Health Testing For Dogs - Investing In The Heath Of Pedigree Dog Breeds

Every potential buyer of a new pedigree puppy will of course want to do everything that they can to ensure that the puppy that they buy is fit, healthy and well; both at the time of sale and for the entire duration of their hopefully long lives.

The discovery of DNA and the increasing popularity of genetic health testing is helping dog breeders, breed organisations and potential new puppy buyers to do just that. Today, breeders and buyers have the opportunity to have their breeding dam and sire, and their eventual puppies, health checked and genetically screened to test for the presence of various different health conditions in their early stages, as well as for an inherited predisposition to a variety of different illnesses, diseases and health conditions.

These tests can not only help the future puppy buyer to avoid a making a costly mistake in terms of their choice of puppy purchase, but also go a long way towards helping to promote responsible breeding. Breeders whose breed of choice may have high-level risk factors for various conditions can make an informed decision not to breed from dams and sires with poor genes, thanks to DNA testing and other veterinary health tests.  This improves the health of the breed’s gene pool as a whole, and reduces the chances of producing puppies that will go on to develop a range of genetic defects.

What exactly is health testing?

Health testing can be performed for a variety of different illnesses, conformation faults and inherited conditions, and can be performed on both the dam and sire intended for breeding, and the puppies that they produce.

In some cases, health testing and genetic testing can give a clear yes or no answer as to the presence of a disease, fault or problem in its early stages. However, in the case of most health checks, a result is given on a sliding scale going from a minimal level of risk, up to a high level or almost absolute certainty.

What breeds have elevated risk factors for genetically inherited conditions?

The Kennel Club within the UK recognises several popular breeds whose respective gene pools present elevated risk factors for different health conditions.

These are known as “high profile breeds” and the list consists of:

Various other dog breeds, including the Labrador and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are also considered to be predisposed to various risk factors for conditions including hip dysplasia in the case of Labradors and syringomelia in the case of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Any breed of puppy or their parents can of course be tested for any perceived risk factors.

What health tests are available?

What health tests the dam, sire or puppies may undergo will depend on the particular risk factors for each breed; health testing can prove expensive and understandably, if a breed is perceived to be at risk for some conditions but not others, only the tests for the relevant conditions will be undergone.

The main conditions and risk factors that are currently available as tests for dogs and puppies are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Eye disease
  • Syringomelia
  • DNA screening for genetic abnormalities in both carriers and affected dogs

How are health tests performed?

Health tests are performed by a veterinary surgeon, and the results are usually sent away for analysis by a specialist in the field or a genetics expert.

Some conditions such as hip dysplasia require x rays to be taken and then analysed to produce a “score” as to the condition of the hips and the progression or likelihood of dysplasia developing. Hip scoring can only be performed on dogs over a year old, and so this test is usually performed on the dam and sire before breeding.

Other tests such as DNA screening can be performed by analysing the DNA itself, which simply requires a swab to be taken from the dog in question for later analysis. This can be performed on both adult dogs and puppies of any age.

Interpreting the results of health tests

Once tests have been performed and professionally analysed, how the results are then used comes down to the choice of the person who paid for the tests. In the case of a breeder, this information can be used to make an informed decision whether or not to breed from their dogs, and in the case of a potential puppy buyer, whether or not to buy any particular puppy.

Health tests make their findings clear to the person commissioning the tests and provide a clear recommendation on making a responsible decision as to whether or not to buy or breed. However, health tests are intended to advise only, and do not take away the eventual choice from the breeder or would-be buyer as to what they choose to do as a result of  their findings.

Who pays for health tests?

The question of who ultimately pays for the financial cost of health testing is not as clear-cut as it might first appear. The person who commissions the tests is responsible for paying for the testing, and should a potential puppy buyer choose to run tests on a puppy that they are considering, this cost is almost always borne by the would-be buyer, regardless of the ultimate results.

Should a breeder choose to have their breeding dam and sire heath tested, the cost of testing is paid for by the breeder at the time, and if the results of the tests lead to a decision not to breed, this is a cost that the breeder must absorb as part of their business.

However, should a decision to breed be made thanks to good results in heath testing, the cost of testing and the positive results are usually incorporated into the selling price of the eventual puppies. This is actually a good thing, and puppies whose parents are in good health with low or no risk factors and have the test results to prove this will always attract a premium, as the gamble on their long-term health and the emotional and financial cost of later treatments is minimised.

Health tests results finder

As well as the results that health testing will generate for individual dogs and puppies, The Kennel Club also holds a database of results and findings discovered for all Kennel Club registered dogs that have undergone health checks. This means that potential breeders and puppy buyers can search for the results of the ancestors of the dog in question by name, using the Heath Tests Results Finder, here.

Additionally, a second register is in place to collate the results of testing for multifocal retinal dysplasia (MRD), one of the most commonly tested eye conditions. The results of MRD testing are not currently included within the generalised health tests results finder, and listings by dog name for various breeds can be found here.


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