8 August 1997

Worth bother to have eye check

THE British are renowned for being dog lovers, and have been to the forefront in establishing breed characteristics. Unfortunately, breeding to select the best points of an animal can also intensify the bad points such as inherited eye diseases which result in pain and blindness.

A simple eye test under the British Veterinary Association/ Kennel Club/International Sheep Dog Society Eye Scheme is all it takes to certify if breeding animals are free from 11 inherited eye diseases. These include collie eye anomaly, congenital hereditary cataract, and total retinal dysplasia. Surprisingly just 7% of the 178,000 registered dogs in Britain have been tested.

Owners attending the recent CLA Game Fair had the opportunity to have their dogs eyes tested by one of the leading vets in this country, Prof Peter Bedford. Eye drops which dilate the pupil were given to each animal and 20 minutes later Prof Bedford examined its eyes, in the dark, through his ophthalmoscope and other instruments.

"It takes from a few seconds to a few minutes. Eyes ought to be checked just as often as you would attend to other health matters in a pet," explained Prof Bedford, adding that about 100 dogs are tested at the event, usually with a view to them being used for breeding.

Vets need to take an additional qualification in ophthalmology and be certificated in assessing inherited diseases to carry out eye tests under the scheme. A list of qualified examiners is available from the British Veterinary Association*.

Unfortunately breed societies are not as enthusiastic about testing their dogs as the professor is, and the only accurate figures available relate to labradors and golden retrievers which have a 5% incidence of cataracts.

"You can understand why people dont want to test, or prefer to sit on the results but the thing that drives me is that dogs are sold into families and become part of them. This nice family comes in with their much-loved dog and you have to tell them that it is going blind – and these are man-made things.

"With a pet or a working dog you want a dog that can see, a dog that is healthy, a dog that enjoys life," said Prof Bedford. "The most effective thing that the Kennel Club could do is to only register puppies from stock clear of inherited eye disease."

Although the Kennel Club backs the eye scheme and publishes information on the results it is unlikely to do this.

"About 18 months ago an American cocker spaniel breeder put the proposal to the KC that they should not register pups born to cataract affected stock," said Prof Bedford. "Only three or four people out of the 200 at the meeting voted for it."TG

&#8226 For a list of BVA appointed examiners for the eye scheme contact the BVA, 7 Mansfield Street, London WIM OAT. (0171-636 6541)

Prof Bedford prepares to test the eyes of Kibo, a two-year-old Labrador owned by Miss Lorne Kentish from Marlow. Drops which dilate the pupils are used before the test is made in a darkened room.