Really, really, the last thing I want to write on OFA testing.

I have SO MUCH more to write about and think about and wrestle with than this topic. I hate the fact that it becomes The Thing instead of only a thing, most correctly a small thing. It’s like yelling “A! A! A! A!” and leaving off the rest of the alphabet. So I will continue to respond to comments or questions about hip testing but I don’t intend to write many more posts about it. I have PLENTY that is controversial to talk about without ever mentioning hips again, trust me.

So here’s my last thing, what I’ve tried to make a distillation of the questions I am asking.

Let me suggest what may be a helpful analogy:

I am a pharmaceutical company bringing a blood pressure drug to market. This drug, as all drugs do, has side effects.

I must answer the questions “Does this drug lower blood pressure?” and “Do its benefits outweigh its risks?”

Both of those are medical and statistical questions. The drug must be proven to be significantly better than a placebo AND it must be proven that its benefits produce greater health in the population of people taking it than its risks hurt that population.

The answer to both must be yes. A drug can work but have such significant side effects that it is rejected, and a drug can be very safe but not actually work.

The answers to those questions are NOT any of the following:

“I know someone with high blood pressure.”
“I know a doctor who was sued because one of his patients has high blood pressure.”
“I think we need to care more about high blood pressure.”
“If we don’t control blood pressure, we’re going to lose our jobs.”

And, because anecdotal evidence must always bow to studies, the answer is also not any variation on the following:

“I know someone who took this drug and he was fine.” or “I really respect Dr. Smith and he prescribes this drug.”

Any or all of those may be true statements, but they have nothing to do with whether this drug should be approved.

Let’s apply that to what I am hoping is the question here: Does following OFA’s recommendations
lower the proportion of painful hip changes in our breed?

THAT’S the only question that is relevant. Because following it DOES have side effects–we cull certain dogs and we favor the genetics of other dogs. Those are powerful and potentially dangerous decisions, so we shouldn’t be making them if we get no benefit.

And we most definitely should not be making the use of this “drug” a condition for being called a reputable breeder.

So we need to stop responding to that question with “I know a dog with hip dysplasia” or “I think we need to care more about hip dysplasia” or “I got a dog from breeder X and she had hip dysplasia” or “we’re all going to get sued if we don’t eliminate hip dysplasia.” And we need to reject, as a justification, “I really respect breeder Y and she has always OFAd.”

The OFA self-reports a decrease in failing scores over the last 30 years. However, a careful reading of the statistics shows that the vast majority of the “improvement” was before 1990. Since 1990, which is at least six generations and in some breeds more like ten, most breeds have shown only a tiny improvement. That strongly indicates to me that between 1970-whatever and 1990 was when breeders were figuring out which hips would fail, and learning not to submit them. I could be wrong, but it’s pretty striking how the “improvement” abruptly slowed to a tiny trickle.

Since 1990 there’s been a small improvement in most of the breeds. However, that result is not “controlled.”

If I look in my kitchen and the floor is dirty, and then ten hours later the floor is clean, I can’t give my husband credit if I know that both my daughters, my mom, my best friend, and the US hockey team was also in my house in those ten hours.

Since 1990, we’ve used OFA. We’ve ALSO changed the way we feed, vaccinate, exercise, supplement, and so on. We’ve also gotten even better at not submitting films we believe will fail.

That’s why the only number you can trust is one derived from an experiment where it is absolutely known that there’s only one factor in play, only one person on the house with access to the mop.

Some Cardigans are dysplastic.
Some Cardigans have painful hip arthritis (note that this is not the same as the statement above).
We are pretty constantly in danger of being legislated out of breeding.
We have responsibilities to our eventual puppy buyers.

None of those statements are being debated here, and unfortunately none of are relevant. The ONLY thing that is in question is “Does following the OFA’s recommendations decrease the proportional amount of painful hip arthritis in our breed?”

The best study I can find, the only one that is controlled, says that the influence of OFA’s recommendations is not statistically greater than zero, even in long-legged breeds it was designed to fit. If it were a drug, it would be rejected as being no more effective than a placebo. And it has demonstrable side effects.
So you tell me. Why are we pushing this “drug” as a sign of “good breeding”?

Cardigan hip scores: A dose of orthopedic reality (Cardigan OFA, PennHIP, DI, etc.)

Gird your loins, because what I am about to say is (and should be) controversial. The only thing I can say is that I came into this research with a very strong bias toward what I’ve always thought of as the one incontrovertible rule in dog breeding: ALWAYS TEST THE HIPS AND ALWAYS SUBMIT THE TEST. What I will explain below was so striking to me that I find I don’t have anywhere near the same confidence in that unbreakable rule. So don’t dismiss or crucify me before you read and understand it too.

When I was hit with two pelvic “crises” in the same month (Clue’s injury and x-rays, including trying to interpret her eventual breeding soundness, and Bronte’s breeding date being moved up dramatically) I knew I had to get my mind around the hip issue in dwarfed dogs. I wanted to make sure that I was making good decisions and I understood the potential outcomes within various theoretical matings.

I started this in the same way I have always done: a pedigree analysis using OFA and some discreet inquiries to people who have been in the breed a lot longer than I have.

Here’s what I found:

1) There is a very troubling and almost complete lack of consistency in the OFA results for this breed. Ditto for PennHIP. I’m not talking about the fact that too few people are certifying; I mean that there is virtually no predictability in scores based on the pedigrees. I am computer-savvy enough to piece together a lot of information from OFA searches, so I didn’t find myself fatally hampered by the fact that there aren’t as many actual results in the pedigrees; I could always find a brother or a cousin or whatever and usually multiples of both.

What I saw was a situation that looked totally random and inconsistent. Two dogs with good ratings producing, within a single litter, everything from Excellent to Moderate. Stud dog lines that I know to have a moderate to high COI (which should indicate consistency) flipping from good to dysplastic and back again.

It didn’t make any sense. Even when you have a breed that is genuinely in trouble, the dysplasia tends to fall into family lines and at least a few people have consistent success. When you see the bad family lines doubled up on, you get worse hips again. You can get some unexpected stuff, but in general good hips make good hips and bad ones make bad ones. And so on. The OFA picture in Cardigans was one of seemingly random and completely unpredictable results.

2) Hip scores do not correlate anywhere near as well as they should with soundness or comfortable working lives. When I spoke to the orthopedic surgeon about Clue, I got some very good and very candidly given information. He said several things: This is not a breed he sees, as a surgeon who does lots of work to relieve pain in hips or to analyze x-rays. This is not a breed coming in with pain issues. It’s not a breed he associates with dysplasia symptoms with any regularity. He does not recommend OFA for corgis of any type, because he feels that the scoring is more or less guesswork unless the joint is clearly already arthritic or the socket just plain doesn’t exist, and EVEN THEN he rarely sees dogs come in with pain.

He said, and this is close to an exact quote, “These are dogs with weird hips, and they get along just beautifully on those weird hips.”

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. I cannot make that in caps big enough.

There is a phenomenon called “a disease of numbers.” Good human docs know it well. A disease of numbers is a condition that causes a value on a test or chart to go high or low but may not actually correlate with any bad outcome.

Whenever you’re doing medical research, you have to be aware of this phenomenon and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the numbers are actually predictive. So nobody stops with “Your blood pressure is high. That’s bad.” It has to be “Your blood pressure is high. That’s bad because we know FOR SURE that high blood pressure is associated with these ten disorders, with precise and reliable predictive accuracy.”

