Why Bother Running a Heart Testing Scheme for Irish Wolfhounds?

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Why Bother Running a Heart Testing Scheme for Irish Wolfhounds?

Dr Serena Brownlie,  Hugh Broadbent (Bonaforte Kennel), Professor Malcolm Cobb

Dr Serena Brownlie,  Hugh Broadbent (Bonaforte Kennel), Professor Malcolm Cobb

It seems that heart testing and also publishing heart testing results has been a very popular topic of discussion the past couple of weeks. Here at Bonaforte we carried out one of our 6 monthly heart testing sessions a week ago, which was a great a few days, although very tiring and we managed to test over 45 dogs with the help of Dr Serena Brownlie. We were also delighted to have some of the students from Nottingham Vet School visit us to help out, as well as Siobhan Simpson and Professor Malcolm Cobb. Many Wolfhound owners will have been contacted by the students as they have conducted telephone interviews to complete questionnaires for DNA swabbed dogs as part of the heart research project being carried out in conjunction with the University of Nottingham. It was the Nottingham Vet School researchers and the students themselves that expressed an interest in attending a heart testing session, not just for the invaluable experience it provided observing Serena testing so many dogs, but also most of the students had had very little, if any, hands-on experience with Wolfhounds - so we gave them the ‘Full Monty’ and they thoroughly enjoyed it!

Some people reading this will also have seen recent discussions on Facebook regarding the publishing of heart test results. It is a topic that is becoming more and more prominent and now appears to be driven by owners and breeders rather than Breed bodies? Throughout the online discussions and also in private conversations with others, it became evident that some members of the Irish Wolfhound community were well informed on all aspects of the issue, but a large proportion of those involved are not fully aware of all sides of the ‘publish/not publish’ question. Added to that, a chat with friends in another Breed, who are looking to start a heart screening programme of their own, threw up the fundamental question of:

Q. “Why bother running a heart testing scheme for any Breed, are there any advantages to doing it?”

A. The simple answer to this fundamental question is, YES!

Here are our thoughts on the whole topic of heart testing/screening from the varying points of view of those involved;

From the dog's point of view it is a health check, carried out by a professional/expert in the field and so it provides the owner with information about the state of that dog's heart health and if it is done through a testing scheme rather than a referral to a cardiologist, then this same check is done at a substantially reduced cost to the owner. If any issues are detected then early diagnosis and continued monitoring is far more beneficial than either not knowing about the problem or not discovering a condition until it is very advanced. By picking up even small anomalies early on the dog can be monitored and treated accordingly (sometimes no treatment is ever required).

From the owner's point of view they will have an accurate picture of their dog's heart health and will be given initial advice by the cardiologist and then be treated by their own general practice vet, with a possible private referral to a cardiologist for some in-depth investigations or a treatment plan. Often owners in the position will continue also to come along to routine screening scheme at the same time as being treated by a cardiologist. Screening cardiologists running the scheme cannot advise owners in an ongoing case and they are not a 'cheap referral' option, but they are generally happy to perform a standard 3 stage check and feed the results into their data.

From a breeder's point of view it is vital that breeding stock is routinely checked to detect and potential issues and, if necessary, remove those dogs from their breeding programme as heart disease is an inherited condition. This may be a temporary or permanent removal, depending upon the results of continued testing, but just because a dog tests equivocal (or even abnormal in some cases) does not mean that the dog can never be used for breeding. Often dogs with anomalies (which would be tested as 'Equivocal') will test 'Normal' on subsequent screening and for that reason the 'Equivocal' category should be thought of as 're-test' rather than a 'fail'. Breeders would never knowingly breed with unhealthy dogs, but if those dogs are not tested/screened then you cannot be certain that they are not unhealthy? Heart conditions such as DCM and AF have a strong mode of inheritance, in other words the problems are passed on from parents to their puppies, so routine heart testing reduces the chances of producing unhealthy puppies which will die prematurely. If breeders only test privately and the results are not 'known' to others then immediately breeders rely on the honesty and transparency of other breeders and owners to make informed choices about which dogs they use in their breeding programme. Initially there may not seem to be any problem with that arrangement and breeders will argue that they only use dogs that belong to people they trust, but unless the results are published in some way, there would be no other way of knowing if the dog had even been tested, let alone if the result was normal, equivocal or abnormal.

