WSAVA Urges Use of Genetic Testing Before Breeding

December 8, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

The global veterinary association is calling on veterinarians and breeders to employ genetic testing technology to reduce hereditary disease.

In an effort to reduce animal suffering caused by hereditary disease, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is urging veterinarians and breeders to adopt what it calls a “health-conscious” approach to breeding.

WSAVA, which represents more than 200,000 veterinarians, says that the incidence of disease can be reduced by utilizing the advances in genetic testing and counseling that are now widely available in veterinary medicine. In particular, the WSAVA Hereditary Disease Committee—which has released a position paper on the subject—is concerned with hereditary diseases related to extreme conformations including size, skin folds, angulation, and brachycephaly.

Pre-screening Procedures

For starters, the committee is calling on breeders to use pre-breeding health screening, including a physical examination by a veterinarian and a thorough review of the animal’s medical history, to select only those animals that will likely produce healthy offspring. Beyond that, WSAVA says breeders should use breed-specific genetic testing, screening based on common hereditary disorders, and breed-specific recommendations that are readily available from reputable sources, including animal health organizations and breed and kennel clubs.

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Additionally, the committee sponsors the Canine and Feline Hereditary Disease (DNA) Testing Laboratories database—run by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine—which is searchable by breed, disease, and testing laboratory.

“If a breed demonstrates a disease-predisposing anatomy then selection should be towards a moderate and less extreme anatomy,” the group urged.

Genetic Testing

In addition to requesting that breeders take a more proactive approach to screening prior to breeding, WSAVA is also calling on veterinarians to become familiar with the availability and proper use of genetic tests for their patients. The committee called for individual genetic tests to be validated for the specific breed and disease being tested. As noted in the position paper: “Mutations may segregate in multiple breeds but not necessarily be associated with disease in all them. This means that a DNA test for 1 breed may not be appropriate for others.”

WSAVA also explained that the use of multiplex genetic testing that is able to produce results for more than 100 identified disease-associated mutations has replaced individual gene tests. Multiplex testing is both more practical and more affordable because it allows for all available tests to be conducted on each DNA sample. However, this type of test requires filtering out results with no clinical breed implications.

Genetic Counseling

The committee recommends genetic counseling that is customized to the animal and its circumstances. This includes the mode of inheritance, the penetrance of the mutation being tested for, the breed being tested, and the frequency of the mutation within that breed.

Additionally, the committee reiterated that an important aspect of genetic testing and counseling is for the interpretation of each DNA test and its related recommendations to be appropriate to the test, the animal, and the breed. This is vital to avoiding improper decision making regarding breeding, treatment, or euthanasia.