Tag Archives: Animal Health

Higher insurance premiums revealed for popular brachycephalic BREEDs

Gemma Chaters1; Alexander John Trees2, Gabrielle Laing3

1University of Glasgow; 2House of Lords; 3Veterinary Policy Research Foundation House of Lords

G.Chaters.1@research.gla.ac.uk

Abstract

Certain dog breeds are increasing in popularity in the UK and there is growing concern for the health and welfare of some of these breeds due to their conformational deformities.

As a surrogate measure of lifetime health and welfare, we compared health insurance premiums for fourteen popular UK dog breeds. Premiums for French and English bulldogs were over four times higher than the lowest premiums. We suggest this is an objective, actuarial indication of the expected higher healthcare costs of these brachycephalic breeds, reflecting in general, their predisposition to ill-health related to their conformation.

Introduction

There is growing concern from the veterinary profession and related bodies for the health and welfare of certain dog breeds in the UK because of the problems they have due to conformational defects. This concern comes at a time of increasing popularity of these breeds. Over the last ten years, the Kennel club has reported large increases in the registrations of brachycephalic breeds (dogs with less than 80% of their natural head depth) such as the French bulldog (up 3000%), pug (up 193%) and English bulldog (up 96%).

Brachycephalic dogs suffer a variety of clinical problems associated with their conformation including obstructive airway syndrome, gastro-intestinal disease, ataxia and lameness, eye disease, dystocia and spinal disease (1–6). For further references please see the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation fact file on Brachycephaly and other conformational disorders (7). It is of grave concern that a significant proportion of the pet dog population potentially endure avoidable ill-health and pain to satisfy human fashion.

A scoping study we did using market price comparison websites showed that the monthly cost for a cocker spaniel ranged from £8-14, compared to the pug £15-£22 and French Bulldog £28-£47. The policies for each breed were not directly comparable because the policy conditions (excess, limits, length of cover etc.) vary, however, they give an idea of the variations in cost. A further example of between breed price heterogeneity is that the cheapest monthly premium available that will cover vet fees up to £7000 was cheapest for the spaniel (£11) followed by the pug (£20) then the French Bulldog (£40).

For this investigation, to avoid introducing bias by comparing policies with different small-print stipulations, the authors contacted insurance company underwriters directly to get data that are comparable. We compare health insurance premiums between breeds, for identical quotes, hypothecating that these will be a surrogate measure for expected lifetime health and wellbeing, and may objectively highlight the predisposition to ill-health of certain dog breeds.

Methods

Three major insurance companies (collectively underwriting for companies that provide the insurance for over 75% of insured dogs in the UK) were requested to quote premiums for the most popular fourteen UK dog breeds (see Table 1) for a policy giving full lifetime cover, with an excess of £100, from each of three ages (fourteen weeks, four years and seven years of age), for a male dog, resident in the north-west UK (LA9 postcode).

A mixture of perceived risk from known health problems and a consideration of the magnitude of historic claims were given, by actuaries, as the basis for the setting of the premium. The companies quoted in units of one, where one was the lowest premium in all breeds and age categories. The data from each company were then combined to give a mean premium for each breed at each life stage (Table 1). Finally, a mean for the three age categories for each breed was derived to give a final ranking of costs (Figure 1).

Results

There was a high level of agreement between the insurance companies for the ranking of breeds within and across each of the three age categories. Table 1 shows the mean relative cost (n= three companies) of the monthly premium for each breed for each age category and the mean across all age categories for each breed. The combined results from all age categories are shown in Figure 1.

Across all age categories the English and French bulldog premiums were over four times more expensive than the cost of the cheapest breeds (chihuahua and shih tzu). The pug and German shepherd were next highest with their premiums around double that of the cheapest breeds. All other breed premiums were, on average 1.7 or less, times higher relative to the cheapest.

Discussion

Using strictly comparable quotes these results show that the French and English bulldogs, two popular brachycephalic breeds, have substantially higher insurance premiums compared with other popular UK dog breeds. This is an objective, actuarial indication of expected higher lifetime healthcare costs, reflecting the high pre-disposition to ill-health of these breeds. It is consistent with studies comparing the prevalence of ill-health and clinical signs amongst brachycephalic dog breeds (1-6).

The results have not been adjusted for breed size but although the smallest breeds (chihuahua and shih tzu) have the lowest premium costs, the premiums for most larger breeds are less than 50%

higher. This outcome shows that the effects of breed size on premiums are minimal in comparison to the effects of breed specific factors.

In the UK, we have been increasingly owning and breeding brachycephalic dog breeds for human pleasure, which the results of this study show incur higher health insurance premiums when compared to other popular breeds, suggesting a higher likelihood of ill-health and poor welfare.

