The Science behind Man’s Best Friend

The Science behind Man’s Best Friend

As a dog owner or lover, the welfare of dogs will be important to you; but did you know that many diseases in our canine companions are the result of over 10,000 years of domestication?  During this process, we humans have selectively bred from certain animals for various aspects of size, performance, behaviour or appearance resulting in over 400 breeds.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this selection has led to breed-specific health issues.

Many genetic diseases occur in dogs and other companion animals.  Some of these are due to random mutations that became established in some breeds, examples include an increased risk of cancer and organ failure. In other cases, diseases can be a direct consequence of the features being selected.  For example, breathing difficulties occur in some breeds because of selection for a short muzzled head shape while skin infections can occur as a result of excess, deeply folded skin.

Efforts by responsible breeders, veterinarians and geneticists to try to tackle some of these diseases are gathering momentum, but a team approach is needed and owners and prospective owners have a very important role to play in helping to eradicate them.

A charity, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) has funded research into some of these conditions and has also produced information on its website for prospective owners, breeders and others to help reduce the severity and incidence of breed-related welfare problems.  This explains what they are and why they cause pain or discomfort as simply as possible. See for more information.

If you are thinking of getting a specific breed of dog, you will be able to find information on inherited welfare problems that may occur, and what checks you may need to make with breeders or suppliers in order to avoid buying affected or carrier animals and, in so doing, unintentionally perpetuating the problem.

Who are UFAW?

Over the last 90 years UFAW has led the way in using science to bring about lasting change.  Its history is the history of science in the service of animal welfare.  From the smallest mouse to an Indian elephant, UFAW’s work has made a tremendous difference to millions of animals all around the world – largely due to the support of members and donors.  We need your support - if you’d like to make a real difference to the welfare of animals, please consider supporting UFAW.  You can find out more and make a donation at  Thank you.