Vets vs. Breeders: Partners or Enemies?

It's an age-old clash that's worsening, say experts from both sides of the fence.

While the upper echelon of breeders and fanciers enjoy a solid relationship with trusted veterinarians, such is not the case for everyone. Pitting practical knowledge against science, along with the animal-rights agenda contaminating the minds of pet owners and young veterinarians, has sparked a serious disconnect — one that could have far-reaching consequences to our sport.

Ethics and social issues are sidestepped in most veterinary curricula, as well they should. The defense “there’s no time” has some teeth if you look at the course requirements for future DVMs and VMDs. You wonder how these students even have time to “extern” at a clinic, let alone be able to identify all purebred dogs. Most can’t. The convoluted myths of mixed breeds being healthier than purebreds and that “all breeders are bad” present another uphill battle. Veterinary students rarely see healthy purebreds, and few have ever attended a dog show.

As you will read, the American Kennel Club, Canine Health Fund (CHF), Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and affiliated dog clubs have gone above and beyond to deliver a positive message to future veterinarians without hindering the students’ crammed schedules. But these organizations need help. Funding is obviously crucial, but manpower is even more important. Everyone reading this magazine is an ambassador to the purebred fancy — or should be. To effect change, breeders, owners, handlers and established veterinarians need to be proactive. Let’s diffuse this anti-breeding mentality once and for all.

The following interviews provide true insight into the heart of this issue.


Amanda Bolyard, DVM

Dundee, Mich.
Member of Golden Retriever Club of America Health & Genetics Committee

I, too, was fortunate to receive one of the travel ticket scholarships to a CHF conference during my fourth year at the University of Michigan.
Very few students are into dog events, thus there’s much emphasis on shelter medicine and spay/neuter. Most reputable breeders deal with reputable veterinarians in a private practice.

At my practice we have excellent breeders who do all the requisite health testing. However, others cut corners to save money. A good example might be skipping progesterone testing for an upcoming C-section. We see lots of backyard breeders as well. While I can’t change them, I do my best to educate them. That’s how I sleep at night.

Some of my best clients are “good” breeders. The health and well-being of their dogs is always their top concern, and with each litter they strive to improve their breed. As a veterinarian, there is no way for me to know everything about every breed. However, I am open and always willing to learn.

Breeders need to understand that we go through extensive training and schooling to earn our degrees. Likewise, veterinarians need to understand and respect breeders who often devote a great deal of time and passion to making themselves knowledgeable about their breed and its inherent health concerns.


Eddie Dzuik

Columbia, Mo.
Chief Operating Officer, OFA; Breeder-exhibitor of Beagles; AKC judge

Twenty-eight students representing 16 veterinary schools attended the latest Canine Health Foundation conference (that number has climbed steadily since the inception of the OFA travel grant in 2007). This roundtable discussion lasted four hours. Following brief presentations by the AKC, OFA, CHF and top fanciers, the conversation opens up.

Each roundtable event takes on a personality of its own. The group is very diverse in terms of interests, career paths and purebred experience in order to foster meaningful discussion. No extremes either way. The overriding theme is to portray breeders in a positive light while emphasizing the great work of the AKC.

Subjects raised by the students at this conference included the ongoing myth of purebred versus mixed-breed health, the spay/neuter debate and research findings on the dangers of early spay/neuter. Docking and cropping didn’t even come up, but puppy mills always do.

Very often a CHF student attendee will organize a “dog show tour” for classmates following their presentation to peer students. Others end up volunteering or stewarding at a show.

Happy, healthy puppies are emphasized over show triumphs. Whether or not students are involved in shows or breeding, we are trying to inspire purebred dog advocates.


Deb Eldredge, DVM

upstate N.Y.
Veterinarian; Belgian Tervuren fancier; DIR contributing writer

Respect is important on both sides. You can’t expect your vet to be knowledgeable about the latest disease findings in your Schnitzel Wonder Hound — especially if there are only 30 of the breed in the country. But remember, your vet clearly knows more about anatomy, physiology and anesthesia than you do. Fanciers should share their knowledge of breed-specific health problems. If your breed club has good health handouts, provide them to your vet clinic.