From a cardiologist's point of view there initially seems to be no major advantage, in fact it could be argued that a cardiologist is doing themselves and others out of some lucrative business? A standard 3 stage VCS heart test would cost around £400 at a cardiologist as a private referral and yet a cardiologist could charge 2.5 times that amount to do a day's testing and include 15 dogs; earning £1000 instead of £6000. So what is in it for the cardiologist? Cardiologists do not take part in Breed screening programmes in the hope of generating business for themselves in private referrals, but what they often will have is a genuine interest in the heart health of a Breed and the desire to investigate and research further to see if issues can be improved and dogs can be helped, with the ultimate aim being to possibly eliminate heart conditions all together. In other words, cardiologists are also academics and researchers and a heart screening programme will provide them with the data to analyse, although it may take several years, they cannot come up with answers to problems unless they have the data from a wide variety of dogs in the first place. In the case of Irish Wolfhounds we also have the assistance of the Nottingham Vet School and the aim is to identify the genetic markers responsible for DCM and AF and potentially produce a blood test to identify affected dogs.

So why is it important to 'publish' heart test results? The benefits of publishing results (all results preferably) for owners and breeders should be obvious? It enables both groups to make far more informed choices and also benefits the dogs concerned. Some breeders fear a negative response if a dog from their breeding programme is subsequently tested and discovered to have an issue, but in the case of Irish Wolfhounds we have found the opposite to be true. If the whole topic of heart disease and testing is discussed and the veil of secrecy is removed, then so is any potential blame culture. Nobody that participates in any aspect of heart testing does so as a 'witch hunt' and there will be no breeder that is unaffected by such an issue - we are all in this together; owners, breeders, cardiologists, academics, researchers. In Wolfhounds we have been staggered by how supportive and understanding owners and breeders are when a dog develops an issue and pet owners really have led the way in removing the wall of silence that used to exist and they are very proud to participate in such a scheme, even if inevitable some owners have dogs that develop serious problems - you cannot live in fear and knowledge is power.

For any Breed starting a scheme from scratch, it is a fabulous opportunity to get the ‘elephant’ out of the room straight away and not let a situation develop that becomes totally unhelpful. In Wolfhounds there has been no public publishing of results in nearly 30 years of testing and this does seems to have caused a problem. At present the tide has definitely turned and the majority of owners and breeders are pushing for public results and many have taken the step of publishing their own results (either on breeder websites or on a website set up for anyone wishing to make their results public, www.irishwolfhoundhealth.co.uk). In the first stages of a screening scheme for any breed then the bloodline details and owner/breeder details of any dog is not really that important as researchers are in the data gathering stage, but when that research gets to the point of analysis and identifying patterns, then the details of the dogs becomes very important. This is now the ‘sticking’ point in Wolfhounds as we cannot move forward without publishing results. Carrying out the research and analysis, without being able to feed back the results, is pointless and does not help breeders or the Breed in any way, in fact it hinders them totally as they do not know what physical characteristics or bloodlines are predisposed to elements of the disease. Wolfhounds are a numerically small breed from a limited gene pool and so the same bloodlines and individual dogs appear in many, many pedigrees (as I said, there will be no Kennel unaffected by this to some extent). We always know when a dog is born, as the details are recorded by the Kennel Club and can be looked up by anyone interested, but the death of a dog, even if it has been used for breeding, is rarely reported and yet that is THE most important aspect, the age of death and the cause of death. Some owners and breeders fear that by making that information public, then they will somehow be denigrated or viewed negatively, but the opposite is true, especially with the popularity of social media and Facebook - there is a huge amount of support out there.

Other points to consider regarding publishing results Anyone who is not happy to have their dog’s results 'published' does not have to participate in a heart testing scheme, it is entirely voluntary at this point. It is worth mentioning that on every standard VCS Heart Test Certificate (that is filled out by the cardiologist with the results of the test) there are 3 statements above the owner's signature: I certify that the dog presented for examination today is the dog identified above. I agree to this information being used (in confidence) by veterinary surgeons or geneticists researching into the problem of heart murmurs and heart disease in dogs. In certain breeds where a heart testing scheme is established, I agree to the information being collated by a nominated person, committee or breed council (where applicable) and published according to breed guidelines. So the owner is 'agreeing' to results being published as their signature gives consent? It is unlikely for the first few years, until a scheme gets going, that any individual details or results will be published, so it is only owners or Breed Clubs that would publish, or individual Kennels if they a facility to publish their own results. The Kennel Club and EBV’s is another aspect to consider. Compulsory health testing (including heart testing at some point) is likely coming, whether we like it or not as the KC are introducing Estimated Breeding Values for each Breed which will be made up in part by health test results (hip and elbow scoring, heart testing, eye testing and all sorts of other stuff, some of it will be very peculiar to individual breeds). Other giant breeds, such as Newfoundlands, already health test extensively and it is the norm and results are published. It seems that in Wolfhounds the KC wants a compulsory heart testing scheme in place and if there isn't one, then they will introduce one. It would be far better if the Breed’s existing scheme was adopted than to have a scheme 'forced' upon us?



