Norwegian Buhund

Breed Notes 9th February 2018 Margaret Deuchar


Saturday 3rd February was Norwegian Buhund day at the Animal Health Trust Newmarket.

To start I am going to give you some history of how a numerically small breed like ours, had a day at the AHT.

In the late 80’s Hereditary Cataract was found in the breed in a routine test given to a hearing dog. It virtually wiped out the breed, as nearly all the breeders stopped breeding and those that did stay were told they must not breed from siblings of affected dogs. This was later rescinded but the damage was done, my Okie who was later to become Ch/Ir Ch Wolfen Just In Time was one of the last puppies to be born for about 2yrs. Professor Bedford did a lot of work with the club and for many years there was eye testing at club shows. Later I arranged a talk by Dr Jeff Sampson who at the time was Genetics consultant to the KC, I also attended talks by Cathryn Mellersh who is now head of Head of Canine Genetics at the AHT, and in 2008 we were sent cheek swabs for our dogs, many of which were taken at a club show. These were then forwarded to the AHT for future testing for HC; they now have over 32,000 swabs from 175 breeds. Cathryn had explained that to find DNA tests it takes a long time and at that time they were looking for HC in Siberian Huskies. They hoped that the Buhund cataract would be the same as in another breed. For a number of  years we heard nothing but all dogs that were going to be bred from were eye tested and every year one affected seemed to appear, although it does not cause blindness it might mutate and cause blindness if they were bred from.

Then in January 2016 the KC/AHT were in touch to say they were looking for breeds to be part of ‘Give A Dog  Genome Project’ which was for Genome Sequencing. The KC Charitable Trust had pledged £75,000 and they were asking breeds for £1,000 to join. Many years ago the club had been left a considerable amount of money in a will of a devotee of the breed. The money to be spent to help find a solution to HC. The committee very quickly decided this was just the correct use for some of the money. There are now 77 breeds form all seven groups taking part; we were told on Saturday that HC was the second on the list that breeds wanted investigated.

I was therefore very surprised when February last year I received an email saying, the HT was undertaking a study to investigate the genetic cause of Ataxia (which is a disorder that affects a dog’s movement, co-ordination and balance) in Norwegian Buhunds. I wrote back saying that it was HC that was our problem as it had been nine years since we had the last case of Ataxia and that with pet passport and the widening of the gene pool, we had not had any cases since. It was back in 1998 when my Okie sired a litter in which one puppy started head tremors, these progressed quite quickly so that the puppy could not stand and on welfare grounds was put to sleep. Sue Sercombe the breeder sent the body to the AHT for autopsy, they could not find anything wrong but said not to repeat the mating. Okie sired other litters with other bitches with no problem. Then in 2002 there was another puppy with the same outcome and it was also sent to the AHT. The last cases were in 2008 with 2 affected puppies again going to the AHT. Sue Sercombe is to be thanked for sending these puppies to the AHT, otherwise there would be no DNA test. The AHT said they were definitely looking into Ataxia and sent me cheek swabs so that that they could collect more DNA. During last summer many members swabbed their dogs and sent the samples off. On the 20th November 2017 I received the following “ Geneticists at the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust (AHT), in collaboration with the AHT’s Neurology unit, have identified a mutation that causes hereditary cerebella ataxia in Norwegian Buhunds, and are very pleased to announce the launch of a DNA test for this mutation on 4th December.” There was a press release from the AHT and an invite to a Buhund day, so that they could explain the test and also talk about HC. They also sent me a list of 100 dogs who were entitled to a free test having supplied cheek samples from 2008.Most owners requested  the test and from the results I have 15 carriers 60 clear. There are also hereditary clears, that is when both parents are clear so the puppies will be clear, we were told though that after 3 generations dogs should be tested, as anomalies  may have crept in. The wonderful thing about the test it is only involves a cheek swab, no anesthetic no visit to the vet and only once in the dog’s lifetime. It also means no dog needs to be withdrawn from the breeding programme, just that two carriers should never be mated; otherwise there might be an Ataxia puppy in the litter. There was also one carrier found in Finland, geneticists from there also worked with the AHT.

On arrival at the AHT we were given tea/coffee, which was very welcome as many had long trips from the West Country, Northern Ireland and Scotland although the last two had stayed overnight in the North of England, I think I had one of the shortest distance to travel with a journey of just under 2hrs .We started with a short introduction by Dr Sally Ricketts Postdoctoral Geneticist followed by a lecture on Cerebella Ataxia, given by Chris Jenkins Research Assistant and PhD Student. The lecture started by explaining with the help of a power point presentation Genome sequencing showing a strand of DNA. The canine genome codes around 20,000 proteins which are needed to make body cells. There are only four different letters that make up DNA codes these are A.T.C& G. The order of these letters make up a genome using what is called sequencing. A Boxer called Tasha was sequenced and is used as the canine reference. They then used 96 pedigree and crossbreed dogs and wolves against breed specific mutations. What causes mutations is Insertion .Deletion. Substitution, so either an extra gene is inserted, deleted or substituted. Of course other things can come into play such as the way the dog is brought up, nutrition and exercise these may affect things like hip dysplasia as well as the genetic influence. To find the gene that was causing Ataxia from 200 million genes they narrowed it down to 1 by using the control dogs with know mutations. The DNA test for Ataxia in Buhunds is not the same as for any other breed, but in all cases there is no known cure.

The DNA work done to help the health of dogs is also helping with the same conditions in humans.

Dr Sally Rickettes then gave a lecture on Hereditary Cataract and the Give a Dog A Genome Project. They are looking into HC in the Northern breeds, rather like the Ataxia it looks as if the gene that causes HC in the Buhund is specific to the Buhund, which is why it is taking a long time to find a DNA test. To help with their research, they would like cheek swabs from either dogs with HC or clear dogs with a current eye test who are 6yrs or over. If you have either of these just contact at the AHT and you will be sent swabs, there is no cost but they will need copies of the update eye tests. There is also an HC in Norway which is different to ours and causes a powdery look in the eye; they are also finding it difficult to find the cause.

Hopefully a DNA test is on the horizon and certainly the money the club spent on ‘Give a Dog A Genome’ was money well spent.

On Wednesday 7th February the KC issued a press release about the Ataxia DNA test saying that any of you that have had your dogs tested and would like the result to go on your dogs registration, you need to send the email from the AHT with the result, to the KC requesting this to or to

The AHT will also be at Crufts so if you have not already had your dog tested, you can pick up a swab test kit from them at a discounted price.

Margaret Deuchar

The views expressed in Margaret’s Breed Notes are hers and hers alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Norwegian Buhund Club of the UK