If you live near a vet college, offer to go speak. Better yet, have your kennel or breed club sponsor a lunch or pizza meeting to attract students to your talk. Provide handouts for the students. Emphasize how responsible breeders help with rescue.

I have dealt with breeders who are a dream — dedicated, caring, trying to do the best for their breed and their personal dogs. I have also dealt with ones who are a nightmare — one sat on a bitch with pyometra for three days trying suggestions from strangers on Facebook and finally called to get veterinary help when the dog was close to death at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

Above all, make sure your own dogs are good representatives of purebred dogs — well trained, well socialized, well cared for.


John Hamil, DVM, and Susan Lacroix Hamil

Orange County, Calif.
Retired veterinarian (John); Top Bloodhound breeder-exhibitor (Susan)

Students fresh out of school don’t have the practical experience to deal with breeders of purebred dogs. Tertiary practices, such as vet schools, see the worst of the worst purebreds. Thus students get a tremendously skewed view of breeding.

We took a canine orthopedic surgeon friend of ours to his very first dog show a few years back. We’ll never forget his reaction to seeing a large entry of Rottweilers gaiting around the ring. He said, “Wow, this is the first time I ever saw Rottweilers that weren’t limping!”

The fancy has been unable to distinguish itself from backyard breeders, commercial breeders and the like. Professors and classmates tend to look down at students who are interested in dog shows. The fancy is giving a million dollars a year to prestigious universities whose professors won’t deliver our message. The unfortunate perception is that all breeders are bad. If we don’t make our pitch to universities and use the media to our advantage, we’re going to be trampled. People would rather believe a simple lie than a complicated truth.

When a breeder disagreed with a treatment or diagnosis at our clinic, the approach was always, “Let’s talk about it.” Some request treatment without testing, which is not good. In some cases we had to say that if we can’t meet your needs at this practice, maybe you should try another.
There was true excitement at my clinic when a dog that was conceived or born at our clinic had a breed win at Westminster. The atmosphere was truly electric. 

The AKC does so many great things, but it’s still not enough. We need to rally the troops and get everyone involved.


Grace Mengel, VMD

Malvern, Pa.
Staff Veterinarian Primary Care Services at the University of Pennsylvania

Communications with breeders and breed-specific maladies are incorporated into the curriculum in a broad sense. We design case scenarios using professional actors with plots devised by clinicians. This course begins in the students’ first year in Introduction to Clinical Medicine.
Vaccination protocols always come up, as does diet. And there is some breed-specific incorporation as students work with specialists in genetics, cardiology, small animal/mixed animal and pediatrics.

Students enjoy their hours in reproduction services. But how does a veterinarian know a breeder’s reputation or how they care for their dogs? Show dogs are always in great shape.

Our curriculum is very science- and fact-driven. It’s a matter of mutual respect between the two groups, which tend to attract stereotypical individuals. There should be a personality study of those at the top of both fields.


John Reeve-Newson, DVM

Ontario, Canada
Veterinarian; All-Breed Judge

The problem here is totally media-driven. Irresponsible breeders produce sick dogs, but there are plenty of fine breeders out there. This negativity is definitely reinforced at vet schools.

I lectured at the University of Ontario for a few years trying to promote a harmonious relationship among veterinarians, breeders and the purebred fancy. Unfortunately, they decided they had no time to include it in the curriculum.

A lot of breeders are their own worst enemies. They blame things on the vet when they may have begun treating their dog too late or cut corners on testing.

The attitude adjustment needs to start at the vet schools, and the AKC/CKC should be more proactive in getting their message out. All veterinary schools should be encouraged to add purebred seminars and lectures to their curriculum.

While each breed is prone to certain diseases, most graduates can’t even identify the breeds. Thus, to effect change we must start at the beginning — at the vet schools. The fancy doesn’t do enough to toot its own horn.


