Because the topic is making the rounds of the blogs once again

I am firmly pro-testing (and I DO test), but I think a huge problem is found when owners and breeders substitute “health testing” for HEALTH.

How many dogs do you know that have been euthanized for hip dysplasia?

I know several hundred dogs, but never met a single one that died young from hip problems. There are several that have varying degrees of arthritis but none fatal. In the worst cases I am aware of, the decision was made to euthanize the elderly or arthritic dog maybe a few months or a year earlier than it would have been if the dog had good hips, but the dog still lived to be pretty old.

What DO dogs die young of? Think about your circle of friends – cancer is probably number one; no test for it. Thyroid: test is very iffy. Addisons and Cushings are rocketing upward in incidence: no test. I lost a dog to hemolytic anemia, no test. Bloat, no test. Heart, test is very iffy.

And for those diseases there never WILL be a reliable test, because genetic predisposition is far less important than environment for most of those.

Probably the number one “health” problem is temperament; that kills more than any other. But a boatload of breeders, including Cardi breeders, will repeatedly breed dogs with critically poor temperaments. How many excuses have you heard – “Oh, he just does that because the neighbor dog looked at him funny when he was four months old” or “It’s because you’re holding food” (as their bitch is lunging for yours, snapping and roaring). 

The proof is in the pudding. We tested for everything under the sun when I had Danes, and pedigrees were routinely OFAd back to the sixth or seventh or even higher generations and had heart certs for at least three, thyroid for four. There are currently over 630 CHIC Danes, all from show breeders. The peer pressure to health test is INTENSE. Did that make it a healthy breed? Did health improve in the generations I watched grow up?

Not on your life.

I couldn’t make those dogs live long lives for love nor money. I bought from breeders who had the best longevity in the country, and I still failed. I FAILED. I health-tested out the wazoo and it did not make me a better breeder or change the breed. I have a litter out there that are now all veterans, which is thrilling, but I’ve already lost three from the subsequent litter of six. One bloat, one massive infection, one hemolytic anemia. All before they were four. For the average Dane seven or eight is pretty much as long as they go. When more than one in a litter makes it past ten their breeder will take out an ad bragging about it.

I never lost a dog to anything I tested for. I know very few breeders who EVER did, aside from hearts, and (without exception) the dogs lost to heart issues had previously passed heart tests, included repeated echocardiograms.

Danes, and a bunch of others, are health-tested breeds, not healthy breeds. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist; I think Danes are the most wonderful breed on earth. I am just too discouraged by the deaths to breed them anymore. I am not the one who will change the breed for the better. All I did was health test.

If I go to a breeder’s house and she’s got a bunch of old dogs lounging around the living room and they all jump off the couch and come over for cookies, that’s success. That’s what I didn’t have. That’s HEALTH.

We can’t lose sight of the fact that the goal is not to pass the health tests; the goal is a long-lived healthy dog. Passing the VERY few health tests we have is actually a pretty poor indicator of whether the dog or its pedigree is going to be active or happy into its teens. I’ve got a sad little collection of empty Dane collars that proves that pretty conclusively.

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5 thoughts on “Because the topic is making the rounds of the blogs once again

  1. I think it can go both ways.

    Health testing is important. There’s not enough (IMO) pressure to test for stuff in collies, which is something I find infuriating. After all, most of the major problems OTHER than eyes in collies are non-testable stuff, which I *DO* appreciate. But even the not COMMON stuff does happen, and it just plain doesn’t make sense not to use the tests we have available- the major ones, at least. (By which I mean hips, elbows, and thyroid.) The CCA COE only addresses eyes, and only says they should be checked- not that they should be good. And since CEA’s not fatal, a lot of people consider it a really low priority in their breeding, focusing instead on the minutiae of heads and dark eyes and lovely coats. Those are all important when it comes to the look of a collie- but I’d rather give up a little look and have a HEALTHY dog.

  2. Thank you for reinforcing that we have to breed healthy dogs, not just health tested dogs. Too many people are overally concerned about that piece of paper being the end all, beat all reason for breeding that dog, yet it can’t move, has iffy temperament. A piece of paper doesn’t mean it’s a breedable dog. Just as the saying not all champions should be bred and not all non champions shouldn’t be bred.

    Thanks!

  3. “I’d rather give up a little look and have a HEALTHY dog.”

    I agree 110% with Cait. While breed type is important, having a sound dog, who can move, live, and work effectively, is MUCH more important. Also while health testing is important (I believe all breeders should be health testing), I also believe, breeding for vitality, longevity, workability, and of course, ‘petability’ is most important, on top of everything.

    It’s not such a big problem in Cardigans in other breeds, but there are times I wonder WTH a breeder iss thinking when they bred a certion litter, KNOWING there was going to be MASS failure in petability, and/or physical soundness in the litter. Thank goodness ‘not my breed’, but goodness, I hope it never is! My firm opinion, is the animal as a whole should come first, before the litter.

  4. You have to start somewhere. Health-testing insures that affected dogs are not producing litters – that you are using the fittest animals with respect to the health tests it has passed. There are many diseases and structural issues that cannot be health-tested for – that’s where you do careful observation of the dog being considered for breeding, research the health of the pedigree (go back to as many living breeders as you possible can), and look at the progeny that dog has produced and the progeny of similar breedings. Breeding does not have to be completely unpredictable – breeders can hedge their bets if they do their homework and use common-sense. And health-testing is an essential component of assessing a dog’s breeding worth, along with all the information that a good breeder gathers on a dog. There are DNA tests for some breeds which, when used correctly, absolutely guarantee no progeny will ever be affected. DNA tests will gather momentum in years to come and we are going to be able to prevent many genetic diseases because of them. Don’t knock health tests simply because there are not yet enough of them. Many of them, especially the DNA based ones (when used correctly) are completely effective in preventing the genetic disease they identify.

  5. I also think part of the issue is that so many people think that if you health test a dog then you have a 100% chance of never having a problem with that dog. Think lemon laws.
    I do think that as we gain a better understanding of both the genetics and environmental causes of various things we might do a better job.

    Of course every trait is different. We now have a test for PRA in collies – and then there is the MDR1 gene – the perfect thing to test for since AFAIK the gene is totally harmless until you mix it with modern vet drugs so testing for it will absolutely help you make better choices when it comes to vet care. As I said before somethings have a clearer “fix” than others.

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