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LONDON (Reuters) - The health of pedigree dogs is being put at risk by breeders seeking "fashionable" characteristics, an independent report said on Thursday, calling for widespread changes to breeding practices.
The report, the conclusion of a 10 month-inquiry into dog breeding, also said dangerous dog laws should be changed to apply to all dogs shown to be dangerous rather than just specified breeds and to tackle the problem of dogs being bred and reared as weapons for fighting.
"Many breeders exercise high standards of welfare, but negligent management on puppy farms is a major welfare issue as is inbreeding in pure-bred dogs," said the Zoological Society of London's president Patrick Bateson, who carried out the inquiry.
"Fashions for extreme conformations are also a cause of welfare problems," he added.
Bateson said the practices of using small numbers of successful show dogs for breeding purposes and selective breeding of close relatives to achieve desired characteristics was having a negative impact on the welfare of pedigree dogs.
More than 85 percent of Bulldogs cannot give birth naturally as their puppies' heads are too large, he said, while a fashion for small heads in King Charles Spaniels mean many suffer from a disorder in which their brain grows beyond the size of their skull, causing pain and fits.
The report recommended an advisory panel be set up to develop breeding strategies which tackle such problems of inherited disease and inbreeding, while scientific advice should be made available to breeders and owners, with rewards for breeders who deliver high welfare standards.
The inquiry was commissioned by the Kennel Club, which runs the Crufts dog show, and the Dogs Trust charity last year after a BBC documentary highlighted concerns about pedigree breeding practices, after which the broadcaster pulled out of a long-standing arrangement to televise the annual Crufts show.
Animal Charity the RSPCA, which also withdrew support for Crufts, welcomed the report's recommendations and said it hoped urgent action would now be taken to ensure changes are enforced.
"The world has woken up to the extremely unpalatable truth that the health and welfare of many pedigree dogs is seriously compromised as a result of the way they are bred," said RSPCA veterinary adviser Mark Evans. "Pedigree dogs need our help."
The report also raised concerns about large commercial breeding centres or "puppy farms," recommending greater regulation of breeders and more information for the public about what questions to ask and what to look for when buying a dog.
In a joint statement, the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust said they broadly welcomed the report and its recommendations to tackle irresponsible breeders.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Steve Addison