The German shepherd is one of the most popular large dog breeds in the UK – and they’re also the 9th most popular breed overall. However, they are also a reasonably high-profile breed in terms of the number of potentially harmful hereditary health conditions that occur within the breed, and many of these are acute, serious, and have a significant impact on the dog’s quality of life.
Some of them can even dramatically shorten the lifespan of affected dogs, as well as being expensive to care for.
Buying a puppy of any type is a rather highly-loaded endeavour, and it is impossible to guarantee a long life in good health for any given dog. However, for many of the hereditary health conditions that affect the German shepherd breed as a whole, pre-breeding health testing can be performed on the parent dogs, to ensure that they won’t pass on certain conditions to their own offspring.
This means that choosing a German shepherd puppy from a breeder that carries out all of the appropriate pre-breeding health tests will give you the best possible chances of investing in a healthy pup that won’t suffer from hereditary problems that they inherited a predisposition for even before birth.
However, in order to choose a breeder who performs the appropriate health tests on their dogs, you have to know what these health tests are – and what the results mean. Unfortunately, there is no mandatory testing protocol for all of the prevalent health conditions within the breed that breeders have to adhere to, and so whether or not any given breeder undertakes health testing is up to them.
That said, members of The Kennel Club’s Assured Breeder Scheme are obliged to test for certain things in order to maintain their membership, and German shepherd breed clubs also strongly advocate that their members undertake some additional tests too.
If you’re looking to buy a German shepherd puppy, this article will explain all of the recommended health tests that the breeders you are considering should have undertaken, and what they mean. Read on to learn more.
Perhaps the most common and best-known hereditary health issue known to affect the German shepherd breed is hip dysplasia, which affects a significant percentage of dogs of the breed. Hip dysplasia testing has to be performed on adult dogs of over the age of two, as before this age the dog’s bones and joints are still developing and the test may not return an accurate score.
This is the only test for the German shepherd breed that is mandatory for Assured Breeder Scheme members – and only dogs that return a good hip score should be bred from.
Like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is also common across the German shepherd breed as a whole, although not quite as prevalent as hip dysplasia. Elbow scoring again needs to be performed on fully grown adult dogs to return an accurate result, and only dogs that return a good elbow score should be considered good candidates to breed from.
This test is strongly advised for all breeders, but is mandated for none.
Again, eye testing (which is performed by physical examination and tests) is strongly advised for German shepherds, and this is something that may need to be performed more than once in the dog’s life to identify anomalies or issues that can develop with age.
Eye testing is carried out under the remit of the BVA’s Eye Scheme, and checks for a multitude of different problems that can either be present from birth or develop over time.
Male German shepherds can be tested for the markers of haemophilia, a dangerous blood clotting disorder that only affects males, but that is inherited through the matrilineal line. Based on this information, it might seem sensible that females be tested rather than males – but haemophilia testing of females doesn’t produce reliable enough results to form the basis of a health scheme.
This is another breed club recommended test, and as well as the test results for the male dog in question themselves, you should ask the breeder if any male dogs in the dam’s line have themselves been diagnosed with haemophilia, especially if you are buying a male puppy or planning to breed from your pup when they are older.
Degenerative myelopathy is a hereditary condition that can be sneaky, because dogs with the condition often appear totally fine until they are aged anywhere between around 7 and 14 years of age, when the first symptoms are likely to become apparent.
This condition causes degeneration of the spinal cord, and this progressively worsens over time, culminating in paralysis.
Fortunately, a simple DNA test can be undertaken prior to breeding to identify the markers of the condition and to allow breeders to remove dogs whose pups may be affected from their breeding stock.
Because some health conditions like hip dysplasia can’t be tested for until the dog is aged over two – and because breeding from very young dogs comes with additional risks and complications of its own – you should not consider buying a German shepherd pup that had one or both parents under this age at the time of mating.
The Kennel Club won’t register a litter from a bitch of under two, but they will register litters with sires aged from 18 months old – so this is something to double-check when you’re going through the paperwork with the breeder, as well as double-checking the health test results for both parent dogs.