The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has unveiled a new set of guiding principles to tackle the health impacts of extreme conformations across companion and farm animal species.

The principles form part of the organisation’s newly-adopted policy position on the vital role of vets in preventing, reporting and treating instances of concerning extreme structural conformations across all species.

The position follows from increasing concerns among the profession about breeding and conformation-related problems.

In the BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey last year, breeding and hereditary defects emerged as vets’ top animal health and welfare concern, with the number of vets citing it as a pressing issue more than doubling over the previous two years.

Among companion animal vets, nearly half (45%) of those surveyed picked conformational deformities and pedigree breeding - particularly of brachycephalic breeds - among the three welfare issues that concerns them most.

Exaggerated conformation

Exaggerated conformation across species was identified by the BVA and its specialist divisions as a key focus for advocacy following the launch of its Animal Welfare Strategy in 2016.

The association has worked closely with its specialist divisions to compile six principles and 10 recommendations spanning both companion and farm animal practice.

The principles address the responsibility of society, including vets and vet nurses, academics and breeders, to work together to:

  • Ensure healthier future generations of animals that currently experience extreme conformation;
  • Reduce the negative health and welfare impacts of extreme conformation;
  • Increase awareness about these issues across different species;
  • Encourage research to better understand and address the prevalence of conformation-related ill-health;
  • Encourage research to better understand and address the prevalence of the welfare impacts resulting from extreme conformation;
  • Develop objective, robust measures to contribute to the assessment of problematic conformation.

Recommendations to achieve this range from supporting breeders to make responsible breeding decisions, performing corrective surgical procedures and participating in reporting schemes where they exist, to monitoring health records and reports, such as abattoir and Food Standards Agency reports, to identify the impact of extreme conformation in livestock.

'Critical to the health and welfare'

British Veterinary Association president Simon Doherty said: “This position was developed in close consultation with our specialist divisions and comes at a time when vets in various areas of practice are voicing concern about health and welfare issues resulting from poor breeding.

“While the veterinary profession is relatively small, its reach is significant and its role is critical to the health and welfare of not only animals, but the rest of society too.

“We hope this document sets out some helpful principles and tips to enable vets as well as other stakeholders to strive for healthier future generations of animals across all species together.”

Apart from drawing on examples of extreme structural conformations in the canine and feline sectors, BVA’s position covers examples in rabbits (lop-eared and brachycephalic), equines (miniature horses and ‘cartoon’ Arabian colts), ornamental fish (bubble-eye goldfish and fish bred for shortened bodies), reptiles (‘Silk back’ inland bearded dragons) and poultry (tibial dyschondroplasia - a metabolic disease of that affects the growth of bone and cartilage in broiler chickens).

It also recognises that it may be necessary to select animals with specific conformational traits for scientific purposes in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.