My point here is that we have not satisfied that burden of proof when it comes to the classic OFA-type evaluation of Cardigan hips. We do not know at what point a hip will or will not cause quality of life issues. We are trying to evaluate them based on how close they are to the hips of a long-legged, short-backed dog (the greyhound–that’s the ideal hip and the one OFA is based on). Think about that: Does our breed look or function ANYTHING like a greyhound? They have entirely different biomechanics and centers of gravity, very different muscle formation, completely different cartilage, ligaments of a different shape and strength. What proof is there that making their hips more like a greyhound’s actually improves quality of life?

Conversely, what proof is there that looser or shallower hips mean a poorer quality of life FOR THIS BREED?

I would also add that we do not know how much the other things we classically do “wrong” with Cardi puppies (like keep them fat, feed them puppy foods, and flip them schizophrenically from hours on a soft couch to hours of play on hard surfaces) are affecting the eventual OFA-type view. We know that each one of those four things is bad for hips, but they continue to be the way most breeders and most owners raise puppies.

It’s at least theoretically possible that the giant variations within litters are the artifacts of these decisions: One owner keeps puppies lean to the point of being skinny, restricts calories and protein, has multiple dogs, and encourages vast amounts of hard free play in large areas for the majority of each day. The other has a soft, chubby puppy on Eukanuba puppy food; the dog is adored and carried much of the day and has a soft bed the rest of the time, gets two walks a day on a blacktop sidewalk, and on the weekends goes to puppy daycare (on a concrete surface, of course) or the dog park and runs to exhaustion.

We all know how adaptable Cardis are. It’s not like buying a terrier puppy who will make you pay for it if you don’t exercise them constantly–they’ll happily spend most of their day under your chair even as babies. And they’ll happily switch “on” and run for hours on the weekends. But that kind of love is MURDER on developing joints.

So, my research and the ortho vet said, relying on an OFA score is not a great idea and is not likely to get you where you want to be: Producing dogs who will predictably have a long, pain-free life. Remember, that’s what we care about. Long, pain-free life. Not a number, a life. The numbers serve us, not the other way around.

The ortho vet recommended that I look more closely at PennHIP because the database is breed-specific. I agree. Purely on that basis alone it is a better measure than OFA; it doesn’t compare Cardis to greyhounds but Cardis to Cardis.

But there I was stumped again. What I got from conversations with people was what virtually all breeders look at and remember: the percentile score. That magic little bar with the carat marking where your dog lies. Pray for over 50.

And AGAIN, percentile scores were CRAZY. Within individual litters everything from 95% to 20%.

With that kind of wild variation in scores, I began to ask to see the difference in the actual DI numbers.

Here’s the background: PennHIP establishes its percentages based on all dogs of that breed that are submitted. 0% is the highest percentile (the loosest hips in the breed database) and 99% is the lowest (the tightest hips in the breed database). With dogs that have thousands of submissions and that really do have a bell curve of hip health (where most are “OK,” some are great, a few are outstanding; some are borderline, a few are terrible), like Labs and Shepherds, that works out pretty well. Dogs with DIs below the breed average really do begin to represent “bad” hips.

PennHIP hedges all its bets and leaves almost every decision to the breeder. It makes only two real statements: Hips with scores LOWER than .3 represent a very, very small possibility of degenerative joint disease  (DJD) as the dog ages. Notice that they do not use the word “dysplasia.” That’s very smart on their part, because the problem with quality of life is not how loose, tight, shallow, or deep the hips are. The problem is DJD, which in layman’s terms is pain and arthritis. Instead of cartilage moving smoothly on cartilage, bone grates against bone. Range of motion is impaired. Weight-bearing surfaces become painful.

The second thing the PennHIP group says is that scores above .7 demonstrate a very high probability of the dog developing DJD.

Now, immediately, you have to realize that in defining the numbers they’re falling into the OFA trap of basing statements on long-legged, big dogs. The breeds that contributed to this statement were German Shepherds, Labs (a huge number of Labs), Golden Retrievers, and Rottweilers.

So begin the very long process of evaluating PennHIP’s predictive nature with that in mind.

Getting back to percentile scores, where things get wonky is when you have either very tight hips across the breed or very loose hips across the breed, or where there are only a small number of submissions.

For example, if you submitted 50 borzoi films, the DI would range from probably .2 to .26. That means that the ones with the DI of .25 or .26 get percentile scores of 5% or 10%. That could lead you to believe that those are dogs with bad hips. Not so–every single one has gorgeous tight hips. The entire breed has tight hips, so getting a score of 5% is meaningless. This is close to the case in Danes, at least it was when I was PennHIP testing four years ago. Median (50%) was a DI of about .33. 90% was .27 or so; 5% was maybe .4-something. I don’t know if there have been many more submissions since then so the median has shifted, but back then only the most cautious breeders were even using PennHIP so they already had an entire kennel of dogs with Good or better hips. So virtually the entire PennHIP population was healthy.

Similarly, if you submitted 50 pug films, the DI would probably range from .7-.9. So the .7 dogs would be in the 99%, but that doesn’t mean they have good tight hips. The entire breed has BAD loose hips. But, curiously, pugs almost never show any hip pain and they live their obnoxious little lives with their bad loose hips.

A similar thing happens when there have only been a few tens or a few hundred submissions. The submissions will tend to cluster and won’t form a good bell curve, so the percentile is not necessarily accurate.

So when you have a bizarre range of percentiles you have to look very critically at the actual DI scores.


The figure above is my attempt to illustrate the percentile versus DI conundrum. Greyhounds cluster at the very top end of the tightness scale, so a low percentage is meaningless. Labradors span a HUGE area, so if you have a 95% Lab it really does have very good tight hips and when you have a 5% Lab it really does have crappy loose hips and a high probability of pain and the need for surgery to fix the joints.

Now let’s consider our little group.

Cardigans have a median (50%) DI of something like .61 or .62 (which would indicate a dog very likely to be crippled or dead by age 4 if you were talking about a Shepherd or a Dane).

Based on looking at a lot of scores, 99% would be something like .51 or .52 and a dog with a really good percentile score would be, say, .53.

BUT (and this is a BIG but) 30%, at least as of two years ago, is .625.

Were you paying attention?

50% (remember, that’s your goal, 50% or higher) is .61…but 30% is .625.  So 20% would be something like .63, and 0% would be a few hundredths below that, right?

That means the ENTIRE RANGE of the breed is .52 to maybe .64 or .65 or .66. That’s a VERY small range; the entire range of the Labs is about .2 to .8!

SO, the question becomes–is a .61 (the average) really a better indication of a lifetime free from pain than a .625 (30%) or a .64? Keeping in mind that a .61 means a crippled dog in most other breeds? If .61 doesn’t cripple a Cardi, does .63?

The DI represents the percentage of the femoral head that can be moved out of the socket. A dog with a .55 has a femoral head that has moved .55 of its diameter out of the socket.

THINK ABOUT THAT. Consider the difference between a .2 and a .8–this is an easy mental exercise. A .2 barely moves out of the socket. A .8 moves almost entirely out. Clearly, one is going to be a better and sounder hip for a lifetime of pain-free work.

Are you prepared to make the same statements about the difference between .61 and .63?

Are you prepared to remove a dog or bitch from a breeding program because its femoral head moved two percent further than your other dog? Are you OK with other breeders telling you that you should do that or you’re a bad breeder? Because that’s exactly what’s happening. Make public that you are breeding a dog with a 20% PennHIP score and see how many love letters you get. Criticism falls like hail and people’s reputations are trashed based on a hip movement of two percent, even though we have no earthly idea and zero scientific evidence that that difference means ANYTHING when it comes to lifelong soundness.

So, then, where the heck does that leave us?

The fact that I’ve just written like fifty paragraphs on this should give you a hint about how conflicted I am about the genuine worth of EITHER method.

And so I have come to a conclusion that is not easy: This is up to you as a breeder. It’s not up to the score. ANY hip score given by an outside agency should be looked at with suspicion (in terms of it meaning the slightest amount about the actual health or life quality of your eventual puppies).

