I write in response to David Tomlinson’s article, The Flatcoat’s
fatal flaw (Sporting dog, May issue). I am the Kennel Club breed health coordinator for the flatcoated retriever and find it disappointing that Mr Tomlinson did not contact me regarding health information for his article. Sadly, the health status of the breed has been misrepresented and there are a number of points I feel warrant further clarification.
Unfortunately, most breeds will be predisposed to certain inherited conditions, the
flatcoated retriever is not alone in this. However, in recent years we have seen evidence that the health and longevity of the breed has improved. The health study referred to in the article has been misquoted and to suggest that “half of all flatcoated retrievers will have contracted cancer by the age of eight” is incorrect; the study by Dr Dobson involved a cohort of 174 dogs and was conducted over 12 years; less than half (42%) died from confirmed tumours, at an average age of nine years; 35% of dogs died of non-tumour causes at an average age of 12 years. In addition, the 2014 Kennel Club Pedigree Breed Health Survey demonstrated an increased median longevity at 10 years.
Much work has been carried out by Dr Jane Dobson at Cambridge Veterinary School with regard to investigating histiocytic sarcoma (localised and disseminated), which is a type of tumour more frequently seen in the flatcoated retriever (malignant histiocytosis is now not the currently used terminology). Reports of this research can be viewed on the health pages of the Flatcoated Retriever Society website, including links to the Cambridge Cause of Death Register.
The article cites glaucoma and epilepsy as conditions that affect the flatcoated retriever. In my experience, these conditions are rarely reported in this breed. Primary closed-angle glaucoma is associated with an abnormality within the eye called goniodysgenesis, which is thought to be an inherited condition and, as such, the flatcoated retriever is currently certified for goniodysgenesis under the BVA/KC Eye Scheme
(it is important to note that not all dogs affected for goniodysgenesis will go on to develop glaucoma). Careful screening of dogs used in breeding programmes has resulted in excellent eye results for the breed. Eye conditions such as hereditary cataract and progressive retinal atrophy are not often diagnosed. In the past 15 years, 3,385 flatcoated retrievers were screened for goniodysgenesis and only 169 were found to be affected.
The flatcoated retriever has unique qualities and many owners and breeders are committed to maintaining the breed’s health and dual-purpose attributes. The suggestion that outcrossing to the labrador will “eradicate cancer genes” is, in my opinion, misguided.
Not only would the breedspecific qualities be lost, there are unlikely to be any lines in other breeds that are free from inherited disease.
For more about flatcoated retriever breed health initiatives visit the Flatcoated Retriever Society website (www.flatcoatedretriever-society.org/health). Liz Branscombe DIPAVN (Surgical) RVN, Kennel Club Breed Health Coordinator for the Flatcoated Retriever, by email