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DNA Test Helps Dalmatians
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Powell’s dedication led to the creation of the Dalmatian Heritage Project, which in turn sparked the involvement of other Dalmatian breeders and the expansion of the backcross population. Current descendants of the original cross represent the 12th generation of the family. There is only one Pointer out of more than 4,000 relatives in the pedigrees of the backcross dogs, which makes them more than 99 percent Dalmatian.

Backcross dogs undergo all the health screenings recommended for AKCregistered Dalmatians, including Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) hearing testing, temperament analysis, conformational analysis and, in some cases, Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) hip exams and Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) eye evaluations.

Danika L. Bannasch, DVM, PhD, associate professor of genetics at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine—and Dalmatian owner and former breeder—became involved with the project in 1998. Using blood samples and pedigree information from generations of backcross Dalmatians, Dr. Bannasch and her colleagues recently identified a mutation in the SLC2A9 gene that causes huu in Dalmatians. The mutation correlates perfectly with a dog’s huu status: Only HUA dogs have two copies of the mutation. “The biggest challenge to finding the genetic cause for huu in Dalmatians was the fact that the trait is fixed in the breed,” says Bannasch.“If we didn’t have the backcross, it would have been impossible to do.”

The scientific data reporting the identification of the huu mutation has been published in the peer-reviewed genetics journal of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and a DNA test for the mutation is now available through the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis. Previously, a laborious and expensive urine test was required to determine whether a dog was LUA or HUA. The DNA test eliminates the need for the urine test and makes selection easier in the backcross Dalmatians.

The positive impact of this genetic discovery extends beyond Dalmatians. High levels of uric acid and urate stone formation have been reported in individuals from other breeds, including Bulldogs and Black Russian Terriers. Testing in Dr. Bannasch’s laboratory has confirmed that the mutation responsible for huu in these breeds is the same one identified in Dalmatians.

“Now we have a means for identifying the probable major cause for urate disease in dogs,”says Bannasch.“If you know your dog is predisposed to form bladder stones, you can alter things about their management and be aware of the signs of stone disease.”

The huu mystery described in Dalmatians more than 90 years ago has been solved through visionary thinking and tireless dedication. Advances in genetics enabled the creation of a DNA test that will benefit not only Dalmatians, but other dogs as well. The story of the backcross Dalmatians exemplifies the profound impact on canine health that breeders, owners, veterinarians and scientists can achieve by working together.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 53: Mar/Apr 2009
Amy Young is a geneticist at the University of California, Davis; her article on commercial DNA breed tests appeared in the Sept/Oct '08 issue of Bark.

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