THE CHALLENGES FACED BY
SUPER-SIZING OUR DOGS
By Cheryl Lentz
Dogs are an interesting entity, coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes, each breed with its own unique characteristics and, unfortunately, corresponding medical issues. Many would consider size to be a defining characteristic with its own somewhat general list of medical issues to contend with. Before we can proceed however, the first issue to address is how do we classify these particular breeds correctly into size classifications?
The hardest issue to address, especially in rescue, is what is supposed to be considered the larger breeds? For many of us, the list will contain Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas, the Bouvier, Great Danes, The Great Pyrenees, St. Bernard, and New Foundlands, to just mention a few. The challenge is that what we see in our respective breeds here in New Mexico may not meet with the suggested standard. The Siberian Husky is a perfect example.
Siberian Huskies, if bred to the standard, are supposed to be a height between 21-23.5 inches for male and 20-22 inches for female at the withers, with a weight of 45-60 and 35-50 pounds respectively, according to the Siberian Husky Club of America. If this were a perfect world, and only those who were professional breeders bred Siberians, taking into consideration that their eyes should be CERF certified, (Canine Eye Research Foundation) with an additional eye registry specifically for Siberians, SHOR, (Siberian Husky Ophthalmic Registry) their hips OFA certified, (Orthopedic Foundation For Animals) and correct temperaments, then we would expect to find the standard here in New Mexico. Thus, true Siberian Huskies would then be classified correctly as a medium size breed.
Unfortunately, the world is far from a perfect place, and especially in rescue, I have found very little that meets the standard here in New Mexico. Of the last 16 Siberian Huskies that we have rescued, 8 of the females, while displaying purebred Siberian traits, as we believe them to be, were above the 60-pound weight measure, several nearing 70 pounds, and they were not what we considered overweight! In addition, the Siberian temperament is supposed to be sweet, gentle and affectionate, and instead, we have had many instances of less than perfect temperaments. With larger, non-standard examples, we are now at risk of introducing genetic problems more typical of larger breeds to the Siberian Husky. Irresponsible breeding is now responsible for genetic challenges that may never have needed to enter the equation in the first place.
Once breeds are properly classified, then we can correctly identify genetic predisposition that larger breeds tend to experience. While this article is not intended to be comprehensive by any means, many would agree that larger breeds have certain disorders that they are predisposed to by their very nature. Challenges with eyes, such as the risk of juvenile cataracts and glaucoma, underactive thyroid, blood disorders and hip and elbow dysplasia seem to top the list. Professional breeders take great care with proper breeding and watch for common genetic disorders with the goal of making sure these characteristics are bred out of their breeding program.
Thus, education becomes paramount to help the public decide if they are willing to assume responsibility for what their companion breed's future may bring. The new owner should be well equipped and informed and make a conscious decision BEFORE the animal EVER ENTERS THE HOME. Because of improper breeding, we continue to see a lot of these genetic defects--many of which could potentially be avoided--surfacing time and time again.
The public is now confused as to the difference between what the breed should be and what some examples of the breed have turned into. We all know it is so easy for the public to fall in love with our breeds, and to fall victim to ignorance and breeding programs whose sole intent is to make money. The better we can inform the public (and our adopters) to ask the right questions about the breeding programs, the certifications for eyes and hips, and various other genetic issues germane to larger breeds, the better the future health of our breeds will become.
Cheryl Lentz is President and Founder of Siberian Husky Rescue of New Mexico, Inc. She established this group officially in August 1999, having placed over 120 Siberians since inception.
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