Guess what this also means: You don’t get to make the “She’s a bad breeder because she doesn’t submit hips to OFA” or “She’s irresponsible because she bred a bitch with one hip that was loose” statements. I pretty categorically hate those kind of statements anyway, since if we’re being honest with ourselves they very rarely come from a good place in the soul, but blanket pronouncements are sometimes at least somewhat reliable in other breeds. In this one, I think it’s inescapable that you can be a very, very good, very health-oriented breeder and not be submitting to either registry and you can have a flawless understanding of PennHIP and breed a 20% hip.

You know who the global authorities on Cardigan hip health are? The breeders who have been responsible for their own x-rays and making their own decisions for the last two or three decades. Personally, I’d love to see a Nationals panel of three or four breeders who have been x-raying hips and putting their own breeding programs on the line and ask THEM what a breedable hip is. They’ve probably seen a hundred times more Cardigan hip films than any ortho vet doing his rotation at OFA.

You’ve also got to stop leaning on OFA or PennHIP scores in pedigrees. It was already a iffy idea because of the spottiness of the data; if you face the fact that you have no idea at what point hips are genuinely functional, and that a whole bunch of breeders and owners follow an absolutely ideal recipe for creating bad joints, you need to stop assuming that lot of OFA scores mean a better risk than a few, or that poor scores in some offspring make the dog a bad stud dog.

I can feel the hackles rising, so let me assure you that I do not think that hips don’t matter. I think we must x-ray them all. But I think that analyzing hips is a unique and huge responsibility for the Cardigan (and other dwarfed dog) breeder and if you’re smart you will not leave it solely to outside agencies to decide.

I think the best we can do is to look at as many aspects of the picture as we can, make certain decisions about what we absolutely will not tolerate (keeping in mind that there are some Cardigans with a complete LACK of hip socket) and, if a dog comes back from analysis with looser or shallower hips than we like but is definitely pain free, we weigh whether that dog is actually worth breeding, with the weight against a “yes” decision depending on the severity of the hip “issue.” Call it a serious fault, like a bad bite or a fiddle front. For some dogs, that answer will be absolutely, if you breed to something with really wonderful hip structure (like you would breed a fiddle-fronted dog only to something with minimal turnout, and that may mean that you never find the right match). For others, that serious a fault will (and should) disqualify them from breeding.

My own personal limit would always be at the level of causing pain. If I x-ray a dog at 20 months and I can already see arthritis in both hips, that dog would have to be pretty freaking outstanding to ever consider breeding and then I would do so only for myself or with full and complete disclosure to any other breeders. I already have a replacement puppy clause for pet owners, so that wouldn’t change. If I x-ray at four years and the dog has weird-looking hips but no bony changes, I would feel no guilt about breeding him or her.

I will continue to use tools like PennHIP, and I will continue to get an OFA-style x-ray of each dog’s hips, but I will not allow the percentile score to make decisions for me and I very much doubt that I will waste money on getting an opinion from three guys at OFA who are staring at an x-ray and saying “Wow, corgis have weird hips–I dunno, what do you think? Should we treat it like a Basset hip?” I already have two x-rays to begin my library and I will continue to build that library and continue to refine my decisions. And when I face you, as other breeders and as potential buyers, you’ll know that whatever decision I made is one that I own, and one that I take full responsibility for.

And if anyone catches me making those lovely comments about so-and-so being a bad breeder, slap me.

How much does a puppy cost? Purchase price, adoption fees, discounts, expensive puppies, cheap puppies, and a bunch of other words.

This goes out to all the people who say “Fifteen hundred dollars for a DOG? You have GOT to be kidding me!” I want to warn you that this is not a warm-fuzzy approach. I am going to tell you how we as breeders try to come up with a dollar amount for a puppy and how rescues do the same.

I am definitely not making a statement about how much we do or don’t love or dogs, or how we would or wouldn’t see them as valuable members of our families. Ginny cost a grand total of $5 to adopt; I would put a second mortgage on the house to save her if she were sick. What I am going to write is not about love; it’s about how we try to balance many considerations as we price our puppies and rescues, and how to tell if you’re getting what you are paying for.

Before we start, I want to explore a little bit of the idea of what a dog is “worth.” It’s not something that’s easy to put a finger on. Much of what we buy, when we purchase or adopt a puppy, is companionship. Dogs don’t generally bring in any income (at least they shouldn’t), so there’s not a lot of production value. You could argue that because there are a lot of dogs out there that need homes, there’s very little scarcity and so the intrinsic value of the dog is very low. And all of that is true.

I would like to invite you to consider value on two levels: first, what has been directly spent ON the dog to the point at which you are buying or adopting it; and, second, the “intellectual property,” warranty, and customer support that you are buying as intangibles when you write your check.

Those aspects we can actually quantify, and they should give you a decent idea of when you’re getting your “money’s worth” in a puppy or adult dog and when you’re getting taken for a ride.

First, the money that goes into a litter.

These are figures that I put together to describe a “typical” Dane litter that I bred. Some of mine have been more expensive, a couple MUCH more expensive. I tried to make this an expression of an average experience.

Health testing dam (Penn Hip and OFA, thyroid, echocardiogram): $950ish
Health testing sire (repeating thyroid and echo): $650 (this was his second litter, so he didn’t need his hips done–if I had been doing him from scratch it would have been $950 like the bitch)
Progesterone testing, LH testing, brucellosis, etc. (pre-breeding): $475
Whelping supplies and box: $500 ish
C-section: $1100
Puppy vetting: $400 (Any buyer should INSIST that any puppy has been seen by the vet and cleared for heart murmurs, and has a first shot – it is actually illegal in most states for breeders to sell a puppy without this check, but many will try to get away without it because it’s so expensive.)

Those were the big chunks; I also showed the sire that year ($1500 total), fed both dogs ($750), routine vet costs, and of course the puppy feeding (easily $1000).

So for that year alone I had big-chunk expenses of $7500 for those two dogs (I also had other dogs taking up money and not giving me any puppies). I had six puppies in that litter and sold four for $1200, kept one (later gave her away to a great home for the cost of her spay) and sold one for $800.

Total intake, therefore, was minus $2500 for that litter. That’s pretty typical; I think I actually made money, about $1200, on one litter in six or seven years of breeding.

When breeders price puppies, we know roughly what to expect in terms of outgo. We know that there’s no way we can make that up in puppy sales unless we financially soak our puppy buyers. So most of us prepare to take a bath on the litter and just try to take into account the prevailing price across the US for our breed (for Danes, this is somewhere north of $1500 right now; for Cardigans it’s hovering near $1000 with a rather wide bell curve around that point). We also, believe it or not, look at what pet stores are selling puppies for. This is NOT because we want to align ourselves with pet stores – heavens no – but because we know the way the human brain works. If someone sees a Dane puppy for $1800 in a pet store but the breeders are asking $900, they will often conclude, ironically, that the pet store puppy is more valuable.

So that’s the first thing to pay attention to when you’re considering buying a puppy. What did the breeder invest in this litter that justifies asking a particular price?

Second, you look at what intangibles come with the puppy. To put it more colloquially, if you’re a manager or a professor or some kind of an expert in something, ask yourself what a complete newbie would have to pay you for permission to call you any time of the day or night and keep you on the phone for hours at a time – for the next twelve or fifteen years.

That’s what I, or any other good breeders, “sell” when we sell a puppy. We know that you probably don’t know too much about our breed. You’re going to have training questions, health questions, socialization questions. You’re going to want to know what to do when your dog barks too much, or throws up on the carpet, or doesn’t like Aunt Suzy. You’re going to need someone at the end of the phone at three in the morning when your dog bloats and needs emergency surgery, and you’re going to need that person to stay on the line until five a.m. when your dog comes out of the OR, and you’re going to need someone to talk to the vet for you if you’re crying too hard to do it. I’ve done all these things, and consider it an absolute requirement for good breeders to do.

