Black Butte Retrievers

ICT Facts & Myths

Are buyers becoming TOO concerned about Ichthyosis and how it will affect their pet puppy?

What is ICT (Ichthyosis)? 

What is ichthyosis? This is a rare condition in which there is marked thickening of the outer layer of the skin and of the footpads. Affected dogs have rough skin covered with thick greasy flakes or scales that stick to the skin and hair.

What is Black Butte's view on breeding with ICT?

It's true, the condition is out there. Currently in Golden's, it has been seen as a very mild form of the disease and should therefore be viewed as such when referring to ICT in Golden's. Research shows the condition is far worse among Highland Terriers and other breeds.

From all of the research we have done, including speaking with the companies who run the DNA testing for ICT, we feel that the most responsible approach to this issue is using your best judgement and thinking of the breed first and foremost. If you have two ICT affected dogs in your breeding program and you feel have OUTSTANDING attributes that would better the breed (ie. build, structure, temperament) and a test litter is done where few to no puppies are affected, then it makes sense to us that this cross can be done again. If however, you are breeding two affected dogs and one or both are less than stellar quality and will not improve Golden's as a breed, they should not be bred together. Instead find a male/female to cross them with who are clear of ICT. 

Additionally, if you treat ICT like a disease that should be completely bred out and retire all affected dogs, the breed itself will begin to "bottleneck" and much larger problems could arise from a shrunken gene pool (like hip dysplasia, cancer, etc). Currently the health of American Golden's is at a historical decline (see our Breed History page) and RESPONSIBLE breeders are turning the European 'English Cream' Goldens, whose health is outstanding in comparison due to highly monitored and extremely responsible breeding practices. Rarely is a dog bred without all clearances being done and having been shown/titled with many championships to its name (so rare I dare you to find a breeder in Europe who has Golden's and does not meet these standards). Unfortunately, ICT has become more common in the European Golden's and is making buyers shy away from the English Creams. Before you walk away from an English Cream puppy because one or both of the parents are ICT carriers, think of the multitude of health issues that you will get from their American cousins (who are less affected by ICT) that are costly and in many cases, fatal. The English Cream Golden's may produce a MILD DANDRUFF from the ICT disease, but when you consider the outstanding health, lineage and temperament they embody, the choice seems clear.

This of coarse is simply our position on the issue. Purina did their own research and wrote a very informative article on on the subject. The experts who have been quoted here feel the same way about ICT. Be responsible with you breeding choices, but don't discontinue all DNA tested "affected" dogs who would better the breed by producing otherwise completely health dogs. 

Want to know more? Read the article below publish by Purina. 

Golden Retriever Ichthyosis 
When a scaling skin disorder first showed up in Golden Retrievers in the 1990s, it was frequently misdiagnosed as seborrhea, a condition that also causes scaling and dandruff. More than a decade later, veterinary specialists began studying the disorder and realized it is specific to Golden Retrievers. More recently, geneticists identified the causative mutation and developed a direct DNA test to identify affected and carrier dogs.

Fortunately, Golden Retriever ichthyosis is seldom severe. The disorder is named for the Greek word ichthys, meaning fish, because it looks like fish scales. Breeders sometimes refer to the condition as "puppy dandruff" since puppies usually outgrow signs of flaky skin as they mature, although ichthyosis also occurs in adult dogs. Research in Goldens led to the discovery that the disorder is similar to one of the human autosomal recessive congenital ichthyoses (ARCI).

An ongoing survey conducted by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals in conjunction with the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) reports that ichthyosis accounts for 0.2 percent of skin disorders in the breed. "Overall, this is a very low percentage," says Rhonda Hovan, the GRCA research facilitator. "The percentage of affected Goldens in this survey probably does not reflect how many dogs have the disease, especially if the diagnosis is based on physical signs alone. It is likely that mild cases go undetected or ignored. It also is possible that ichthyosis is inadvertently diagnosed as seborrhea, which accounts for 0.9 percent of skin disorders."

Realizing Breeding Implications
A direct DNA test now is available for determining if a Golden Retriever carries the PNPLA1 mutation or is affected by the scaling disorder, although the DNA test cannot predict which affected dogs will actually show clinical signs. Margret Casal, Ph.D., D.V.M., associate professor of medical genetics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, cautions that a positive ichthyosis test should not discourage breeders. "Breeders should not remove affected or carrier dogs from the gene pool," she says. "This would reduce genetic diversity and create a super bottleneck."

The best approach is to gradually reduce the mutation over six or seven generations, Casal advises. "You should consider the entire dog — all his or her qualities and characteristics. An affected or carrier dog that has much to contribute should be bred, although you should avoid breeding two affected dogs. Instead, breed outstanding affected or carrier dogs to clear dogs. This provides a choice of dogs to progressively decrease the frequency of the PNPLA1 gene mutation."

The GRCA Health & Genetics Committee endorses this approach. It also echoes Casal's caution regarding unnecessarily reducing the genetic diversity that is so vital for long-term breed health, Hovan says.

Golden Retriever breeder Gayle Watkins of Cold Spring, N.Y., who breeds under the Galyan prefix, concedes that she has not been too concerned about ichthyosis since it appears so mildly in most Golden Retrievers. A recent litter of seven affected puppies made her think twice.

"We had DNA testing performed on the dam when she was pregnant," Watkins says. "Both she and the sire tested positive. After this happened, I realized how upset prospective buyers can become about buying puppies with a known flaw."

Two of the puppies had moderate to severe flakes, or dandruff. Scales could be seen when the hairs on their coat were parted. "When the puppies were 19 weeks old, the signs had disappeared, and eventually, there were no clinical signs," she says.

Once the genetic test was offered, Williamson tested the sire and dam of a recent litter that produced a puppy with lightly, flaking dandruff. Both the sire and dam came back as carriers. "The dam was bred three times before the DNA test was available," she says. "What's more, all three sires were carriers. I've always placed puppies with dandruff into pet homes, so while I don't have any affected dogs at my kennel, I have plenty of carriers."

Watkins worries that as DNA tests become available for milder conditions, breeders will be forced to avoid producing dogs with any diseases."We are going to be pushed into making poor decisions for the breed, such as removing dogs from the gene pool for minor conditions,"she says. "Fortunately, ichthyosis does not affect a dog's ability to hunt, retrieve, swim or participate in all kinds of activities. It is so important to not lose dogs with great qualities. A DNA test can be helpful as long as we use smart breeding."

Purina appreciates the support of the Golden Retriever Club of America and particularly Rhonda Hovan, the GRCA research facilitator, in helping to identify topics for the Purina Pro Club Golden Retriever Update newsletter.

1 Grall A, et al. PNPLA1 mutations cause autosomal recessive congenital ichthyosis in golden retriever dogs and humans. Nature Genetics. 2012(Jan15);44(2):140-147.

2 Mauldin EA, et al. The clinical and morphologic features of nonepidermolytic ichthyosis in the golden retriever. Veterinary Pathology. 2008(Mar); 45(2):174-180.

3 Cadiergues MC, et al. Cornification defect in the golden retriever: clinical, histopathological, ultrastructural and genetic characterisation. Veterinary Dermatology. 2008:19;120-129.

4 Guague`re E, et al. Clinical, histopathological and genetic data of ichthyosis in the golden retriever: a prospective study. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2009:50(5);227-235.

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