of seizure that causes distress for affected dogs and their owners but generally is not life threatening. Furthermore, changes to diet to exclude gluten seem to reduce clinical symptoms significantly. Thus there is the possibility of therapy. The ideal outcome would be an available test that permits breeders to reduce or prevent the clinical condition in future generations.
GBM affects the older dog, producing life threatening and painful symptoms. The diagnosis is able to identify cases that are affected and possibly ultrasound scanning could be used to screen at risk dogs prior to overt clinical signs of the problem developing. The latter offers an opportunity to treat the condition medically and in cases where more acute symptoms are present there is a surgical option that has a high chance of producing a clinical cure. In short the illness is readily diagnosed and is treatable in the majority of cases.
The Border Terrier Breed Health Group has set a high priority on facilitating effective clinical and genetic research on CECS and GBM. We will keep a watching brief on progress with SLEM but at this moment in time the use of the test has met all expectations of controlling the clinical condition in puppies.
Several other conditions are under observation and these include various eye conditions, Cushing’s Disease, epilepsy and various forms of skin disease. However in most cases the available evidence suggests the Border Terrier has a similar prevalence of these conditions to other breeds of dog and therefore work in other breeds may well be informative about the condition in our breed as time progresses.
The Breed Health Survey continues to receive reports from Border Terrier owners (33 new electronic reports in 2019). Although these annual numbers are not as many as we might like, the results of analysis do help justify the work being done by the Health Group, alongside other published epidemiological evidence from groups such as the VetCompass project at the Royal Veterinary College.
Steve Dean BVetMed, MRCVS, DVR
Breed Health Coordinator
Border Terrier Owner Survey
You can help the Breed Health Group by completing their owner survey on your Border Terrier. Whether they are the picture of good health or have health issues, the more data the group are able to gather, the more they can provide a better picture of the health across the breed.