OK why have I decided to MRI Tasha and Bella?
Many reasons, lets go back a few years to when SM was first "discovered" in Cavaliers, I, like many others at that time read the story of a young bitch from a well known breeder and her problems. "Poor thing" I thought, I remember feeling distinctly sorry for her owners, but like many others I suppose, thought it was a very rare incidence, how wrong was I! This was coming out around the time that I discovered I was expecting twins and also when we were discovering other health problems within our family, the dogs took a back seat and I quite simply didn't give the matter much more thought.
After the birth of my twins, (1 of each!) we had a pretty scary time with other health related issues in the family again, once sorted out I ventured back into the show ring with 3 of my dogs, all of whom qualified for Crufts! I asked several of my colleagues about the condition SM and no-one was really saying anything other than "Don't believe in it" or "No such thing", this was 2003, by now the Parent Club was realising that there was a problem and they had to be seen to be doing something about it.
Many dogs suddenly were being diagnosed, some people lost Champions to the condition, others discovered their entire line was affected, the wealthier breeders started scanning their stock with interesting results. A low cost scan for club members was set up, but even at £200 per dog with a discount if you bring more than a certain number it was (and still is) out of reach for quite a few breeders. I have stated in another thread that not all breeders are necessarily well off, and furthermore that if you are serious about your breeding programme and go about it properly with all the relevant health testing that practically all your profits are eaten up in health testing, stud fee's, correct feeding, registration costs, etc, etc. Dog breeding is not a way to get rich quick, it can be totally soul destroying, try kneeling in front of a whelping box for 5 hours whilst your bitch aborts 7 beautiful puppies too early on for them to stand a chance of ever surviving whilst your eldest child (9) pops in and out from time to time to ask if any are alive if you want to see what I mean. But I digress......
Many of the breeders I know of will tell you what I am about to tell you, and that is that I personnally have NEVER seen any of my own dogs exhibit any clinical signs of SM, furthermore NONE of my puppy buyers over the years have come back to me telling me their puppy has developed the condition, and lastly, my vet with a 3 surgery practice covering approx 150 mile radius has NOT got a single Cavalier on his books diagnosed with SM.
So, we are hearing of more cases diagnosed every day, we know the condition exists, but we are faced with similar scenarios to my own above, WHAT DO YOU DO??
In my case, I chose to educate myself on the condition, after 3 years without a computer or internet access things have moved on tremendously, I have obviously caught back up with modern technology. So I set about educating myself, I devoured as much information as I possibly could on this awful condition, my conclusion was that the only real way forward is Clare Rusbridge's work to develop a genetic test to find carriers of this condition. MRI scanning is a very useful tool for discovering which dogs have the malformation and/or syrinxes but ultimately is just a snapshot, a frozen moment in time, it will tell you if the dog has the malformation at that exact point in time, the one thing an MRI CANNOT tell you is whether or not your Grade A pass dog is actually carrying the genes that cause this condition.
You could/can mate an Grade A pass dog and bitch and still get SM in the litter of pups. This for me is the biggest area of concern, we need that genetic test right now, it cannot come soon enough!
Fast forward to February this year, I attended a seminar hosted by the Midland Cavalier Club, I have detailed this in posting's in Bruce H's "Oh Oh he's begging for dollars" thread so check that out to see the main details!
The outcome of this seminar was that the Midland Club secured the services at Chestergates Referral Hospital to MRI scan as many of what are considered to be "Asyptomatic" (showing no symptoms) Cavaliers as possible at the very reduced cost of £100 per dog. Now this brings things into a far more affordable range, when I booked Tasha and Bella in for their MRI's they were up to 3 dates, all these dogs been MRI'd can only help the research to move forwards I feel.
For me the deciding factor was when Martin Deutschland gave his talk, he was a bit difficult to follow and his test group was rather small, HOWEVER, suddenly half way through the talk we had a case study, an actual Post-Mortem, with pictures, sorry if this offends but this was of huge interest to every-one there! I have a very distinct memory of seeing one slide in particular, it was of the dogs cerebellum, horribly herniated, it haunts me still, to think that any of my dogs might have that going on inside their skulls, no wonder they scratch and scream with pain!
These slides are on www.thecavalierclub.co.uk have a look if you are brave enough, go into "Cavalier Health", then into Syringomyelia, you will find a list there of the presentations from the conference held in November 2006, click on that and scroll down until you find Martin's name, click on the "Presentation Slides" link and take a look at slides 20 and 21 to see what I mean, I warn you though YOU MAY FIND THESE PICTURES DISTURBING!! I sure as h**l did!
Now, these 2 beautiful girls of mine? Well they are what we call line-bred, this means I have kept to breeding within a family group, their Father and their Mother in their case have the same mother, this is a half sister to half brother mating, it is considered a good mating to do as it will show your strengths and your weaknesses as you are doubling up on them. What you are also doing is HALVING your gene pool, this is not to be undertaken lightly, you will get either a litter of truly fantastic pups (ALL the good points doubled up), a litter of not very good at all, (All the BAD points double up) or as is often the case a mixed bunch of both with one pup who has everything!! Where do you go from here? You outcross to an unrelated line that is strong in what your line is lacking, still with me here?? This is what I have done with the third sister Crystal, she has been mated to a totally unrelated dog, who is my idea of perfection, better still his sire is still pretty heart sound and siring at the age of 11, comes from a very heart strong line, but most importantly of all I am broadening my gene pool again!!
By scanning these 2 girls I will see if I have any problems, I am hoping for a Grade A with Tasha (No malformation breed to anything) or a Grade C (with Bella as she is under 2.5 years) Who knows what I will actually get? It is all in the lap of the gods right now, what will I do if they are grade D (present but asymptomatic) there are still so many unanswered questions, I want to do the right thing by my dogs, they give me so much pleasure, but I am ALWAYS mindful of the fact that in a way I am playing God here, I choose their parents, in a way I create them, I bring them into existance, with that comes responsibilty, whether they live a few minutes after birth or 15+ years I have a moral responsibilty to these dogs from the moment they are born until the moment they die whether they live with me or not, I want any puppy I breed to have the best temperament, best health (these are of EQUAL importance to me) and the very best quality and length of life possible.
Okay so there you have it! War and Peace Volumme 2!!
Tomorrow I will introduce you to the girls themselves, tell you a little about them both, but for now I have writers cramp and need to sign off!!