It is incumbent on all concerned – pet owners, breeders, the veterinary profession – to promote and provide breeds less susceptible to ill health. A number of breeds suffer from ill health attributable to their conformation but prominent amongst these are the brachycephalic breeds. There have been a number of recent measures taken by various bodies which may be yielding positive results, with Kennel Club registrations falling for French bulldogs, bulldogs and pugs in the first half of 2019. Nevertheless, more needs to be done for the sake of animal welfare.

In 2014 the Dutch government introduced legislation prohibiting the breeding of animals “which possess a specific condition or appearance which may affect the health or welfare of the animal or its offspring” (8). Following this, criteria commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture were published in 2019 outlining the severe health and welfare issues of brachycephalic dogs and a traffic light breeding system which guides breeders and vets towards creating a healthier dog population (9). In June 2019 it was stated that the Animal law, with regard to breeding brachycephalic dogs with poor health due to severe conformational disorders, would start to be enforced using the traffic light breeding system guidelines.

Similar legislation was introduced in the UK in 2018. It would help were there to be greater awareness of the fact that under the Animal Welfare ( Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 – a statutory instrument of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – Schedule 6 states that “No dog may be kept for breeding if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype, phenotype, or state of health that breeding from it could have detrimental effect on its health or welfare or the health and welfare of its offspring”. This legislation is yet to be enforced in the UK and a test case would attract greater awareness to the issue.

It is important to note that neither of these pieces of legislation above refer to a specific breed and they allow for a variation in conformation within breed.

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the following insurance companies: Agria Pet Insurance, Petplan and RSA UK. GC undertook this project as part of a work placement at the House of Lords funded by a BBSRC studentship at The University of Glasgow.

References

1. O’Neill DG, O’Sullivan AM, Manson EA, Church DB, Boag AK, McGreevy PD, et al. Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency care veterinary practices: prevalence and risk factors. Vet Rec. 2017 Jul 22;181(4):88.

2. O’Neill DG, Jackson C, Guy JH, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, et al. Epidemiological associations between brachycephaly and upper respiratory tract disorders in dogs attending veterinary practices in England. Canine Genet Epidemiol. 2015 Dec 14;2(1):10.

3. Packer RMA, Hendricks A, Tivers MS, Burn CC. Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. Ambrósio CE, editor. PLoS One. 2015 Oct 28;10(10):e0137496.

4. Kaye BM, Rutherford L, Perridge DJ, Ter Haar G. Relationship between brachycephalic airway syndrome and gastrointestinal signs in three breeds of dog. J Small Anim Pract. 2018 Nov 1;59(11):670–3.

5. Rohdin C, Jäderlund KH, Ljungvall I, Lindblad-Toh K, Häggström J. High prevalence of gait abnormalities in pugs. Vet Rec. 2018 Feb 10;182(6):167.

6. Liu N-C, Adams VJ, Kalmar L, Ladlow JF, Sargan DR. Whole-Body Barometric Plethysmography Characterizes Upper Airway Obstruction in 3 Brachycephalic Breeds of Dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2016 May;30(3):853–65.

7. Veterinary Policy Research Foundation. VPRF Fact File – Brachycephaly & other conformational disorders [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Nov 28]. Available from: http://www.vetpolicy.org

8. wetten.nl – Regeling – Wet dieren – BWBR0030250 [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jun 17]. Available from: https://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0030250/2014-07-01/#Hoofdstuk2_Paragraaf1_Artikel2.6

9. Ae Van Hagen M. BREEDING SHORT-MUZZLED DOGS Criteria for the enforcement of Article 3.4. of the Animal Keepers Decree (Besluit Houders van dieren) – Breeding Companion Animals. Utrecht; 2019.

APGAW: Enforcement of animal welfare legislation

Animal welfare legislation: Does it work and is it effective?

On Tuesday, the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare met to discuss ‘Enforcement of Animal Welfare Legislation’. The very packed room listened to a Metropolitan Police Status Dogs unit Officer, an RSPCA Chief Inspector and an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) share their alarmingly similar views on the subject.

Inspector O’Hara, for the Metropolitan Police Status Dogs unit, highlighted that he and his colleagues receive enhanced training  when compared to most police forces. Whilst the police had historically relied on the RSPCA to lead on animal welfare law, he said ‘the sands are shifting’ and this was no longer the case. Elaborating further, he outlined several cases of interest and clarified that his unit have a good re-homing policy, with 118 dogs re-homed this year, where sensible and possible to their original home.

Mark Berry, a Local Authority EHO and member of the Companion Animal Welfare Forum, outlined the structure of service at his Local Authority, Stockton on Tees. He stipulated that his Local Authority (LA) provide a greater service than most LAs and are lucky to operate as a unitary body, rather than being spread across several departments. Mr Berry told us that statutory provision only covers stray dogs and animal licensing covering boarding, pet shops and breeding. Stockton on Tees also offer non-statutory services relating to dog-fouling, non-canine strays, unwanted animal handover, animal welfare issues including cruelty, abandonment, offences, nuisance complaints for all species, dangerous dogs, attacks on people/animals, microchipping, neutering and the promotion of responsible pet ownership. He re-iterated that many councils will only perform the first two statutory duties, yet the demand across the services in his LA is going up year on year since 2008. He believed that lack of suitably trained/qualified staff, facilities and resources, and the cost of instigating prosecutions were equally important factors behind the lack of effective animal welfare enforcement.

