Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Health Testing and Breeders

If you've spent much time at all on my site you are keenly aware that health in my dogs is very important to me.  After all, it's the biggest reason I got into purebred dogs in the first place.  Here is my philosophy on breeding and health testing.

There is absolutely no reason that any puppy sold from ANYWHERE but a shelter or rescue should come without health tested (and passed) parents. This means that BOTH parents have a current Eye certification, BOTH parents have an OFA hip rating of either Good or Excellent, BOTH parents have been checked by a certified cardiologist, and BOTH parents are tested or tracked for breed specifice problems such as Thyroid, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), von Willebrand disease, progressive rod cone degeneration, Addison's disease, Cerebellar Abiotrophy, and the list goes on....

All of these diseases are known to have some genetic component and all of them can be either prevented or made significantly less likely in offspring by good breeding practices through testing. Since many diseases are breed specific it is important that all the diseases that are applicable to the breed are tested for.  It is also important that this testing does not ONLY include the members of the gene pool being bred.  There are many more dogs genetically related to the puppy you will purchase than just the ones with their names on the pedigree - there are aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc and a truly exceptional breeder will make every effort to health test ALL the dogs she produces, not just the ones she is going to actually breed.  More information is NEVER a bad thing.

Here's an example to really drive this point home:

As a breeder, I can have my dog's blood drawn and sent to a lab to determine whether or not he is a "genetic carrier" of PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which causes progressive vision loss culminating in blindness), a genetic disease of the Samoyed and some other breeds. When I choose to breed my dog, I can require that any bitch bred to him also have this testing done. By doing this, I can very easily be certain that the puppies produced in the litter will NOT be affected by PRA nor will they be carriers.

Think about that for a second - I can be certain that the puppies my dog produces will not have a debilitating disease, simply by spending a few hundred dollars on a test. What kind of person would I be if I decided not to do the test, just to save a few bucks?

How angry would you be if you bought a puppy from a breeder that developed PRA at the age of 4, and was blind by the age of 6? How angry would you be if you knew that breeder could have EASILY prevented your heartache and the suffering of your dog with a simple test? How angry would you be at yourself for not taking the time to make sure you picked a responsible breeder who tested for all of the know genetic diseases she could to ensure she produced healthy dogs? What kind of person would choose to breed dogs and cut corners because the tests are too expensive? Or choose to breed dogs without keeping themselves informed of the tests and other preventative measures they can take to produce the healthiest dogs possible?

What kind of person do you want YOUR dog's breeder to be?

Do your research. Ask questions. Demand satisfactory answers. 
Settle for nothing less.

Read more about the value of a well bred dog HERE.

What kinds of tests should your Samoyed's breeder be doing?

One very easy way to find out what testing was done on a dog you are interested in is by searching for them on OFA's (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) website.

Here is a link to the "official" recommended testing for a Samoyed.  When all of this testing is completed for an individual dog, that dog will be awarded a CHIC number.  So, one very easy way to determine if a dog has all his basic testing completed is to see if he has a CHIC number and logo next to his name. 
Like this:
Remember, though, this only means the test was DONE, not necessarily that the dog PASSED all the tests.

On the testing recommendations link provided above, you will notice you can click on each test to get more information.  I encourage you to do so, but let's go over them quickly here.

Before we do, let me be very clear that it IS possible that a breeder would have a perfectly acceptable and legitimate reason for not having all the testing listed on OFA.  Simply ask the breeder if the health testing has been done, if not - why?, and what other information they have for you regarding health testing.  They should be able to tell you about things you CAN'T see on the OFA website that they are aware of.  NO line is without any problems, KNOWing and understanding those problems and DOING something to prevent them in the future is what separates the great breeders from the others.  If there are NO health tests listed (and it's not a result of the tests being done elsewhere - such as PennHip or done in another country) and there are no truly legitimate explanations as to why, I highly recommend finding another breeder.

Health Tests recommended for a Samoyed 

testing is certainly not required to be limited to this list, there are many other tests available that breeders may choose to do:

Eye Examination by a boarded ACVO Ophthalmologist - this can be either reported to CERF or OFA (CERF reporting has been taken over by OFA, but you may see CERF listings on the OFA website from exams completed in past years)
(Breeding animals should have a current eye exam) to determine the dog is free from genetic eye issues.  Some issues are believed to be genetic, while others are likely caused by injury or age.  Some are much more serious than others.  TALK to your breeder about the results of the animals in the pedigree of a puppy you are looking to purchase and what exactly they all mean. 
Hip X-ray examined by OFA or another certification organization (elbow exam is an added bonus) 
to determine the laxity in the hips (and elbows) of a dog.  A dysplastic dog risks extreme pain due to rubbing in the hip joint (or elbow) or even of having a hip pop out of joint.  Look not only at the parents involved, but their relatives, as well.  

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (X-L PRA) DNA Test
DNA based test from an approved laboratory to determine if a dog is a genetic carrier of the gene that causes this disease.  Normally, the vision receptors in the eyes undergo a continual process of replacement and renewal. But with PRA this process slows and, one day, stops. The night vision receptors are the first to fail, and then, a while later, day vision starts to degenerate. XL-PRA is a "late-onset" form of PRA. It usually isn't until dogs are three to five years old that the first clinical signs of disease start to manifest. Indeed, deterioration can happen as early as five months of age--but no one notices it. Eventually, though, dog owners see that their pet's eyes have taken on a characteristic "shine." The pupils become increasingly dilated in the attempt to let in yet more light. Dogs develop "tunnel vision." It's like trying to look at the world through a narrow tube.    The results for this test will indicate either Normal (no gene for the disease), Carrier (carries the gene and could pass it to offspring, but will not be affected himself), or Affected (both carries the gene and will be affected by the disease, passing the gene to offspring is a certainty).

Optigen DNA Test for (RD) Retinal Dysplasia / OSD (OculoSkeletal Dysplasia) with results registered with the OFA to determine if a dog is a genetic carrier of the gene that causes these diseases.  It has been known for many years that carriers of OSD often have retinal dysplasia-retinal folds and that when two Carriers of OSD are bred, a quarter of their litter, on average, are dwarfed and blind.   The results for this test will indicate either Normal (no gene for the disease), Carrier (carries the gene and could pass it to offspring, but will not be affected himself), or Affected (both carries the gene and will be affected by the disease, passing the gene to offspring is a certainty).
Congenital Cardiac Database
OFA evaluation with examination performed by a Cardiologist.  Congenital heart diseases in dogs are malformations of the heart or great vessels. The lesions characterizing congenital heart defects are present at birth and may develop more fully during perinatal and growth periods. Many congenital heart defects are thought to be genetically transmitted from parents to offspring; however, the exact modes of inheritance have not been precisely determined for all cardiovascular malformations.
It is possible to have a cardiac examination done by a general practitioner submitted to OFA for this test.  I personally do not consider this to be an acceptable examination for breeding purposes and very strong recommend nothing less than an echo-cardiogram performed by a certified cardiologist.