We also “sell” a warranty, usually in the form of a written contract. The warranty usually offers a replacement puppy (and does NOT require you to return your original puppy–watch out for these, because it’s a big cheat) if your dog suffers a substantial reduction in quality of life because of a genetic disorder, and it applies for a reasonable length of time (usually two to five years). For example, if your dog develops hip dysplasia and is crippled by it, I owe you a puppy. On the other hand, if your fifteen-year-old dog has a back problem, I don’t. It’s pretty much like any warranty on a fridge or camera or wristwatch – if it’s my fault, I stand behind my “manufacture.”

You should accept nothing less than this if you are considering buying a puppy from a breeder. If the breeder you’re considering does not invest in her litters (showing, health testing, good vet care, excellent food, shots, etc.), if she does not offer constant support, if she does not stand behind her puppies, you should walk away from the purchase.

A puppy that comes with those investments and intangibles will range from $700 or $800 for the least expensive breeds to $3500 or more for the most expensive. The less-expensive breeds are lower in price because they’re easier to breed (fewer required health tests, fewer c-sections, etc.) or because the market is just lower for those breeds. The more expensive breeds generally reflect higher breeding costs and, for some breeders, a desire to weed out bargain-hunters (among the popular breeds, this is a real problem).

One VERY important thing to realize is that the reverse is also true. If someone is offering you a cheap puppy, one you know is far less expensive than the prevailing good-breeder price, you should take a step back and look at it very carefully.

One puppy is not just like the other. There’s no “brand” to rely on. One Havanese is not the same as every other Havanese. So a cheap one isn’t a good idea, because it usually means that the breeder cut corners somewhere, or is going to stop returning your phone calls as soon as your check is cashed. Be very, very cautious when you see a puppy that is appreciably cheaper than the others you’ve been considering.

How about rescue?

There’s a temptation to say “Well, the dog is homeless, it isn’t worth anything.” And people get seriously ticked when a rescue asks $350 for a homeless dog. I understand this impulse, but you need to look at the price you’re paying in just the same way as you do a well-bred dog.

The reason that rescues (these are the organizations that concentrate on one or two breeds, or that pull dogs from shelters to find homes for them) are so much more expensive than the typical shelter, which is in turn more expensive than the typical animal control or pound, is all about investment and support. It’s the same equation.

A pound or animal control has invested only electricity, mortgage, and food in the dogs it releases for adoption. It generally asks you to cover that cost plus (sad, but true) the cost of housing and euthanizing the dogs it does not adopt out. The dog comes with little or no health information, a vague guess on age, and you won’t be calling the animal control officer at three in the morning. So $5-$75 would be typical. But you should never count on this being a “cheap” dog: you’re on the hook for vet costs, spay/neuter, training, etc. The weekend that we adopted Wilson and Sparky from the pound, on Friday they cost $10 for the two of them. By Monday we’d spent $800, and that didn’t count Sparky’s neuter.

A shelter adds a spay or neuter and shots, and sometimes a behavioral evaluation. Any time you get a spayed or neutered dog you are coming out ahead money-wise; spays are CRAZY expensive. We just paid $275 for Ginny, and our last Dane spay was $600. Shots are generally about $60-75 at your vet’s office. So the shelter can be assumed to invest several hundred dollars per dog but (unless it’s a very rare type of shelter) you are not going to get a lot of behavioral support after adoption; adoption fees are typically $100-300.

Rescues are a HUGE step up in terms of investment and support. A rescue typically puts dogs in foster homes, often invests in behavioral consultation and training, intervenes to cure any health issue, gets the dog in top shape, spays or neuters, and then adopts the dog out. A single behavioral consult is $200 or so – I’ve paid them, so I know – training is another few hundred, spay/neuter, several hundred in vet costs per dog if it has any issue. And rescues are usually run by very knowledgeable individuals, often breeders or trainers themselves. A rescue offers behavioral assistance for the life of the dog and also guarantees the dog a home for life (if anything changes, they’ll take it back from you). The typical rescue fee – $350-$500 – is a bargain when you look at what you get for it.

So – and you know it’s going to come back to me – how much am I going to charge for Clue’s litter? Well, I’ve not made a final decision. My instinct is to provide a bundled price, something I’ve been contemplating for a few years now. What I would like to do is ask a certain amount, and have that include the two things that I think are the most important keys to your success with this puppy: training and sterilization. So (and this is just picking a number out of the air) a purchase price of $1200, and I rebate you $100 when you complete puppy kindergarten and another $100 when you provide proof of spay/neuter.

There are actually a bunch of things I’d like to include with the puppy purchase: A membership in the Yankee Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club, microchipping, a crate, a pad, etc. But now I have to do the fancy dance of mathematics, trying to keep my puppy price reasonable and not end up tens of thousands of dollars in the hole.

If I get any big inspirations, I’ll let you know!

Canine Health Foundation (CHF) Biennial Conference, and a post in which I use the word “stupid” a lot

I’ve been meaning to highlight this report, which is a summary of lectures given at the Canine Health Foundation’s Parent Club Conference (“parent club” means the big-mama clubs that make decisions for an entire breed, as opposed to the local clubs–so my local club is the Yankee Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club, but my parent club is the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America–and each parent club was encouraged to send delegates to this conference).

The Canine Health Foundation is the research-supporting arm of the AKC. It donates millions of dollars a year to fund studies and research on canine health, and it relates directly to breeders via the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). CHIC was set up to have a centralized repository of health-testing information; each participating breed designates the health tests that they consider best practice for that paricular breed. If you get all those tests done on your dog, the dog recieves a CHIC number.

The upshoot for breeders and owners is that the CHF is a little different from the larger vet organizations in that its main audience is a body of educated and dedicated breeders, not pet owners. For that reason they, I think, sometimes feel freer to make recommendations that other bodies feel are too dangerous because of the “unwashed masses” assumption (that all pet owners are stupid and won’t show up for vet appointments, and that they’re stupid and won’t keep dogs safe or fenced, and again that they’re stupid and if left to their own devices will prove to be the downfall of dogdom, so we say or do whatever we have to to get them in to our offices and get their dogs taken care of and sterilized).

So, here are some highlights:

– While spaying is still considered beneficial, health-wise, because of the risk of pyometra and mammary tumors, the best studies show that neutering actually has a deleterious effect on dogs. This report is the first time I’ve seen it put this baldly–as recently as a year ago I was hearing that the risks and benefits were basically balanced, but this is an excellent retrospective analysis of evidence that neutering gives a several-times-higher risk of several cancers, of obesity, of ACL tears, and even of some behavioral disorders. The implications of this finding for breeders are staggering–neuter contracts are now called into question, as are recommendations that performance dogs (agility, obedience, and so on) be neutered, training facilities refusing to accept unneutered dogs, etc.

As breeders have been yelping about for years, there is no evidence that mixed-breed dogs are in any way healthier than purebreds, and in fact mixed-breed dogs are more likely to have some of the genetic disorders that breeders routinely test for (hip dysplasia is one, thyroid is another). However, this effect, which should lead to a longer lifespan, is ruined in some breeds by the concentration of extremely bad genes (such as cancer in Boxers). So owners, ask your potential breeder, if you are puppy-hunting, what bad genes exist in the breed and what they are doing to minimize your puppy’s chance of getting them. And breeders, you now have good studies to point to to disprove the idea that cross-breeds are healthier.

