Aortic stenosis is a heart condition that leads to a narrowing of the aortic valve of the heart, causing the blood flow through the heart itself to be restricted. This means that the heart has to pump harder than usual to pump blood through the aorta and into the body, which can in severe cases lead to the need for corrective surgery in order to prevent heart failure.
Whilst heart conditions come in many different shapes and forms and occur for different reasons, some of which occur as a side effect of old age or lifestyle, certain dog breeds have higher than normal risk factors for conditions such as aortic stenosis and this can pose a problem for both owners of dogs of affected breeds, and those that wish to breed from them.
Exactly what makes conditions like aortic stenosis a higher risk than normal for certain dog breeds can vary, from causes such as hereditary gene mutations to conformation, and the cause of each condition and how it develops is what dictates how such conditions can be tested for.
In the case of conditions that are both prevalent across certain breeds of dog and that can be identified prior to breeding by means of DNA testing, The Kennel Club oversees and manages screening schemes for the respective conditions and the breeds that can develop them.
However, for many other conditions including aortic stenosis, DNA testing cannot be used to diagnose or predict risk factors for the condition, and so identifying the status of any given dog is not something that can be ascertained by DNA testing. Breed clubs and organisations that are concerned with the health and wellness of certain specific dog breeds often run or oversee their own testing schemes for the breed in question in place of DNA testing.
Aortic stenosis is one such condition, and several different breed clubs recommend screening for the condition in dogs of the breed prior to breeding, in order to allow breeders to make an informed decision about whether or not to breed from their own dogs.
In this article we will look at breed club health testing for aortic stenosis in dogs in more detail, including what breeds are considered to be at risk of the condition, how the condition presents, and how to get your dog tested. Read on to learn more.
Aortic stenosis leads to a narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve, which means that the heart needs to pump harder than it should in order to circulate blood and oxygen around the body. Exactly how much the aortic valve narrows in any given dog can vary considerably, with some dogs only suffering from a minor narrowing that will have no significant impact on their health or quality of life, whilst for some dogs, the narrowing can be very extreme and ultimately, lead to potential heart failure.
Aortic stenosis has a hereditary element to it, in that a dog diagnosed with the condition is more likely than an unaffected dog to have offspring with the same problem, but it cannot be attributed to a specific gene mutation, and ergo, cannot be traced by means of a gene mutation or true heredity.
Whilst any breed or type of dog may have a health anomaly that affects the aortic valve, for certain breeds (and crosses of said breeds) their conformation and bloodlines increase the risk of the condition considerably, to the point that without a testing and screening scheme in place, the condition would spread progressively throughout the breed’s gene pool in each subsequent generation of dogs.
Currently, the breeds of dog in the UK that have breed club screening schemes for the condition in place are:
The boxer is the breed that is best known to potentially develop aortic stenosis, and while The Kennel Club will still register untested boxers, Kennel Club Assured Breeders are strongly encouraged to have their breeding stock tested prior to breeding and registering the puppies.
There are three different methods of testing dogs for aortic stenosis, and exactly which method is used for any given dog will depend on their breed, and what is the norm for the breed club’s testing scheme. Dogs may be tested either by means of ultrasound examination of the heart, an ECG examination, or by auscultation.
Usually, the vet that performs the test will be able to give you the results right away, but if the results or inconclusive, your vet might ask a specialist or another colleague for a second opinion.
The test results can also be registered by the respective breed club, which allows them to collate the spread of the condition within the breed, as well as offering an extra layer of reassurance for potential puppy buyers who purchase from breeders that test their dogs.