In previous blog posts I recommended that one of the questions you ask a breeder is about health testing. I want to tell you about just some of the available testing for breeds of dogs and why it is important.

  1. Hip Dysplasia is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its most severe form, can eventually cause lameness and arthritis of the joints. It is the number one cause of arthritis in the hips. It is also genetic in nature and also influenced by environmental factors. Someone who wants to breed a large breed dog, especially those breeds already known for having hip dysplasia issues, should have radiographs done and submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). These are very specific radiographs that need to be done under anesthesia usually when the dog is 2 years old or older. After submission to the OFA several 3 different radiographers look at the radiographs and grade them based on what they see. The grades are then averaged and this is the grade assigned to the hips. Those grades are Normal (Excellent, Good, Fair), Borderline, and Dysplastic (Mild, Moderate, Severe). If the dog has either a microchip or a tattoo it is then assigned an OFA number. You, as a potential buyer, can then go to the Orthopedic Foundation of America’s Website and with either their registration number or their full registered name you can look at the grade given. Some owners may not opt to have their information be made available on the website, and if not, you should be able to ask to see the OFA report.
  2. Elbow Dysplasia is a genetic disease process that involves three different parts of the elbow involved in the dysplastic process. These are pathology involving the medial coronoid of the ulna (FCP), osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle in the elbow joint (OCD), and ununited anconeal process (UAP). While not as commonly done as the hip dysplasia radiographs, they can be done at the same time as hip radiographs for OFA evaluation. The elbow radiographs as also sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) as well. They need to be done after the dog is 2 years old to get a registration number. While hips are graded normal to dysplastic, elbows are only graded if they are abnormal of a scale from I to III. You, as a potential buyer, can go to the website listed above and check the elbow dysplasia report with their registration number or full registration name.
  3. Eye certification is also important. Currently there are 10 eye diseases that veterinary ophthalmologists recommend against breeding if present. They are diseases that may lead to blindness and have a hereditary component. This diseases include Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) also known as dry eye, glaucoma, persistent pupillary, cataracts, lens luxation or subluxation, persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV)/persistent hyperplastic tunica vasculosa lentis (PHTVL), retinal detachment , retinal atrophy – generalized (PRA), retinal dysplasia, geographic or detached forms, Optic nerve coloboma, and Optic nerve hypoplasia. Two of the above diseases can be genetically tested for in some breeds where they are more prominent. All dogs should have eye exams yearly to check for any eye abnormalities because many if caught early can be medicated to keep your dog’s eyes comfortable and possibly prolong the onset of blindness. Many dogs as they grow older get similar eye diseases to humans as well, many of which can be painful if not addressed. There are other eye diseases that veterinary ophthalmologists screen for and while the above list are those where it is recommended that you do not breed your dog, there are other eye diseases where it is the breeder’s option to breed or not to breed. Each dog is given a certificate after the eye exam that you can request to see.
  4. Hearing testing – Some Breeds of dogs can carry genes that when bred together can produce puppies that are deaf. Currently 80 breeds of dogs have shown to have problems with congenital deafness. It is a good idea to ask if the parents have been hearing tested because dogs with unilateral hearing loss, or loss of hearing in one ear, may act like a dog with perfect hearing and unless a hearing test has been performed and owner may not know. For those breeds that are prone to have problems with deaf puppies it is recommended that all puppies of the liter be hearing tested prior to going to their new homes. Those that have unilateral hearing and those that are deaf should not be used as breeding stock for future generations and the breeder will most likely have a clause stating that these puppies be spayed or neutered.
  5. Heart – If a puppy is determined to have a heart murmur, an abnormal sound to the heart, after they are born, you can ask the breeder to have the puppy evaluated by a veterinary cardiologist prior to purchase to see the extent of the heart murmur. Many puppies outgrow heart murmurs and others will not be affected by until they are older, but it is important to know about when purchasing a puppy.

There are many other genetic tests that can be performed on dogs, many of which are common in just one breed, but may be common in many breeds. To see if there are other genetic screening tests that a particular breed should have before choosing a breeder or bringing home a puppy checkout this link and look up the breed or breeds you are interested in.

Lastly this is a minimum list of some of the most common screening and tests available. Some breeders are focused on eliminating certain conditions in the breed and may do additional screenings. The bottom line is to ask about health screening when talking to breeders.