Some years back when we were starting up the kennel, the health of all the hounds we bred was a significant factor and has remained pivotal within our breeding program. Hence this year saw the 6th year of our bi-annual yearly heart testing sessions with Dr Serena Brownlee PhD BVM&S MRCVS Cert SAC. It was the usual busy time for both our dogs here at the kennel and also for our owners who had booked their hounds in for testing.
Wolfhounds are sadly prone to 2 significant problems one being heart disease and the other osteosarcoma though in recent years pneumonia is becoming more prevalent.
Serena, Hilary Jupp and The Irish Wolfhound Club, going back to the 80's had the idea of testing hounds to see if any trends could be observed. Seeking the answers to the heart issues in the breed. Was it genetic? Were males more susceptible than females? Which has now carried on to become the excellent Heart Testing Scheme still run today for the breed by the Health Group?
As a breed, we are incredibly fortunate to have such an eminent cardiologist as Serena still on board devoting so much of her time energy and knowledge into the health of our hounds.
So to present day, it has been shown that heart health is indeed genetic and while not all hounds from the same gene pool will be affected there is a much higher chance of developing the disease.
It is therefore vital that those in the breed are prepared to share all the data that has been collected from the beginning. Of course when anything is starting up and is unknown, then it is understandable for people to be cautious. Testing has always been done in a completely confidential way and still is.
Bringing us now to the 21st century and we are in the position of an ever decreasing gene pool and much smaller numbers being bred, it is ever more vital to only breed from the very healthiest hounds.
For our kennel, we made a commitment to breed from dogs with clear heart tests assisting Serena in her life's work. We agreed to feed every dog the same high-quality food and all dogs are exercised in the same way to see if nurture also has an effect on heart health. Serena tests every hound in our kennel twice a year, and our breeding is only carried out with her overview on the choices we are making, it is too soon to say whether or not this is going to have an impact longterm on heart health, but so far we are well above the breed average for heart health.
We also provide a yearly heart test for all of our owner's hounds, so all offspring are tracked. Heart testing sessions are hectic but its a great way of keeping in touch with owners and seeing how happy our hounds are.
We all know that things are moving forward at high speed in these modern times. Science is evermore bringing us new information and new drugs that are prolonging both human and animal life, and it is only by listening to the experts and adapting to these changes that we will progress.
Recently within the breed, there has been discussion around pneumonia. It has long been said that a particular drug could help in some instances. Sadly proven research did not back this up, and it is just one aspect of the impact of science. We have to listen to our experts, and we have to be prepared to accept that sometimes what we thought was working isn't.
No one as yet can predict which hound will get osteosarcoma, but via the excellent heart testing scheme, we can see which hounds are going to be at the highest risk of heart disease. We can wait until they are older and have a good few clear heart tests behind them before breeding with them. Once upon a time, we didn't have this facility to make choices for breeding, but now we do, and we have a responsibility to this beautiful breed to make full use of it and to commit to sharing our heart test data.
Times are changing, and as part of that new initiatives are coming out-for heart health there will be the R A G system-Red, Amber, Green which will simplify who can or should be bred from.
Estimated Breeding Values or EBVs can and will be used in the future, and we believe the heart data may one day be used in this way. All of which is very positive and bodes well for the future as these have been scientifically put together to try and improve the health of pedigree dogs. Anecdotal advice has been the only tool over the years, but now we have to be prepared to deal with adequately researched factual information if we are to protect the health of the breed going forward. . If you would like to know what happens during a heart test, there is a detailed video on the IWCT which can show that it is a simple procedure for the hound.