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Be a Responsible Pet Owner- Prevent Birth Defects with Good Practices.

Today is National Pet Birth Defect Awareness Day.

Cat photo credit The Dodo- Dog Photo Credit Puppy Photos credit The Holidog Times

Not all birth defects are visible, and some may not manifest for months or even years. Some birth defects can be prevented. My neighbor has a brother and a sister who are litter mates. They are the result of another brother and sister mating. As a result of inbreeding, her two dogs have hip dysplasia, and a multitude of allergies that mean joint pain down the road, and medication to treat allergies for the rest of their lives. There are things that can be done to slow down the hip dysplasia, but it is incurable and the direct result of inbreeding. Large breed dogs are more prone to hip dysplasia than medium or small breeds.

Other types of birth defects can include heart defects, deafness, blindness, and malformation of teeth. The more obvious birth defects include loss of limbs or malformed limbs, cleft palate, and some neurological problems. English Bulldogs and Golden retrievers are prone to a heart defect called subaortic stenosis, or SAS, where a valve in the heart doesn't completely form and blood flow out of the heart is impeded.

The good news is that many of the defects listed above and more can be prevented by responsible pet ownership. Malnutrition of the mother, stress during pregnancy, inability to regulate body temperature, trauma, overbreeding, and inbreeding are some of the preventable ways that puppies and kittens develop birth defects in utero. Chemically caused birth defects usually occur early in pregnancy and can result in stillborns, miscarriages, and live births that don’t survive their first weeks of life.

Not all birth defects are life-threatening, or so severe that they would limit your dog or cat from enjoying a full and rich life. But having a fur kid with a birth defect means special accommodations, sometimes medications, sometimes surgery, but always a little extra effort to give these babies the best life they can have. In many cases, birth defects also require more expense. These are all things that have to be taken into consideration when you decide to bring a fur kid into your home with a known defect. And if you happen to bring one home with an unknown defect, you must also be prepared for that eventuality. Being a responsible pet owner means taking the good with the bad, and not abandoning your fur kid because of their disability.

Generally, purebred animals are more prone to birth defects than mutts. The reason is that purebreds have a smaller gene pool and therefore their genetic variation is limited. Overbreeding and inbreeding are often found in puppy and kitten mills and in isolated cat colonies, where the gene pool can become homogeneous as in the polydactyl cat colony at the Hemmingway house in Key west. Though polydactylism is a benign defect it is the result of inbreeding.

Though we don’t encourage the buying and selling of animals for home companionship; if you decide to buy, look out for red flags from breeders. If they have cats or dogs with breed-specific defects or any other maladies, they are very likely overbreeding and inbreeding. Stay away from those breeders.

Being a responsible pet owner requires an understanding of your pet’s needs whether they be special or not. It also entails having the means and the ability to accommodate those needs. Having a special needs fur kid can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it is not for everyone. Just like knowing what kind of animal best suits your lifestyle and family, not everyone is cut out to care for or have enough time for a special needs pet. Just know that like humans, animal kids are not immune from birth defects or inherited diseases. And these animals deserve just as much love and care as any other!

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