The “chicken and egg” scenario of ACL tears has been reversed (this is actually quite dramatic). It used to be assumed that the arthritis vets were seeing in post-ACL-tear joints was because of the ACL tear; this research shows that in fact the ACL tears are due to arthritis and bacteria/inflammation in the joint. So the current therapy, which is surgery, can provide physical stability to the joint again, but has not cured or even addressed the root cause.

– (This one is WONDERFUL) Core vaccines are defined to be rabies, distemper, parvovirus. After the puppy series, distemper and parvo vaccines are to be given NO MORE OFTEN than every three years, and seven- to ten-year intervals should be seen as absolutely normal. Rabies is still mandated to be given every three years, but longer-term challenge studies are being done. Titers are to be seen as very useful, but the levels of the antibodies are immaterial. Any positive titer should be seen as a sign that the dog has an adequate antibody response and does not need to be vaccinated. Bordatella vaccine is largely unneeded except for “lap dogs” who never leave a house or yard and are never exposed to other dogs and are then kenneled in a kennel-cough hotbed. Leptospirosis vaccine should be given only where lepto is a current problem, and never at the same time as other vaccines. Lepto has a very high reaction rate, especially in small dogs. Lepto vaccine is ineffective after nine to twelve months.

– Probiotics have been shown to be effective in many ways, including strengthening overall immune response, and should be considered for every dog.
– High-fat, high-protein diets are dramatically better than high-carb diets (to this I give a resounding “No DUH!” but I suppose it’s good to have it finally ratified by a governing body). In particular, high glutamine levels are very protective.

The full report, which is an absolute must-read for breeders and serious owners and has lots more than I’ve summarized in this post, is here.

Raw feeding for dogs (and cats and ferrets)

(Those of you who have already visited my Cardigan website have seen this one, but I wanted to get it on the blog so I could post it in the resources area over there on the left. This is the handout that goes to all my puppy buyers; it is free for distribution with my name and website or blog attached.)

Healthy Feeding Practices
An Introduction to the Raw Diet

Congratulations on the fact that you are bringing a puppy into your home. We hope that you will have many happy years together.

Your breeder has done everything they can in order to lay the foundation for a long and healthy life for your puppy. Now it’s your turn. An ideal diet–not premium, not expensive, ideal–is your best defense against illness and premature death.

A raw diet is as close to ideal as human hands can make. We hope that you will find satisfaction, as we do, in providing the very best for these wonderful animals.

Why Raw?
The raw diet is designed for all breeds and non-breeds of dogs. Here’s why:

Health and Longevity
While genetic testing can prevent some of the causes of premature lameness, illness, and demise, many of the best-bred puppies still fall victim at very young ages. There are several aspects of this phenomenon that a raw diet can help.

Cardiac Health
Cardiomyopathy and its attendant problems of heart disease and cardiac arrest claim far too many members of every breed. Fortunately, raw diets can help. Besides the benefit of being an additive-free food with healthy enzymes, raw diets offer a great deal to improve heart health. The heart is just a large smooth muscle, dependent on the adequate supply of certain amino acids in order to perform at its peak efficiency and repair its own tissue. Two of the most important amino acids for the heart are taurine and carnitine. These are present only in small amounts in kibble, but in abundant amounts in raw muscle tissue. A cornerstone of a good raw diet is the feeding of raw heart–think of each piece as a vitamin pill directed right to the heart of your dog.

Geriatric Conditions
Aging is obvious–a gradual slowdown in activity and ability to get around. Much of this is due to the great strain on connective tissue that is an unfortunate effect of increasing weight and lower activity. Therefore it is very important to provide the building blocks for connective tissue with every meal. A good raw diet does this, with the abundant feeding of bones, cartilage, tendons, and other raw connective tissue. Cooking the tissue changes its character and makes it either unavailable or more difficult to extract. Feeding raw means that the components of each type of tissue are extremely easy to digest and be used by the dog. Many breeders and owners have noticed a “youthening” of their older dogs after switching from a kibble diet to raw.

Autoimmune Considerations
Autoimmune disorders (thyroid problems, blood and clotting factor diseases, and some skin diseases, just to name a few) vary by breed. Cardigans, thankfully, seem to be less affected than most. However, autoimmune disorders do seem to affect certain individuals or families. How does a raw diet address these disorders? The finest possible diet, one without preservatives or additives and in a perfect balance for the dog’s body, is the best way to both prevent the occurrence of autoimmune disorders and optimize a dog’s response to the disorder after it is diagnosed. There is no doubt that autoimmune problems are partially genetically mediated, but the genes can only transmit a predisposition; they do not guarantee the disease. A raw diet provides the ideal environment for the immune system to flourish. In addition, the raw food is high in anti-oxidants, helping to reduce the cellular damage that can lead to autoimmune diseases and cancers.

Slow Growth
Your breeder has no doubt impressed upon you the necessity for slow, steady growth while your dog is a puppy. The reason for this is simple: tissue (muscle, tendons, ligaments) always grows at the same rate, regardless of food sources. Bones, however, are greatly variable in their growth rate depending on the nutrients, especially calories and calcium, present in the food. A bone that grows faster than the muscle and ligament it is attached to is prone to all sorts of problems, from joint diseases to actual deformation. In addition, bone that grows faster than the genetic ideal for the dog is also at a greater risk for infections (like panosteitis, an inflammation of the bone-making cells and connective tissue in the long bones of the legs) and joint problems like OCD (where the cartilage covering the head of a joint actually cracks and breaks) and HOD (a disease brought on by over-consumption of high-calorie food, which causes fever, knotty joints, and tremendous pain).

Obviously, therefore, we need to feed a diet that encourages healthy growth but not development that is faster than ideal for the dog’s own body. This can vary, of course–some dogs mature quickly and some do so very slowly–but the key is to let the puppy’s own genetics, not the food it is eating, do the talking.

Raw diets, with their ideal mixture of protein (muscle-building) and calcium/phosphorus (bone-building), encourage slow, even growth. You are not as likely to see growth “spurts” with a raw diet, but rest assured the growth will happen. Raw-fed puppies end up at exactly their genetic potential, and with a much-decreased risk of skeletal problems. All of this will mean a dog that grows older gracefully and maintains its skeletal vigor well into old age.

Always remember that you have a responsibility to keep your puppy LEAN, no matter what you are feeding him or her. In one study, puppies kept lean and exercised regularly had a greatly reduced incidence of hip dysplasia when compared to sibling puppies allowed to get cutely chubby and only walked or allowed a little yard play.

You should be able to see the outline of the ribcage when the puppy moves, and you should be able to feel his or her ribs with the FLAT of your hand (no fair digging with your fingertips!). But skinny puppies aren’t healthy either–you should not be able to see the points of the hip bones or put your fingers between ribs, and you should barely feel the points of the spine with good hard flesh and muscle surrounding each vertebra. The goal is a whip-hard bundle of energy, sleek but not fat or even pudgy.

What’s Wrong with Kibble?

There are a multitude of documents and books exploring exactly what is in kibble–a quick Web search will turn up many. However, as a brief overview it is useful to look at the four main ingredients in all kibbles–grains, meats, fillers, and vitamins.

All kibble contains grains and grain products. Partially this is because a purely meat kibble would decay so quickly, but mainly it is because grains are a much cheaper source of protein and nutrients than meat, even the very poor meat that kibble manufacturers use. When looking at the ingredients on a bag of kibble, it is important to recognize the strategies that companies use when listing the ingredients. Grain ingredients are routinely split, or listed in their components rather than in their whole. For example, a kibble could list (as one very popular one does) Lamb Meal, Brewers Rice, Brown Rice, and Rice Flour. This splitting makes it appear that the lamb is a greater quantity by weight than the rice. In fact, in all likelihood the rice is present in far greater amounts than the lamb, once all three rice components are added up. All three of these ingredients are the exact same thing–brewers rice is just the name for kernels of rice that are broken into small pieces. Brown rice is the whole kernels. Rice flour is brown rice once it has been crushed into a powder.

