I am writing to support the ongoing efforts of Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli who is working with your breed club to identify the gene(s) for the Bull Terrier behavioral disorder known as “spinning” or “tail chasing.” Ultimately we hope this will lead to a genetic test for the disorder that will allow breeders like you to identify carriers among your pedigrees. As an important and forward-looking breeder, your participation is important since we need to obtain a complete set of DNA samples from both affected and unaffected dogs to track the inheritance of the condition within a family.
Information you provide will be held completely confidential, as stated in the written procedural requirement by our Academic Institutions for genetic mapping projects. No information you provide is shared with the American Kennel Club, the Canine Health Foundation, or any private inquirer. The information as to who chose or declined to participate in the study is confidential as well. Individual identifiers are stripped from all dogs and samples once they reach our laboratories and DNA is only referred to by a coded number. Access to information you provide is limited to our immediate staff and is kept in multi-passworded computer files. Written information is held in locked files that only we access. Published data and data used in seminars or symposia are also coded to protect the privacy of those who aid this important effort. We appreciate that each of you do the very best job you can breeding healthy dogs, and we understand the amount of time and effort you put into the production of each litter. We understand also that your reputations are important to you, as ours are to us, so we are committed to maintaining the strictest confidentiality policies.
Once a gene(s) is found, you and your fellow breeders will need to decide what to do with the information. In our experience with small breeds that have a restricted gene pool, the best practice is NOT necessarily to remove carriers from your breeding programs, but simply to avoid breeding carriers to one another ‘ whenever possible. Removing too many dogs from what is already a limited gene pool will likely just result in the appearance of another, different, genetic disease. At the point where a gene(s) is found, we will make the resultant technology available so that diagnostic tests can be developed by others. Such tests will. not be offered by my lab, which is strictly a research lab. Some of you may wish to participate in genetic testing, others may not. That will be up to you as individuals and as an individual breeder to decide. You are in no way obligated to participate in any later genetic testing of your dogs and no genetic samples you provide will be forwarded to anyone else.
Why are we going to all the trouble to find this gene(s) when acceptable therapies exist for affected dogs? Our reasons are two-fold. First, we believe your breed and breed club are unique in that Bull Terriers have a well-described disease, and that you are unusually well informed about canine genetics. This offers us a chance to test many of the theories and ideas we have about genetic mapping of canine disease genes on this disorder. In other words, we believe that by working with you we have the best chance of success. The successful mapping of this gene in your breed will thrust you into the limelight of canine health as a progressive and thoughtful group of breeders. Importantly, this will encourage other breed clubs, who are perhaps not so visionary, but whose dogs are plagued by more serious genetic illnesses, to establish similar collaborations that will improve the health of their breed. In a sense, you are doing it as much for other breeds and their inherited blindness, hip dysplasia, heart disease, and epilepsy as you are doing it for Bull Terriers and their “spinning.” Second, although there are some notable differences, the disorder featured in your breed is reminiscent of obsessive compulsive disorder in humans. Identification of the canine gene could be of enormous value to researchers’ studies of similar diseases in humans, and could ultimately contribute to the development of treatments for humans and dogs alike.
In my 15 years as a geneticist, my collaborators and I have collected DNA samples and health information from over 6,000 individuals with potential inherited diseases. At any given time, over 1,000 samples are under analysis in my laboratory. We believe we have the understanding, methodology, and know-how to make the very best use of the samples and information you provide. Our commitment to improving Bull Terrier health can be a major step forward for canine health in general. We ask you to be our partners in that effort. Please do not hesitate to contact either of us with additional questions or comments. If you are willing to participate, please contact Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli at 508-839-5395 x84702 and she will send you blood collection kits and behavior surveys. She will need information for the siblings, parents and grandparents, if available, of the affected dog.
Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D.
Head, Program in Genetics
Associate Member, Divisions of Clinical Research and Human Biology
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Clinical Assistant Professor
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
Department of Clinical Sciences
200 Westboro Road
North Grafton, MA 01536