Over time I have heard rumours of epileptic basset fauve de bretagne hounds, and when the opportunity came up to attend a lecture on the condition a couple of years ago of course I attended. Dr C. Mellersh is a leading geneticist at the Animal Health Trust and was speaking to an audience of Griffon Vendeen breeders, as epilepsy is becoming a problem in that breed. If you think about your French geography you will realise the two departments where our related breeds originated are very close to each other, and its certain that French hunters will have used ancestors of both breeds in the past. Could epilepsy have a common starting point, in Petits as well as Basset Fauves?
Dr Mellersh explained that the AHT collects saliva samples using a kit. The owner swabs the inside of the cheeks of each candidate hound with brushes they provide, which are then saved into sterile tubes. They needed at least 12 samples from Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen to start research into finding which genes might be the source of the problem, and they had received enough to start their work. Additionally they needed a number of samples from elderly Petits who had never had a fit and could be considered clear of epilepsy, as their “control” group.
A couple of years passed, and this Winter I decided to take up the genetic research angle with Brian, the research assistant at the AHT. I wrote to him and asked if the AHT would be interested in any samples from BfdB, and if so which sorts of hounds. He asked for swabs from any hounds I could discover which had suffered from epilepsy, plus samples from hounds over the age of twelve who had never shown signs of the disease. He sent me a number of kit sets to issue to interested people.
After a calling notice on the Facebook page of the BfdB I received four requests for kits from owners of affected hounds, and a number of additional requests from owners of the suitably aged ( 12 + and unaffected ) veterans. The AHT has asked for a full vetinerary report ( case history) on each affected hound, as epilepsy can be “idiopathic” ( no cause understood), and they will need as much information as possible before beginning their analysis in order to remove dogs with no genetic reason for epilepsy from their research group.
I’d like to stress that I have no interest in what is sent to the Animal Health Trust, and because owners and breeders are often afraid of the “stigma” of producing any dog suffering from an inherited disease this is as it should be. All I will do is issue the kits to anyone who asks for one. An addressed envelope to the AHT is inside the kit.
Brian has told me that if they have sufficient samples they will check the BfdB results against the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen results when they are sure they have found the gene markers for the PBGVs. If we are fortunate it will indeed be the same mutation and our breed can benefit from research already done for the other breed. If it is a different mutation then it will be a much slower task to find the right genes in our breed, as we don’t really have enough samples here for the AHT to work on – they have other breeds in a much worse state and will concentrate on looking for their DNA markers.
The aim with any inherited problem is to discover a gene marker, and thereafter a DNA test to identify carriers and affected hounds across a range of specific diseases. With a DNA test carriers can either be removed from breeding, as a carrier will be unaffected, or perhaps the best specimens can be used – but only with tested clear mates, so there is no chance of producing affected progeny. From the tested offspring the best unaffected hounds who don’t carry this genetic problem could be selected to go into the next generation of breeding stock. Affected hounds can be identified before they are bred from and removed from the breeding population. Its a superb way of removing risk from any canine population. At the moment we could unwittingly breed “healthy” carriers together and produce affected progeny.
I should stress that the risk of epilepsy in the BfdB is very low indeed – to have only found four affected hounds in a population which grows, in the UK, by around 100 registrations per year and has individuals which can be expected to live for upwards of thirteen years is a very small problem, but breeders need to do all they can to keep it this way or remove it completely.
While writing about the AHT I was contacted by Anu Ahlroos – Lehmus, who works with the department at Helsinki University in Finland which identified a DNA test for epilepsy in the Lagotto Romagnola breed. They too would be interested in saliva samples from hounds affected with epilepsy as they are researching the basset breeds and have thousands of samples on file already. If anyone needs her details please let me know.
If breeders are concerned about the risk of producing epilepsy in this breed there is something which can be done right now. The Dutch club did its own research into pedigrees in the late 90s. I have had translations done from the Dutch of the original research papers, let me know if you would like a copy. There is also a lady within the Dutch club who maintains a database showing which lines might be unsuitable to breed together as there are carriers or affected hounds in the background. As with my own experiences with PRA in another breed in the early 90s, in the days before DNA tests, the only way to keep clear of an inheritable disease would be to reduce the risk of accidentally breeding carriers together – so it would be worth an e mail to our Dutch colleagues to ensure you are not accidentally breeding in a manner which might produce affected basset fauves. You will find them very helpful.
Finally, a word about procedure. No blaming, and no whispering about show ring rivals ! This attitude is both old fashioned and counter productive. If any breed has problems then these are the responsibility of us all. If you do lack understanding about basic genetic principles – get to some of the excellent lectures run by the KC or the AHT and start to learn. No one ever sets out to breed a dog with a problem – its how we deal with it thereafter, with compassion and helpfulness, which brings a breed back to rights quickly. As I already know – as the group I worked with managed to eradicate a problem in another breed by working together and being open and careful with carrier lines. We trusted each other and got results. Its the only way…….