Mari-Beth O’Neill

Raleigh, N.C.
AKC Veterinary Outreach Program; Assistant Vice President of AKC Sport Services; English Cocker Spaniel fancier

We are in the process of rejuvenating AKC’s Veterinary Outreach program, and things are on the upswing.

Our goal is to provide resources that can assist the veterinary profession in providing the best of care for dogs, whether through background information for practitioners and their clients or support for research. AKC’s long history and experience establishes it as the source of credible knowledge about purebred dogs.

We researched ways to provide direct information to veterinary students about the AKC and breeders of purebred dogs. AKC is currently working to schedule Lunch ‘N Learn sessions at each vet school utilizing club members or staff that may live in the immediate area as presenters.AKC provides the Breed ID Guide to students attending the luncheon. We recently held one of these sessions at North Carolina State University, which was very well received.

Other aspects of our Outreach Program include the AKC Veterinary Network: A veterinary practice signs up to participate to receive free advertising on the AKC website and educational materials for their practice, including Family Dog magazine. The practitioner agrees to accept the AKC coupon for an initial first visit to the veterinarian. This coupon is provided to dog owners when they register their puppies and dogs with the American Kennel Club.

Our staff attends national conferences that serve the veterinary community as a resource and to provide information. Further, AKC offers junior scholarships to students, including those with aspirations to become vets.

To date, the Canine Health Foundation founded by the AKC has donated more than $25 million to further canine research for all dogs.


Claire Sharp, DVM

North Grafton, Mass.
Assistant professor and small animal emergency medicine specialist, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Mass.

Early in the curriculum, students at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine learn the differences among dog breeds. Laying the fundamentals starts early, and knowledge is increasingly added as they progress through their four years of training.

Our first-year Clinical Skills course teaches veterinary students to differentiate between the various dog breeds. Additionally, the Tufts curriculum teaches anatomy using dogs donated by their owners for science. This gives students exposure to the range of normal anatomy in dogs of different breeds. The second-year Veterinary Clinical Genetics course teaches students about the use of selective breeding in the development of breeds over the past 200 years and how breeders can select for desirable traits to minimize undesirable traits. A new course, taught the third year, reinforces that different dog breeds are predisposed to specific diseases. Recognition of this is extremely important to guide our approach to managing a sick dog and for a practicing veterinarian to provide the best care to different breeds. Finally, fourth-year students work side-by-side with specialist veterinarians who possess a deep understanding of breed predispositions to disease. These specialists regularly conduct research to better understand diseases common to particular breeds.


Anders Thoreson

Pullman, Wash.
Washington State University fourth year veterinary student; Two-time attendee of the Canine Health Foundation Conference

As a fancier myself, I’ve only had positive interaction with breeders and veterinarians — an experience considered “abnormal” by many peer students. Many leave school expecting all breeders to be difficult and demanding. If you like breeders, you are considered an outsider.

My good fortune in attending two CHF conferences was an invaluable experience. All students invited to the conference are required to prepare post-conference presentations to classmates and colleagues as to what purebred dogs are really all about. My presentations were timed before major dog shows in the area, at which I conduct voluntary “tours” so students can see healthy specimens of the various breeds. Breeders, after all, will represent an important part of their client base. I often remind fellow students the good ones pay their bills.

There’s a definite group of students who are entirely against showing dogs. They think dog shows are beauty contests or dislike the breeding and showing of dogs that cannot deliver puppies naturally (Bulldogs, etc.) and the exaggerated type of short-nosed, flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds. Instead of trying to change their minds, I focus on educating them as best I can — and that’s what I’ll do when I go into practice. I don’t care who wants to show their dogs. It’s all about the health of the animals.

The AKC veterinary school initiatives are very helpful. But the onus is also on breeders to help vets recognize that not all breeders are bad. On the other side, if a vet asks questions, it’s because we care, not because we’re stupid.

It was so gratifying to have 120 students attend one of my talks at the university. One student even remarked, “Gee, the AKC isn’t the monster I thought it was.”


From the October 2013 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the October 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.

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