Much attention has been placed upon the presence or absence of meat by-products in dog foods. However, raw-feeders don’t really mind the by-products (feathers, heads, feet, and so on). As a matter of fact, we’re excited if we find a package of fresh chicken feet in the supermarket and often travel great distances for rabbit heads and other “waste” products. Dogs are designed to handle “poor” cuts of meat and in fact thrive on them. What is problematic is the way in which the meat has been prepared. Even the most expensive “human-grade” meat, like that found in super-premium foods, is cooked at very high temperatures and dried. This changes the nature of the protein chains within the meat, and destroys the enzymes that should be present in the tissue. The vast majority kibbles use what is called “meal,” which is meat that has been rendered. Rendered meat, which is gathered from all food animals not fit for human consumption, is heated to an extraordinary temperature and then flaked or powdered. What remains is hardly related to the lovely cuts of steak pictured on the outside of the bag.

Fillers are used to “bulk up” kibble, to allow the portion sizes to be what we would consider generous, and to make the dog’s stool the firm cigar shape we expect. These substances, which include beet pulp, soy, yucca fiber, and other ingredients (often just lumped under “dietary fiber” in the ingredient list) are indigestible and only serve to decrease the value of the food and possibly trigger allergies in the dog.

At the end of every kibble ingredient list is an impressively long litany of vitamins, usually expressed in their scientific terms (d-alpha tocopherol, ferrous sulfate, and so on). This is often advertised as a wonderful feature of the kibble, and is in fact a good thing–it’s the only factor that makes the kibble “100% balanced and complete” as is trumpeted on every bag. However, let’s think about what they are and why they’re there. The vitamins found in kibble are usually sprayed on the extruded kibble at the end of the manufacturing process. They’re nothing more than vitamin pills, basically, as though you could say a piece of cardboard was 100% balanced if you took it with a Flintstones.

Also, look at what the natural diet of a wolf in the wild would be. They aren’t taking a daily vitamin, and they don’t need one. All of the vitamins and minerals they need for a healthy and complete life are present in the raw whole food they are eating. If a kibble needs all those vitamins added, what does that say about the food source of the kibble? Doesn’t look all that balanced and complete, does it?

Slow Digestion
Dogs and wolves in the wild evolved to eat small and large animals, including carrion and the stomach and intestinal contents of those animals. As you can imagine, that means that a lot of what goes into a dog’s or wolf’s mouth in the wild is not exactly sterile. It’s filled with bacteria, often actually rotting, and can have a parasitic infestation. In order to take advantage of this food, wild canids developed an extremely rapid and efficient digestive system. Food goes in and is immediately dumped into a stomach with a much higher content of acid than, for example, a human stomach. From there it takes a brief trip through intestines that are shorter than our own and goes out the other end in a matter of a few hours. This has two major implications as we look at feeding raw compared to kibble.

The first is that a raw diet comprised of meaty bones, organs, and a small amount of vegetables acts like a carnivore diet should–it’s in the stomach for a very short amount of time and has its components quickly absorbed by the intestine. By the time it comes out the other end, the stool is small, dry, and almost entirely bone meal. Grain-based kibble (and remember our earlier discussion that all kibble is grain-based), by contrast, sits in the stomach for a much longer time. Since the kibble is dense and dry, it must have a huge amount of water and acid added to it in order to make the proper consistency of chyme, or slurry, to be passed to the intestine. Meanwhile the grains and the carbohydrates and fillers are sitting in the stomach, producing a large amount of gas through the process of fermentation. The same thing that happens to humans when they eat a lot of carbohydrates and starch (like baked beans) happens to dogs. Raw-fed dogs are rarely gassy.

The second consideration in the speed of digestion is that of the utilization of nutrients. Animals with digestive systems that are designed to be slow (horses and sheep are examples) have long loops of intestines. As the relatively nutrient-poor grains are passed through the intestines, the maximum goodness is extracted from them. Dogs, on the other hand, have much shorter intestines than herbivores or even omnivores. Their food needs to be nutrient-dense and easy to digest. Kibbles, with their high grain and filler content, are not. Comparing the size of the stool (poop) of a kibble-fed dog and a raw-fed dog is telling–kibble-fed dogs have large piles of soft poop, mostly undigested food and bacteria. Dogs that are raw-fed produce small amounts of dry stool that is almost entirely bone meal.

Lack of enzymes
Raw food basically digests itself–that’s the process that one sees as meat ripens and decomposes, even in the absence of bacteria or contaminants. That’s because it has an abundance of enzymes–tiny particles that help to break down the tissue in the food. Dogs need and thrive on these enzymes–not only do they make the physical job of digesting much easier, they are used by the dog’s body to further process the food. Enzymes are seen by many as one of the major keys to overall health for all dogs.

Feeding kibble does two things: One, it provides no enzymes. Enzymes are extremely fragile–heating above about 120 degrees Fahrenheit destroys them. All kibble is cooked at high temperatures, so the enzymes are no longer there by the time the meat in the kibble makes it into that crunchy little bit. Two, kibble digestion requires a certain enzyme, amylase, to digest the grains within the kibble. Dogs don’t naturally produce amylase, which means that they are not easily getting the nutrients present in the grains. In addition, the dog must produce its own enzymes to digest what goodness is there. The constant drag on the dog’s system in order to continually produce enzymes to digest what is not normally a food source leads to ill health.

Other Benefits of a Raw Diet

Raw bones are the best toothbrushes in the world for dogs. In addition, the enzymes in the meat and bones help to discourage tartar and plaque. And the lack of sugars and starches mean that plaque bacteria have nothing to feed on. Anyone who has ever had to have a dog put under general anesthesia in order to have his teeth scaled knows how wonderful it is to have piano-key white teeth from puppyhood to old age.

We’ve gone over this a little bit in previous sections, but the small dry raw-fed stool is a great advantage of the diet. You won’t have to yard-pick again–not only is the poop odorless, it turns white and powdery within days and literally dissolves with the next rain.

The Diet

The raw diet is a mathematical equation with a lot of room for “fudging.” One of the great things about it is that the diet is supposed to be balanced over time, not for each meal. We would therefore suggest the following guidelines:

1. Look for balance over a week or two weeks. Try to make your amounts fall into your desired ratio of meaty bones, organs, and veggies over this amount of time.

2. Watch your dog daily for clues about how much or how little to feed. While there are some basic guidelines (2%-3% of body weight per day for adults, up to 10% of body weight per day for puppies) this is by no means a hard and fast rule. Every day, look at your dog. Is she looking a little beefier than yesterday? Feed a little less. A tiny bit gaunt? Feed a little more. Becoming attuned to these small changes will not only head off weight problems, it is an excellent way to keep track of the general health of your dog. Be aware that your puppy may eat the same amount of food for a long time–we have noted that from about three months to a year a puppy will often barely increase its intake. That’s because as their bodies increase in size, requiring more food, their growth rate decreases, so they need less. It all evens out. However, as a general rule of thumb expect males to need more than females and expect “intact” (un-spayed and un-neutered) dogs to need more than altered ones.

3. Become accustomed to the proper weight for your breed. Consult your breeder–some lines are heavier and some are lighter. As a general rule you should be able to feel the ribs easily with a flat hand against the side of the dog, but should not be able to put your fingers between them. You should be able to feel the hipbones but not see the depression between them.

Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs) and muscle meat: This should comprise the majority of the volume of the diet. Six or seven of every ten meat meals should be RMBs. RMBs are any cut of meat that is 50-75% meat and 25-50% bone. The most commonly fed RMBs are chicken backs, turkey necks and backs, thigh quarters, and the frames or carcasses (the body with breast meat, drumsticks and thighs, and wings removed) of either bird. However, there are many other options: pork neck bones, lamb neck bones, many of the rib cuts, whole rabbits, oxtail, and even exotic meats (there are several giant-breed breeders who buy ostrich and emu necks for their dogs). The bone must be of a size and texture that the dog can entirely eat–for adults this can be considerable, but for puppies it is safer to go with a softer bone like a chicken back. The remainder of the meat meals (three or four out of ten) may be muscle meat, either a bone joint that has more than 75% meat (lamb shanks would be an example) or pure muscle (pork picnics are an example, as would be shoulder steaks, stew meat, etc.). Some people feed almost entirely RMBs for the meat meals, feeding very little pure muscle (largely because of expense), which is fine as long as the dog does not become constipated. If you see him or her straining to poop or producing stool that crumbles into powder instantly, add more muscle meat.

Organ Meats
Organ meats should be at least ten percent of the diet. We mainly feed liver and heart, and kidney if we can find it. Organ meat can be fed alone or as a part of the vegetable mix.

Vegetable Slop
We generally feed one veggie meal per week, and is always fed in a liquefied form (after going through a food processor or grinder) so that the dog can utilize the goodness found inside the plant cells. Vegetable slop (often called veggie mix or veggie patties) is a slurry of many different kinds of vegetables and fruits, some healthy dairy if you want to, eggs (always with shells), etc. I usually empty my fridge into a batch of veggie mix. Dark green leafy veggies comprise the bulk of most mixes, though pumpkin-, bean-, or squash-based mixtures are also fine. A good rule of thumb is to have three to four vegetables or fruits in each mix, and to vary the mix over time. Remember, balance achieved over time is the key. The only vegetables to avoid are onions, eggplant, tomatoes in quantity, potatoes, and large amounts of spinach. Vegetable slop can and should be mixed with meat in order to increase its palatability and to get more muscle meat into the dog; up to 50% of its volume may be ground beef or other minces. Plan on making several quarts of the mix (we routinely make two or three gallons, enough for several months at a time) and freezing it in one- to two-cup containers or freezer bags. Lay it out to thaw the night before and it’s no more complicated than dumping kibble into a dish.

The remainder of the diet (usually counted as part of the veggie mix component) is supplements. These are oils (flax, olive, and cod liver are the favorites), trace mineral supplements (usually greens such as dried algae) garlic, eggs, dairy products, and specific “extras” geared to the individual dog (like glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM for arthritis). They are mixed into the veggie slop and fed as part of that meal.

Prey-Model Feeding
The above is a description of a Billinghurst or “BARF”-style feeding regimen. I’ve used it on and off for a decade now and I think it offers a great diet. However, many raw feeders pattern their dogs’ diets after what’s called the prey model–the idea that taking in the entirety of whatever organism is being fed should be the closest to a truly ideal diet. That means you will feed very little vegetable matter, but you will feed more offal (entrails, pancreas, stomach, etc.) and you’ll be working either to find whole carcasses (lamb, calf, rabbit, etc.) or to “Frankenstein” a carcass together (the legs of a lamb, the entrails of a cow, the head of a salmon, etc.). Prey model also feeds more muscle and less bone. Prey-model feeding is best suited to those who are willing to put a lot of time and effort into raw feeding, mostly in terms of finding reliable sources for the raw carcasses. It also tends to be more expensive, because of the increased muscle meat. We feed as much prey as we possibly can here–for example, we feed beef heads and lots of tripe and pick up whole chickens whenever we can find them–so we’ll be happy to support any inclination you have in that direction, but I don’t think you have to feed only prey model for your dog to be optimally healthy.

Tripe is raw and un- or minimally washed stomach, often from a cow but any livestock species is fine. Tripe is sort of a magic food for dogs–they can eat nothing but tripe for their entire lives and be very healthy and happy. We start all of our puppies on tripe because it is incredibly digestible and contains natural enzymes and digestive juices that prime the puppies’ own stomachs for the more challenging RMBs. The benefits of tripe are many–a rubbery texture that is satisfying to chew, a perfect calcium/phosphorus balance, stringy fibers that floss the teeth as the dog eats, and a little bit of vegetable matter thrown in to balance the whole thing. The only problem with feeding tripe is finding it–stomachs are “unfit for human consumption” and so cannot legally be sold to private people. If you can find a small butchery or slaughterhouse that will set aside tripe for you and will “denature” it with charcoal (which designates the meat as non-human-grade but won’t hurt your dog at all), it can be an incredibly easy and cheap way to feed your dog a healthy diet. If you can find it elsewhere packaged specifically as dog food (there are several companies that do this) it is a wonderful addition to a raw diet. Tripe replaces both components of the raw diet, meat and vegetable.

Sample Billinghurst-Style Menu for a Cardigan Puppy

RMBs are chicken backs, ½ lb each (“strip” backs, which are mostly just the spine and some muscle meat). If you are able to buy big chicken backs with the thighs still attached, just adjust the amounts as needed.

Muscle Meals are lamb roasts or pork picnic or turkey breast or tripe, etc.–a big hunk of meat with little or no bone.

Veggie mix is 1lb kale, 2lb summer squash, 1 bunch bananas, 1 lb green beans, 12 oz cod liver oil, 6 eggs (ground with shells) 2 heads garlic, minced, 3 tablespoons algae mix (one option is Source, a horse supplement that is comprised of many dried sea algae), 12 oz cottage cheese or yogurt (or 2 cups goat milk if available), and 3-4 lb ground beef. DO NOT slavishly follow this menu. Switch it around every time. The largest ingredient should be dark green vegetables. Go light on the root veggies.

Organ meats are liver and heart. These are the two I consider essential, but the more variety the better. Lung, pancreas, kidney, intestine–it’s all good. Try to switch around as much as you can, as long as the dog gets some liver and heart every week or so.

This is a typical menu for a puppy; adults (over eighteen months) get larger amounts and are often fed only once a day instead of twice. Tiny puppies (8-16 weeks) are fed three times a day; just divide the amount per day into three meals instead of two. This week has one veggie meal and two organ meals; the next week may be different. I try to balance over two weeks, with about 60% of the diet coming from meat and bone, 20% from veggie mix (which of course has muscle in it) and 20% from organ meat.

AM: One small back or half of one large back
PM: Same

AM: 1 cup veggie mix
PM: One small back or half of a large one

AM:  Muscle meal
PM: One small back

AM: One small back
PM: Same

AM: 1/8 raw beef heart (about 1/4 lb)
PM: One small back

AM: 1/4 – 1/2 lb tripe
PM: Muscle meal

AM: 1/4 lb liver (work up to this slowly–liver needs to be introduced in 1/8 lb increments) OR 1 cup veggie mix if liver is incorporated into the veggies
PM: One small back


How much is this going to cost?
Surprisingly little. Basically, you should be looking for RMBs at $.50/lb or less ($.29-.39/lb is a common price; we get chicken backs at $.20/lb and would be happy to share our source with you) and veggies as cheap as you can get them. When you compare the cost of a raw diet with the cost of a typical super-premium diet, you’ll find yourself on top almost all the time.

Where do I get this stuff?
Starting to feed raw requires a little detective work. There are sources of RMBs and cheap vegetables all over the place, but they’re not likely to be sending flyers to your mailbox. We would suggest you contact family butcheries (if they don’t have chicken necks or backs ask if they can order cases for you), get friendly with the meat department of your local supermarkets, ask produce supervisors or farmstand owners if you can have the bruised fruits and vegetables at a reduced rate, etc. If you live in New England, there is a great raw-food co-op called NERFs (New England Raw Feeders). NERFs will allow you to source anything from chicken backs to tripe to lamb necks, duck carcasses, buffalo, etc.