Dermot Murphy, for the RSPCA, stated that the three big costs for the charity and its finite resources were examination by a vet, boarding kennel fees and the cost of engaging a solicitor. He agreed with the previous two speakers that the enforcement across the country was patchwork and varied considerably from once LA and police force to another. Consequently, he felt there were currently substantial gaps in animal welfare enforcement.

In summary, all of the speakers felt that animal welfare enforcement could be improved if there were better guidance on precisely who is responsible for enforcement of the various different services outlined by Mr Berry. Furthermore, the provision of adequate resources, funding and experienced staff are key – none of which are likely to be a priority whilst the bulk of animal welfare services remain non-statutory. The question, posed by the RSPCA, of who ‘owns’ the Animal Welfare Act remains unanswered and until it is we will likely struggle on with the current patchwork cover.

UK Antimicrobial Resistance Summit

Tuesday 18th November was European Antibiotics Awareness Day and the VPRF went along to participate in the UK Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Summit organised by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. The event was hosted at Nobel House by Professor the Lord Trees of the Ross, Member of the House of Lords, Nigel Gibbens, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Professor Peter Borriello, CEO, Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

EAAD_abx_infographic_2The aim of the meeting was to bring together livestock production industry leaders and animal health representatives from the relevant Government departments and make a unified move from raising awareness to action at a national level.

As part of the cross-Government 5 year AMR strategy substantial outcomes are expected from both the public and animal health sides. However, whilst the Department of Health and Public Health England have the single, public sector NHS to deliver their outcomes, DEFRA and the VMD have multiple different private industry sectors with different issues related to antibiotic use.

EAAD_abx_infographicGeorge Eustice MP (Defra Minister for farming, food and marine environment) and Dr Felicity Harvey ( Director General for Public Health, Department of Health) both spoke at the event to give a sense of the current position of their departments. Prof Borriello spoke on behalf of the VMD.  This was followed by the perspective from industry, with updates from the pig, poultry and dairy sectors, all of whom are at startlingly different stages in their understanding and reduction of antibiotic use.

After lunch there was a round table discussion to consider what had been heard that morning. The main conclusion was that before action can be taken accurate and appropriate data needs to be gathered in one place for in depth analysis. For example, currently it isn’t possible to separate data on sales of pig and poultry antimicrobials into which were used for pigs and which for poultry. Furthermore, sales are not representative of use. There is much work to be done.

BVA Parliamentary Briefing

Briefing Parliamentarians over afternoon tea

The British Veterinary Association hosted an afternoon tea briefing for parliamentarians on Tuesday 4th November at the Houses of Parliament. The briefing, hosted by honorary associate of the BVA – Angela Smith MP, was well attended and a number of MPs and Peers came along to pick up the BVA Briefing packs and chat to BVA Officers and staff of the BVA.

The popularity of this event is reflected in the high levels of attendance. Animal health and welfare are both important subjects for the British public.  If you are interested in any of the BVA briefs please contact them directly or visit the BVA website

·         MPs who attended: David Amess, Sir Roger Gale, Barry Gardiner, Simon Hart, Julie Hilling, Anne McIntosh, Andrew Miller, Neil Parish, Andrew Rosindell, Andrew Stephenson, Bill Wiggin, Roger Williams, plus Anne Marie Adams (Laurence Robertson’s researcher).

·         Peers who attended: Lord Boswell, Lord Curry, Lord Higgins, Lord Trees (and Hannah Jordan – Parliamentary Veterinary Intern), Lord Wigley.

Annual Reception for Eggs, pigs and poultry

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eggs, Pigs & Poultry

The APPG for Eggs, Pigs and Poultry held its annual reception on Wednesday 29th October, hosted by the chairman of the APPG, Neil Parish MP. The group exists as a cross-party body to inform Peers and MPs interested in the egg, poultry meat and pork sectors. The group has the support of the National Pig Association, the British Poultry Council, the British Egg Industry Council and the National Farmers Union.

The reception is an informal affair and Neil Parish gave a short address on the progress of the enquiry currently being led by the APPG into planning, antibiotics and welfare associated with egg, pig and poultry production. Only the day before, the group had concluded its final evidence session. Several Peers and MPs  attended the reception to chat to the industry representatives about their concerns. These concerns included, but were not limited to: parasitic red mite infestation, the 2018 EU beak-trimming ban and alternative options to prevent cannibalism, African swine fever, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus, and consumer understanding of quality assurance schemes.