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007 with a Long Nose, Raising Money with Style

James Bond teamed with a very glamorous Bond girl and glasses of bubbly is a familiar concept to most people, but it is not often you picture them on a damp overcast afternoon, in a field in rural Lincolnshire with 30 Wolfhounds, raising money for research into osteosarcoma. On Sunday 14th June 2015 this unique combination did indeed come together with sensational results and not even the inclement weather could dampen the spirits of the participants. The Long Nose Day fun show is now in its 10th year and is a 2 day companion show organised by the Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust with the Saturday reserved for Greyhound only classes and the Sunday opened up to other breeds and novelty classes, plus various other canine activities such as giant dog agility, pet gundog scurry and speed jumping.

This year the Lincs Greyhound Trust kindly put on Wolfhound  classes, both standard and novelty classes, with all class entry proceeds being donated to Wolfhound osteosarcoma research through the IWHG. Owners were invited to come along and enter classes on the day, with the hope of raising two or three hundred pounds maybe. What happened on the day was so phenomenal that the organisers were stunned at not only the amount of money raised, but the huge generosity and level of support shown by those who attended and also those who could not make it, but still wanted to show their commitment to the cause and made donations after the event. On the day, the class entries, raffle of several prizes, donations for cakes offered to all and just money ‘thrown in the bucket’ totalled £740 and at time of going to press, the current total is over a £1,300 and still rising!

 Like all other such events, a large amount of hard work and organisation went into the show and the Wolfhound classes in particular and the afternoon was aimed at providing all the attendees with a real different ‘show’ experience and an outrageously good time. The James Bond theme for the classes was kicked off by the very glamorous judge, Caroline Sheppard (Goldswift) being escorted into the ring by her pair of 007 stewards, dressed in tuxedo’s and sporting sashes of Carl ‘the Cube’ Brown and Hugh ‘the Hair’ Broadbent, obviously to the classic theme tune of James Bond playing loudly in the background. This set the tone for the rest of the day and was greatly appreciated by all attending the show.

 There are so many people that need to be thanked for their efforts, but the most important people are the owners that gave up their Sunday afternoon with their hounds (and some honorary hounds) and gave their all to support the show. Also a big vote of thanks to those generous people that donated raffle prizes and cakes (some of which were sold in the village hall and some of which were offered free, but with people kindly throwing money in the tin). Naturally, the cakes and raffle were only successful thanks to those at the show extending their generosity all afternoon.  

 At the end of the show there were some presentations of gifts made to thank the judge and stewards. Another very poignant moment was when a surprise presentation was made to Colleen Ellis in recognition of her amazing fundraising over the years through her beautiful fine art pastel portraits of dogs. Colleen has raised thousands of pounds with her artwork and donated all the proceeds to Irish Wolfhound Health/Rescue causes. Some other personal gift presentations were also made to others as a vote of thanks from Wolfhound owners.

We hope that this will now become an annual event in the Wolfhound calendar and that money can be raised for other issues/causes in the Breed.

If anyone wishes to make a donation then it’s not too late, follow this link to donate online: follow the link to the donations page  

Thank you all for your participation and see you next year!

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If you want to join in and support Regional Heart Testing, please contact Sue Bevis

Thanks again to everyone who attended the heart testing session at Bonaforte over the last 3 days and a reminder for anyone that we couldn't accommodate this time round, that our next session at the farm will be in November. Again, just to reiterate, that there may well be a session through the Irish Wolfhound Health Group that could be more convenient for some owners in terms of timing and venue and if that is the case then Carla and Hugh will cover the cost and reimburse owners, so that any Wolfhound from Bonaforte still receives free heart tests for life - just send us an email to let us know.

Here is the link for the IWHG sessions: Irish Wolfhound Health Group

Please contact Sue Bevis if you have any problems or questions please email Sue Bevis at susanbevis@btinternet.com or phone 02380 891894 / 07794 113305.

