Why dog shows could be deadly for Alsatians: Animals are dying from muscular and skeletal problems because of selective breeding
German shepherd dogs are dying from musculoskeletal problems following selective breeding for shows, it has been warned.
The Royal Veterinary College says breeding to make the dogs 'desirable in the show ring' may be affecting their health.
Its study of nearly half a million German shepherds in Britain found around one in six died from musculoskeletal disorders, with almost 15 per cent dying from an 'inability to stand'.
Experts warn the dogs, also known as Alsatians, are potentially being harmed by breeding for cosmetic traits including lower hindquarters and a sloping back.
Pictured: An Alsatian dog, which the Royal Veterinary College warned may be at risk of damage after years of selective breeding for shows
The findings follow an outcry last year over a 'deformed' Crufts winner, German shepherd Cruaghaire Catoria, which won Best in Breed despite having a curved back and struggling to walk properly.
The Kennel Club has subsequently changed its standards to require dogs of this breed to be able to stand comfortably while unsupported.
But the Royal Veterinary College has raised fresh concerns over selective breeding, after its study also found German shepherds are suffering from osteoarthritis and joint disease.
The study's lead author, Dr Dan O'Neill, of the Royal Veterinary College, said: 'German Shepherd Dogs have previously been reported to have the second highest number of health disorders exacerbated by breeding traits, with Great Danes occupying first place.'
He added: 'Our results highlight the power of primary care veterinary clinical records to help understand breed health in dogs and to support evidence-based approaches towards improved health and welfare in dogs.
'Interestingly, we found osteoarthritis to be one of the most common conditions reported, which may be caused, in part, by breeding for cosmetic traits such as lower hindquarters or a sloping back.'
The most common causes of death in German shepherds, used as police and guide dogs as well as pets, are joint disorders and inability to stand.
A graphic showing the developmental changes of the German Shepherd breed in the 120 years since it was created
They are more vulnerable to musculoskeletal disorders because of their larger bodies and fast rate of growth, but experts say selective breeding may be making problems worse.
Last year hundreds of animal lovers shared their concerns about Crufts winner Cruaghaire Catoria, known as Tori.
German shepherds similar in appearance to the three-year-old bitch, said to be bred with banana-shaped backs and sagging back ends, have been described as 'half-dog, half-frog'.
The latest research, published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, studied data from dogs seen across 430 veterinary clinics in the UK in 2013.
A total of 263 specific disorders were recorded in the dogs, the most common of which were inflammation of the ear canal, osteoarthritis, diarrhoea, weight problems and obesity, and aggression.
The findings follow an outcry last year over a 'deformed' Crufts winner, German shepherd Cruaghaire Catoria (pictured), which won Best in Breed despite having a curved back and struggling to walk properly
The study warns dogs which are not dying from musculoskeletal problems may be living in extreme pain.
Dr O'Neill said: 'It has been reported that German shepherds are predisposed to conditions such as abnormal formation of the hip joint, cancer and degenerative spinal disorders, but the extent to which these conditions are prevalent in the population are unclear.
'However, by looking at primary care data from veterinary clinics, we are able to get a much better picture of the real priority conditions affecting this breed and this will help inform clinical practice in the future.'
The Kennel Club Breed Watch system lists the German Shepherd as 'requiring particular monitoring and additional support'.
Points of concern raised by the Breed Watch system include health complications that may arise from excessive angulation of the back knee and leg joints, a nervous temperament and weak hindquarters.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary said: 'The Kennel Club welcomes research which provides valuable information about the health of dogs of any breed.
'The German Shepherd Dog is one of the 17 breeds in the first round of the Kennel Club's Breed Health and Conservation Plan project and therefore this new piece of research will form a valuable part of the evidence base for this breed.'