Why do some dog breeds see more than their fair share of certain health conditions?
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Why do some dog breeds see more than their fair share of certain health conditions?

Dogs
Health & Safety

Every dog owner hopes that their dogs will remain healthy, happy and mobile well into old age, but there are no guarantees of this, and knowing how long your dog might live for or what type of health conditions might affect them in old age aren’t things we can tell with any certainty when we first get a puppy.

However, it is certainly true that certain health conditions are apt to develop more frequently in some breeds of dogs than others, and for various reasons. If you’re planning on buying a pedigree dog of any breed, it is really important to find out beforehand what specific health challenges dogs of the breed are most likely to face; and why.

It is not always possible to achieve this with full certainty of course, and simply knowing that a breed has higher risk factors for a condition doesn’t necessarily mean that the puppy that you pick will develop said condition.

That said, being fully informed and weighing up the risks and benefits, pros and cons, is something that all responsible dog owners do before they take on a new pup, not after. Some specific dog breeds are associated with some specific health conditions developing in a significant number of their population due to a known, traceable root cause, which may even be preventable by means of selective breeding – and these are known as hereditary health conditions, or genetic health conditions.

This article will help to explain why some breeds suffer with more than their fair share of health conditions related to genetic factors than most others, and outline the potential reasons why you might find that a certain dog breed is more at risk of a specific hereditary health problem than other breeds. Read on to learn more.

Hereditary health conditions in dogs, and how they’re transmitted.

A hereditary health condition is one that can only be passed on from one or both parents to its young, and one that cannot be caught or otherwise transmitted from dog to dog by other means.

Hereditary health conditions are passed on from parent dogs to their young within their genes, because the parent dog or dogs are either affected by or carriers of said conditions. Some hereditary health conditions in dogs are more common in some breeds than others as a result.

Different type of canine health conditions are transmitted by different modes of heredity too; for some of them, only one parent dog needs to pass on the affected gene to have affected young (this is a simplified explanation of what we call a dominant genetic condition). For others, both parents must be affected by or carriers of the gene in question to pass on those affected genes, and this may result in a mixture of affected, clear and carrier offspring; this is a simplified explanation of a recessive genetic condition.

Selective breeding and health testing (where available) is used within some breeds to help to identify dogs that might pass on health conditions, so that their owners can make an informed decision not to breed from them.

If your dog’s breed is predisposed to a hereditary health issue, choosing a pup from health-tested parents where possible can help you to reduce the risk.

However, fully removing or greatly reducing the occurrence rate of some hereditary health conditions within some breeds is far from as simple as this sounds, even when definitive health tests are available.

This may be the case if the condition in question is so widely spread across the breed as a whole that it is very difficult to find two parent dogs (or even one) that is not a carrier of or affected by it.

It may also be the case if the total population of dogs of said breed within the UK is so small that it is hard to find two totally unrelated dogs (or dogs with a very low coefficient of inbreeding) to breed from, as a lack of genetic diversity results in the spread of hereditary health problems.

Potential or presumed hereditary health conditions

When it comes to some other health conditions in dogs that some breeds get more than their fair share of than others do, the causes of this are not always obvious, but may still be hereditary.

For some such breeds and conditions, this may be because there is a genetic factor in play but researchers have not identified the specific genes in question for it.

For many such conditions, researchers and vets actually know for sure that a condition is genetic, but without isolating the genes in question, cannot define the exact mode of heredity, or work on developing potential future cures or preventions. This also means that they cannot develop tests for parent dogs to enable breeders to remove those that might pass said condition on from their breeding programme.

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