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Record Breaking Heart Testing Session

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Record Breaking Heart Testing Session

A total of 47 dogs tested in 3 days at the Bonaforte Kennel - Wolfhounds at the heart of all we do

The latest heart testing session at Broadholme House Farm,  which took place over 3 days from 18-20th April 2015, broke our own Kennel record for the number of dogs tested.  Dr Serena E. Brownlie PhD BVM&S MRCVS Cert SAC, worked tirelessly heart testing 47 dogs in total.  What a team effort from all our helpers and supporters who made this possible.  We would like to express a huge vote of thanks to the owners that made the time and effort to bring their dog along for testing, your role and support on heart testing days is so important  Although the majority of owners are now very familiar with heart testing their hounds, for some it was the first time they had seen the process in action and we are delighted that they did not find the experience too daunting.  

Super-veteran tests clear and dancing on the table!

As with any event where owners gather along with their hounds, there were many highlight to the 3 days; one of which was the gorgeous Zena (Hermine von der Sillerquelle) testing clear at 8.5 year of age. Zena was also placed 2nd in Veteran Bitch class at Crufts 2015 under breed judge, Goran Bodegard. One of the joys of testing sessions at the Kennel is seeing some of our wonderful Wolfhounds coming back and visiting us again, with their equally outgoing owners and this weekend we were treated to a visit from the Bligh family with the lovely Ava (Bonaforte’s Enchanted). Ava became very excited when she was reunited with her brother, Bertie and her sister, Doozey and she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm and at one point jumped onto the patio table! 

There was also a slightly tearful reunion when Laura’s owners, Vera and Charles, met the owners of one of Laura’s daughters. Laura sadly passed away in the New Year due to a soft tissue sarcoma, but her legacy lives on through her beautiful offspring.  Although the loss of a hound is always a painful experience, at the Bonaforte Kennel the bereavement is shared by many and in that way the owners all find comfort and support from each other, especially when they can share the joy of seeing siblings or progeny and laugh about their antics.

Another moment that we had a giggle about was Bertie having his first heart test and when it came to having the ECG carried out we needed him to lie down. Bertie didn’t understand at first what Serena and the girls wanted him to do, but remembering that Carla had taught him to ‘get on his mat’, the girls reiterated the same command however he slowly looked around and couldn't find his mat!  Once his mat had been found,  Bertie promptly plonked his bottom down on it and rolled over to have the ECG! However, this incident, although very comical, did prove useful as it showed that owners can help by preparing their hounds for  heart testing.  If you could teach your hound to lie down on a bed or piece of vet bedding on command, that would be so helpful, in what can be a stressful situation for some.  We would suggest that you then bring their "mat" to the next heart test session, it will be familiar, a comfort blanket in an environment where some of our hounds are unsure as to what is expected from them.  Patience, Practise and Perseverance at home will pay dividends at heart testing. 

Finally, again from all of us at Bonaforte, a long list of thank you’s; to Dr Serena Brownlie for doing all the testing, to Siobhan Simpson for coming over to take cheek swabs for the team at Nottingham Vet School, to the Bonaforte staff/helpers for assisting owners and dogs and, once again, to you fantastic owners that bring your dogs to be tested - keep them coming!  Look out for our next dates in November 2015. 

The complexities of heart disease can be very confusing for us all  and so it is probably worthwhile owners refreshing themselves on the differences between heart anomalies, heart disease  - Please  see the article at at:http://www.bonaforte.com/heart-disease-in-irish-wolfhounds/

 

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Heypresto!

Magic Treatment for 12 Stone Dog

Photo courtesy of the Hucknall Dispatch.

Photo courtesy of the Hucknall Dispatch.

Well at least that’s what the newspaper headline said! Our youngest Wolfhound, Presto (Heliodor Heypresto at Midnitecove) recently found himself in a predicament with his right knee and after a short period of intermittent lameness and exploratory examination and X-rays, he was diagnosed with cruciate ligament disease (often also referred to as spontaneous. Many breeds can suffer with knee issues and certainly the condition is not confined to giant breeds, but, as with many other aspects of giant breed ownership, a dog weighing over 80kg presents its own unique challenges in terms of treatment options and long term management. These days we are fortunate to have quite an array of surgical interventions available to treat cruciate ligament issues and the options fall into 2 main camps; those surgeries that seek to replace the failing ligament with a suture technique and also surgeries that aim to stabilise the knee by inserting different types of metalwork. Most orthopaedic vets tend to prefer the stabilisation techniques on larger dogs as they are generally stronger and less likely to encounter problems, considering the weight the knee carries and also the forces exerted on that joint. With Presto the operating vet (Mr Graham Oliver of East Midlands Referrals, Nottingham) opted for a TTA technique (Tibial Tuberosity Advancement), which involves cutting vertically into the tibial bone and inserting a metal wedge, which then advances the front of the tibia to prevent the femur slipping off. Once the wedge insert is in place, a metal plate is screwed into the two parts of the tibia to stabilise the bone and prevent splintering. Therefore the TTA procedure has always comprised of these two stages and needed both the metal insert and the stabilising plate.

