Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Health Testing Policy

A few words about health testing, my policy, and why I require this:

I require all my puppies to be health tested, whether they will be bred or not.

Let me repeat that. I require ALL my puppies to be health tested, WHETHER THEY WILL BE BRED OR NOT. There are no exceptions.

Ultimately the reason for this testing is because we wish to continue breeding dogs so that future generations may enjoy them in the capacity that we enjoy them today – healthy and happy. We need to know the health of AS MANY dogs in the family tree as we possibly can in order to continue doing this ethically and effectively. This means the requirement for testing is not limited only to individual dogs that will be bred. Knowing the health of just one out of 5 or more puppies in a litter is simply not enough to make the best choices.

Breeding dogs is somewhat like gambling. How you choose to gamble is up to you. The breeders I work with prefer to know all the cards in play. We spend a lot of time researching pedigrees and checking health tests not only on the dogs being bred but their littermates, aunts and uncles and so on. We’re counting cards, we have partners who are counting cards and we’re all constantly trying to find ways to make the right choices and put the win in our favor.

Others prefer to gamble by wildly rolling dice that are loaded against them and placing blind bets with limited information. The fact of the matter is, not all breeders are the same… There are breeders you can buy from that have 1 page contracts or even no contracts at all - you hand over the money, they hand over the dog, and you go your separate ways. There are also breeders who breed dogs with genetic cataracts or known heart issues. There are breeders who raise their dogs in a garage or out building and do very little training with them for the first few weeks. There are breeders who only health test the dogs they intend to breed and some that don't even do that. These breeders all have a right to make these choices, and you have a right to buy from them if you so choose. They are not me. They are not the breeders I work with. I can tell you that there are plenty of other breeders out there that think we are overbearing and nuts. They have every right to hold this opinion. However, I find the people we sell to understand the value in what we do. They’re card counters, too.

I understand that all of this breeding mumbo-jumbo can be hard to understand, so I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a completely made up story, but it’s also completely possible when breeders choose to limit the dogs they health test, and it will hopefully help you understand why we feel so strongly about health testing all of our offspring.

Let’s start with the story of the “H Litter”. It’s the kind of stuff breeders' nightmares are made of. The H Litter consisted of six beautiful puppies. Three of the puppies went to show homes (which is really great as far as many breeders are concerned) and 3 puppies went to pet homes. The puppies all have great puppyhoods, and the breeder is thrilled with how they are turning out. Each of the 3 show/breeding puppies gets his or her health testing done, and this is what they found:

The first show home bought their puppy to be the foundation bitch of their own kennel, but when they got her health tested they found that not only did she have inheritable cataracts, she also had a heart condition.

The second show home is extremely disappointed to find out that their puppy has cataracts and they should not breed him.

The third show home is devastated to find out that the dog they wanted to show, breed, and do agility with has a heart condition and will be able to do none of these things.

One of the pet homes rushes their dog to the vet when he collapses and finds out he has a heart condition.

Another pet home enjoys jogging with her dog and after hearing from the breeder that heart issues have been discovered in the litter, decides she will no longer be able to take him jogging with her.

HOW could this happen?

Let’s take a look at the health tested dogs in the “pedigree” of these puppies:

Notice, all the dogs with the blue circles around them are the dogs that were bred or planned to be bred, so they are the dogs from each litter that were health tested by breeders who follow the “you only have to health test the dogs you breed” practice. 

Note: Burgundy hearts = genetic heart problem and Green hearts = genetic cataracts (for this example)

If you look at the parents of the H litter, you can see that the brother of their dam (in the F litter) did have some issues with his eyes, but her eyes tested clear and since none of their other tested relatives had problems it seemed unlikely to be an issue. There were no health tested relatives whatsoever that were found to have genetic heart conditions so it’s a complete shock to the breeder that these heart conditions came "out of nowhere".

Now, let’s look at what the breeder who requires ALL of the puppies to be health tested sees in this very same pedigree.

Note: Burgundy hearts = genetic heart problem and Green hearts = genetic cataracts (for this example)

It’s a bit of a different story when you can see all the characters, isn’t it? The breeder who required all of the puppies be health tested would have known that breeding a puppy from D litter to E litter was potentially risky and they might never have allowed the boy from G litter to be bred given that clearly his siblings had inherited a heart condition from their parents and it’s likely he is also a carrier of the disease.

Notice the C litter, the whole litter was tested, and one would think that all those dogs would be in the clear. Unfortunately, they are recessive carriers for cataracts. Maybe their relatives didn't have very much health testing and nobody ever suspected an issue. In fact, a breeder who only tests the dogs they're breeding might never think anything of it and continue breeding without any concern. But, the breeder who tests all of their puppies would see that two of the puppies in the F litter were affected by cataracts, and take note that they need to be careful about who they breed their F bitch to because it's possible she's a carrier.

This is a completely fictional situation and there is an awful lot that goes into the genetic heritability of diseases making it far more complex than this simplistic diagram, but I hope that this story helps you see what a tremendously big difference there is between health testing only the show/breeding puppies and making sure we get the WHOLE story.

When you consider where you buy a puppy, I ask that you give very serious consideration to the philosophy of the breeder from which you wish to buy. Please think about what that breeder does and how s/he makes breeding decisions. If you see value in a breeder gathering as much health information as possible, please remember how important it is to pay it forward to the next generation by completing appropriate health testing on your puppy when the time comes.

We love Samoyeds. All Samoyeds. What we don't love is hearing about people who try to save money by buying from breeders too cheap to do health testing. We don't love hearing about sick, disabled puppies. We don't love hearing about dysplastic puppies that are so bad they have to be put down. We don't love hearing about cheap dogs whose breeder didn't do eye testing on the parents or the pups and who are blind from cataracts or glaucoma.

We understand that dogs with health tested and researched families are not immune from ever having any health issues. But we also know it is a heck of a lot less frequent when we make better decisions with more complete data.

Written via collaboration by Amanda Van Eperen, Julie Dunkle, and Andrea Dunkle