Vickie Halstead RN, CVNS, CCRN, CEN, CLNC
Anne Jones RN (retired), BSNE
Breeding purebred dogs means breeding within a limited gene pool and the Bichon Frise is no exception. Throughout history, humans have bred dogs by looking only at the physical characteristics (phenotype), but it is a game of chance. When you repetitively breed the same gene pool, an unknown killer may be lurking in the parents' genes. Cystinuria was the killer that shortened Mastiff lives and cardiomyopathy shortened American Boxer lives. Fortunately, by using DNA markers, breeders are eliminating these killers.
So what killer is lurking in the future for the Bichon Frise? That is unknown but breeders of the Bichon Frise can be prepared to challenge any killer by collecting DNA now and in the future on all Bichons owned and all puppies produced. Researchers emphasize that samples and data are needed for all dogs in a breed being studied, whether the dog is affected or is healthy. Otherwise, researchers cannot compare what is normal and what is not. When the call comes for DNA samples that are needed for genetic research of a disease threatening the Bichon Frise breed, you as a breeder can be prepared to provide resources and information from dogs living and dead. Researchers are currently using swabs that are 10 years old, seeing no age-related decline in the quality of the DNA provided the swabs were not exposed to any ambient humidity. For more information read, "Clearing the Lines", Matthew Schenker, AKC Gazette, February 2006, pp.35-39.
BFCA encourages Bichon breeders/owners to submit DNA to all 3 of the DNA banks explained in this article. Research projects can be delayed for up to 2 years while researchers collect DNA samples from dogs without DNA stored in a bank. Expedited research projects increase the likelihood of developing DNA based disease tests. To facilitate this process, the BFCA health committee will provide complimentary DNA swabs to Bichon breeders/owners at the health table at national specialties, funded by the Bichon health research fund. Detailed instructions on how to obtain DNA specimens and future calls for DNA samples will be posted on the "DNA banks" page of the health website www.bichonhealth.org.
NOTE: All data collected by genetic researchers is protected, so anything you share about your dog's health status and any diseases found in the course of looking at your dog's DNA, is kept confidential.
AKC DNA Profile Program for Parentage
AKC provides this service for you to register the DNA of your Bichons to verify parentage for genetic identity purposes, i.e. to verify future generations produced by the dogs. BFCA recommends that all Bichons used for breeding, male and female, participate in this program. AKC requires this program for stud dogs whose semen is collected for fresh-extended or frozen use, for imported breeding stock, and for frequently used sires (more than 3 litters in a calendar year or producing 7 or more litters in a lifetime). AKC's goal is to ensure that the AKC Registry is the most accurate in the world.
To participate, the owner orders a DNA test kit from AKC that contains one cheek swab with instructions on how to obtain the DNA sample. Once AKC receives the sample, they will profile that dog with a DNA Profile Number that will appear on that dog's registration record, certificates, and pedigrees. BFCA often provides the AKC DNA test kits for a reduced rate at the Bichon national specialty. For more information and instructions on how to order a test kit, go to this web site: www.akc.org/dna/certify.cfm
Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) DNA Repository
The CHIC DNA bank is co-sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF). It stores either blood or cheek swab samples of DNA with corresponding pedigrees and health data. The goal of this program is to facilitate future canine research and testing by expeditiously providing DNA samples to scientists, which will reduce the incidence of inherited disease in dogs.
The fees for placing samples in the CHIC bank are $5.00 per dog for cheek swab samples and $20.00 per dog for blood samples, which cover the costs of data management, sample processing, and sample storage. CHIC encourages breeders/owners to view the fees as supporting canine health research. Once your dog's DNA is registered in the CHIC DNA bank, this act of responsibility and generosity will appear on your Bichon's OFA page as "DNA Sample Donated for Canine Health Research", along with the dog's list of OFA and CERF health tests.
If you are willing to participate in the CHIC DNA Repository, go to this site www.caninehealthinfo.org/dnabank.html to download the application form and brief health survey. You will be required to submit these 2 forms to CHIC to receive the DNA swab or blood collection kits, and to inform CHIC of any changes in your dog's health status in the future. If your dog develops a genetic disease, researchers need to be aware because they might be searching for DNA for that particular disease.
Bichon DNA Cache at Home Program
The BFCA Health Committee is sponsoring "Bichon DNA Cache at Home" by providing free collection kits at national specialties for you to collect cheek swab DNA samples from your litters, as well as your individual dogs. You should collect 5 cheek swabs of DNA from each puppy born or each dog you own using sterile swabs and identifying each with a special, archival label. In addition to storing all the samples safely in your home, you should record the annual health level of each dog that you swabbed. When Bichon Frise DNA samples are needed for genetic research, you as a breeder will be prepared to provide needed samples from dogs living and dead, an important aid to successful research.
In addition to saving DNA on swabs, or instead of, you have the option of saving blood samples from your Bichons at home or sending the samples to the CHIC DNA Repository or directly to a researcher, but you will need the assistance of a veterinarian. Many researchers prefer blood which contains more DNA, but collecting several swabs with DNA on your dog will allow you to send a portion of them to a pertinent research project, and still keep some at home in your DNA cache.
The Bichon DNA swab kits contain 5 swabs per dog, envelopes in which to store the swabs, and archival labels for each swab. Detailed instructions for obtaining samples can be found at www.bichonhealth.org/DNACache.htm