A few months ago, thanks to advances in technology, a modified form of the TTA became available, where the metal insert and plate have effectively become combined into one item. The new invention is referred to as a ‘Rapid Cage’ and is made of titanium and is manufactured by means of printing on a 3D laser printer. Without the 3D printer this amazing new gadget would not be possible to manufacture, due to its intricacy and in particular, the fine metal meshwork/honeycomb that enables the dog’s own bone to grow into the insert and become a very strong fix. Not only does the Rapid Cage act as an insert to wedge the tibia and advance the front crest of the bone, but it also has integrated screw holes which enable the cage to be screwed into both sections of the tibia and therefore eliminating the requirement for an additional stabilising plate. In addition, the titanium and the honeycomb structure are biocompatible with the dog’s bone and aid a faster recovery and a far more stable, stronger and sustainable result. The recovery time after this type of procedure is still fairly lengthy, before the dog is able to return to full exercise and certainly for the first 4 weeks the dog should be restricted to the garden and not permitted to climb or jump onto, or down from, other surfaces. However, the dog is expected to be standing almost immediately after surgery and also independently mobile within 24 hours of the procedure. Often the dog owner has more issues in stopping their pet from overdoing it, rather than struggling to assist their dog to bear weight or walk. After the first month post-op, the dog can be exercised, starting very gently with 5 minute lead walks, three times a day and then gradually building up to longer walks. Once the bone has healed and the knee has stabilised then the joint should be almost as good as new, but the knee will be permanently bent and forward extension of that hind leg will not be possible. This surgical procedure certainly does not prevent the dog leading a happy and active life, able to walk and run and without such intervention, the prognosis for any giant breed with a failing cruciate ligament would be very limited, not only in terms of activities, but also in terms of duration.

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The Family of Bonaforte first official Kennel open day is a huge success…thanks to a team effort

For some time we have found the best solution to anyone thinking of having a Wolfhound from our Kennel, whether an experienced owner or a complete novice, to be to ask them to visit us and meet the dogs. Indeed, no prospective owners receive a Bonaforte hound without visiting us, prior to the usual checks. Up till now we have done this on a very much individual basis, arranging visits for people with full access to the Kennel and the dogs and often spending several hours with one lot of visitors. Naturally visitors always meet all the hounds and any of the Bonaforte Team that happen to be there at the time and occasionally they may be fortunate enough to visit when we have had an owner dropping in for a chat and to collect some dog food. Before Christmas we invited our owners to an ‘open house’ event as a purely social get together so we could all chat over some very nice food and drink prior to the hectic holiday period. This was such a huge hit with our owners that we thought we would try and combine the two types of event and hence the Bonaforte Open Day was born.

Wolfhounds are at the heart of everything we do 

Wolfhounds are at the heart of everything we do 

The united family of Bonaforte …………..www.bonaforte.com

The united family of Bonaforte …………..www.bonaforte.com

A new dynamic………….. Friday 6th February 2015 was the date set for our first combination Kennel Open Day and it was a resounding success on all sides! Broadholme House Farm paid host to 3 lots of visitors and a gaggle (seems to be the most appropriate collective noun) of existing owners. Although the customary show round of the Kennel facilities and meeting the dogs still took place, things took on a different dynamic with the owners also assisting and chatting to visitors about their experiences and the different aspects of the Kennel. It was a delight to see the meeting of different people, from various walks of life, with a shared love of our magnificent breed. Along with the trips up the paddocks in the RTV with the hounds running alongside, there was also the opportunity to get up close and personal with the dogs and even a grooming demonstration for those people wondering about how to care for a Wolfhound coat and also owner thinking about showing and preparing their dog for the ring. Just like every other great party, the hub of activities eventually descended on the kitchen and we were all delighted to be offered some great refreshments (and cake….naturally) enjoying fabulous company and convivial surroundings. As some of our visitors had travelled considerable distances including Cornwall, we consider it only polite to ensure that they are ‘fed and watered’ before returning home! The Bonaforte Kennel will most definitely be hosting another similar event in the next few weeks, once Crufts is over and the weather has improved too, potentially early April and we envisage that this format will go from strength to strength?

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