Breeding Better Lakelands

The intent of this column is to disseminate information that may be of use to breeders of Lakelands. My number one piece of advice to readers is: Don’t believe a word I say.

Use the information shared to start your own search for truth. Always remember that science cannot prove anything. Properly conducted scientific investigations either increase or decrease the likelihood that an explanation is the correct one. Often explanations that have been accepted for many years turn out to have no basis in fact.

Newborn puppiesThe researchers who discovered the microbe that is the causative agent of peptic ulcers were awarded the Nobel Prize this year, finally. When the work was first presented at a medical conference, it was totally rejected. Even though published, the evidence about the causative agent was ignored for years. I used to give out copies of the journal articles to people with ulcers to give to their doctors (who ignored the information and kept on giving the same treatment). I suspect there are many problems in dogs that are complacently accepted as having a particular cause when the reality is something quite different. I bring this up because if you have a burning desire to breed superior representative of your chosen breed, you will at times find yourself frustrated with a lack of information about health problems and defects, or conflicting information, or sweeping generalities that just don’t fit the facts.

I’m going to discuss some anomalies I have seen in Lakelands over the 30+ years that I have been breeding this breed. It would help us all if you members would give some input about any of these or other conditions you have encountered. Genetics plays a role in a number of these anomalies, but the older I get the more I see that Nature vs. Nurture is not an either / or proposition but a continuum, with a few traits almost totally under genetic control, and some under environmental control, with the vast majority due to a complex interaction between genetic make-up and environmental influences. Our gene pool is small; we can not afford to discard and lose diversity, and just as surely we can’t afford to retain and spread undesirable genotypes. It is unconscionable that our parent club has never conducted a health survey. A good first step is to gather information to determine what questions should be included in a health survey so that when we do it the results will be meaningful.

Observations –– Defects & Disorders

Some years back I composed a list of defects / disorders reported in Lakelands for the website. I won’t go back and list all of those but will start with some that have either been reported to me or that I have personally observed that are not included on that list.

  • Circular nictitating membrane. This was a new one for me, a third eyelid that encircled the eyeball instead of just cutting across the inner corner of the eye. The ophthalmologist said it resulted from “a bad day in the womb” basically and was not considered heritable. If it isn’t severe the pup may grow in such a way that it isn’t noticeable or can be surgically corrected.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus is a collagen disease and it is autoimmune in nature, the most prominent symptom being joint pain. Positive test for antinuclear antibodies.
  • Autoimmune polyarthritis. Similar to above, but a more vague diagnosis. Both these conditions must be differentiated from Lyme Disease and other infectious diseases where the causative organism is intracellular and persistent and difficult to culture or detect circulating antibodies.
  • Missing premolars. Genetic and quite common in many breeds. Not the end of the earth, but I certainly would not breed a dog with a missing premolar to a mate that was also missing one or more. This is the sort of thing one wants to be on the alert for, so it never becomes the widespread problem it is in some breeds.
  • Fused or missing incisors. This occurs once in a while, usually only in the permanent teeth. Have no clue if it is genetic, have bred several, always to mates with full dentition and the affected individuals did not produce the defect, which does not at all disprove a genetic cause.
  • Pyometra. Infection in the uterus, with or without discharge. This condition can be rapidly fatal, and immediate spaying is the usual recommended treatment. I have only heard of one case, so it must be rare in Lakelands. Some authorities believe environmental factors predispose.
  • Prolonged involution of placental sites. I used to see this very often, bitches that would continue to spot blood tinged lochia weeks after weaning a litter. It never affected their fertility nor led to pyometra, so I just assumed it was normal for them. Since switching to raw feeding, however, the prolonged period of spotting seems to have stopped.
  • Midline septal defects. These include but are not limited to cleft lip and palate, imperforate ani, stump tail, lack of a tail, no external genitalia. Based on the evidence that I had three defective pups born to three not closely related females within two years and haven’t seen one of these defects in the past 25 years, I suspect environmental factors were at work, possibly crop spraying (I live in the midst of farmland) or some toxin in the dog food. We’ll never know.
  • Porto-systemic shunt. This congenital defect in the formation of blood vessels in the liver is found in some breeds more than others, but even in Yorkshire Terriers where the incidence is highest; there is no proof that the defect has a genetic base. Perhaps there is an environmental factor that some breeds are more sensitive to than others? The one case I’ve ever heard of in Lakelands was a total outcross (no common ancestors in at least 5 generations) and both parents had numerous offspring with different mates without producing it. If you have seen any other anomalies, please share.

If you would like to email me I will be happy to report your information without names or specifics if you wish. Or you may prefer to send a letter to the editor.

–– Pat Rock

Reprinted from The Lakelander, Fall 2005. · © USLTC