Clare Rusbridge is an advocate for the welfare issues related to inherited disease or that are breed and / or conformation related. Dogs and cats have lived alongside man for millennia but relatively recent breeding practices have impacted the welfare of mans’ best friend. The first influence was the development of breeds / varieties with a closed stud book limiting genetic diversity and encouraging the emergence of inherited and immune mediated disease. The second influence is the very human tendency to desire dogs that are fashionable. The aspiration for the “must have” canine accessory has driven the breeding of dogs for commercial reasons and where the welfare needs of the parent dogs and the puppies may be compromised (so called puppy farms). The third influence is the selection and desire for animals with facial or head features similar to babies with foreshortening of the muzzle; changes in orbit conformation; and skulls which are too small for the brain which have led to breathing problems (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Disease), eye disease and Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia respectively. Finally there is the pressure of the show ring and selection for a dog closest to the breed standard and that is more likely to win. A “more is better” philosophy results in exaggerated, physical body types – for example a breed standard which states that a neck should be “carried with considerable nobility” may result in selecting for dogs with a more upright neck and head carriage thus changing the forces on the neck and predispose the dog to cervical myelopathy (neck spinal cord disease). Added to this is the “popular sire” effect where there is disproportionate use of male dogs that have well in the show ring / adheres closely to the current fashionable interpretation of the breed. This further reduces genetic diversity.
Consequently Clare Rusbridge’s clinical research has prioritised tackling some of these issues including Chiari-like malformation and syringomyelia in brachycephalic toy breed dogs, Lafora disease in miniature Wire haired Dachshunds, Epilepsy, Polymyositis in the Hungarian Vizsla, and Feline Orofacial Pain in the Burmese cat.
Further to this end Clare is a trustee for the Dog Breeding Reform Group which promotes and support initiatives and reforms that will effectively improve dog welfare related to genetic breed health. Prior to this she was a member of the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding (2010-2014). The role of the Council was to encourage and facilitate significant improvements in the welfare issues associated with dog breeding by providing independent, expert advice to governments and other stakeholders. She is an inaugural member of the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force. The IVETF suggests consensus statements and provide definitions for canine and feline epilepsy and to advance the field by doing collaborative research and exchanging ideas. She is also the Veterinary Advisor for the Phyllis Croft Foundation for Canine epilepsy. Finally is a Scrutineer and was instrumental in establishing the British Veterinary Association/ Kennel Club Chiari malformation and syringomyelia MRI screening scheme.