Help! My puppy has diarrhea!
First of all, calm down. Diarrhea is extremely common in the first few days and weeks of feeding a raw diet. As long as the puppy is eating well and seems otherwise healthy, it is nothing to worry about–just the puppy’s digestive system getting accustomed to a new way of eating. Diarrhea is also a sign of detoxification, a process whereby the dog’s body gets rid of allergens, dyes, and other nasties that were hiding in its body. If you are introducing an older dog to raw, you may see him or her “running at all ends”–weepy eyes, drooling, and diarrhea are common. Watch the whole dog, not her ends–if she’s otherwise healthy and does not have a fever, all is well. However, there are some things you can do to help the runs run their course. The first is by adding a probiotic to the food. A probiotic is a source of the beneficial bacteria that we all need in our intestines in order to digest food properly. A concentrated source of probiotic bacteria is Fastrack. This product is widely available and may be found at local feed stores or mail-ordered. It’s a good idea to have some on hand–refrigerate it to keep the cultures alive and healthy. Another source of probiotics is one you may already have on hand–plain yogurt with active cultures. While not as concentrated as a commercial probiotic, yogurt is very beneficial when added to meals on a regular basis. The second way you can streamline that digestive system is by adding enzymes to the meals. The very best way to do this is by feeding green tripe–an unwashed cow stomach. However, we realize that you might not be up to that instantly, so we suggest looking for a quality enzyme supplement for dogs. Prozyme and Dr. Goodpet are two brands that are popular, but feel free to shop around. Look for ingredients like protease, amylase, lipase, and cellulase.

If a dog who is used to a raw diet has diarrhea, try adding a can of pumpkin to the diet for a day or two. If the diarrhea persists or the dog seems genuinely ill, get thee to a vet!

Why is she throwing up?
Most likely she just literally bit off more than she could chew. Many puppies will bolt their food, and the automatic response that the very wise stomach has to a sudden influx of unchewed food is to send it right back up again. Let her clean it up–it’s just as good now as it was five minutes ago, and it will teach her to chew it better. Unless it becomes a chronic problem or is accompanied by other symptoms of sickness, it’s nothing to worry about.

Dogs commonly throw up bile (yellow foamy liquid) if their stomachs are empty and it’s past mealtime. Don’t let them get so hungry next time 🙂 and throw a snack their way in the afternoon.

My puppy’s feet are flattening!
This is not a problem solely related to the raw diet, but since it’s one of the most common nutrition-related events in a puppy’s life we thought it should be treated here. The eventual shape of a puppy’s feet is partially genetic (if mom and dad had feet that were flatter than desirable, chances are the puppy won’t have the toes of a puma) but is certainly influenced by diet. Most often, feet will go back up after teething is over, but check with your breeder to see if he or she recommends specific supplements.



Give Your Dog a Bone
Grow Your Pups with Bones–both by Ian Billinghurst.
Raw Meaty Bones–Tom Lonsdale (with both of these authors, expect to wade through some scientific stuff and deal with some unclear writing)–All three books available at
Switching to Raw–Susan Johnson (available at; this is a layman’s guide and is well and simply written)

Recommended Reading

Food Pets Die For–Ann Martin, available at (Ann doesn’t advise raw feeding, but she does expose what’s in commercial kibbles)

The implications of the KC decision on Pekingese; Pedigree Dogs Exposed, part 2

If you haven’t already, read part 1 first.

So what is wrong with what the Kennel Club is doing? Why is it such a bad decision?

I want to answer this in two parts: First, why Pedigree Dogs Exposed was incorrect, totally and fantastically and horrifyingly wrong, in its conclusions. Second, what this means to the community of UK breeders and, because the world of registered dogs is in fact very small, to breeders around the world.

Let’s examine the assertions of the Pedigree Dogs Exposed program, one by one. I’m going to leave out the Pekingese stuff for now, because I want to examine that breed in particular in Part 3.

1. Purebred dogs have radically changed in the last 100 years.

The pictures the documentary uses to supposedly “expose” the changes in purebred dogs are totally false. You cannot make statements about a dog based on a photo of a POOR EXAMPLE of the breed! I can go find you a poorly bred long-legged Basset right now in 2008; doesn’t mean that the breed has changed.

From 1931. See the front legs?

1928 bassetThis Time cover is from 1928. This adorable puppy doesn’t yet have a chest that fills in the crook in his front legs, but he is without question a basset. The ear set, length of ear, bone, etc. are very comparable to the modern type.

From 1950

For more show Bassets from the 1950s and 60s, start here. Exploring the Lyn Mar Acres pedigrees will keep you busy for hours.

Oh, and just because I promised, here’s a 2008 Basset (found this one on one of the Internet puppy finder sites, which means that now I have to take a shower to wash the skeeze off):

Moving on: The bulldog they say is the historic one absolutely isn’t. That’s a PIT bull dog, not a bull-baiting dog.

What they actually looked like in 1850 (look at how short the face is):





Bulldogs: (1950s):

Modern (2007): This is a show Bulldog (a Polish boy). Look at the angle from his nose to his lower jaw. You can see that his upper teeth would be only slightly inside his lower teeth. Note that he’s actually more moderate than the dog from the 1950s!

This is the exact skull the program said was representative of the English Bulldog:

This is not only an incorrect skull but a grossly malformed one. The dog would have had serious trouble eating or living anything close to a normal life.

By the way, this is a skull sold by a medical research company, which would, of course, have nothing to do with determining the normative Bulldog skull. And it’s on the first page of a google images search for “bulldog skull”– the research done for this program was incredibly shallow and irresponsible.

This is the actual Bulldog skull, as described by the illustrated standard–in other words, this is the skull that is seen as the highest achievement of deliberate breeding:

It is absolutely obvious that show breeders do NOT want the unhealthy skull, would immediately reject the unhealthy skull, and would be horrified by any animal in that condition.

2. How about the Bull Terrier! They’ve totally changed! You can see how the skulls have changed through the decades!

Answer: This is the skull series they animated to supposedly show changes (found, yes, in a google images search):

It’s irresponsible of anyone to use that skull series to show that bull terriers used to look like X and now look like Y. That skull series shows exactly what the study says it does, which is that dogs have an extremely plastic phenotype and you can cause rapid changes in a short period of time.

In order to say that bull terriers looked like X in year 0 and look like Y in year 30, you have to show far more than one skull per year and you have to find the NORMATIVE skulls. There’s a huge variation in type according to deliberate breeding (or the opposite, careless breeding) and I could find you identical skulls to every single one of those, all labeled AKC-registered Bull Terriers, in 2008.

Check it:

The “1890s” skull:

The “1950s” skull:

The “unhealthy overexaggerated skull”:

The “hey, that’s pretty moderate, why don’t breeders do THAT” skull:

ALL of those are BTs, ALL are from the late 2000s, and the one who is a champion, the head they want? Yep, #4.

Here’s another example, a top-winning Bull Terrier from the 70s: still think the breed is in rapid flux?

3. Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a ridge, which is a form of spina bifida, and because of the ridge they have horrible painful dermoid sinus formations. If they would just breed the ridgeless dogs, they wouldn’t have this problem!

Answer: That statement was just categorically untrue. The ridge is NOT a form of spina bifida; it’s a cowlick. Ridgeless dogs do NOT have a lesser chance of having dermoid sinus formations. They are two separate issues. Dermoid sinus, by the way, is actively battled and bred against by good Ridgeback breeders.

4. Horrible Ridgeback breeders cull puppies without ridges!

Yes, some do. And I want to explain why. It’s not because they’re evil. It’s because ridgeless dogs don’t look like Ridgebacks. They look like a hound-pit bull mix. They are very rarely picked up as Ridgebacks when they come into rescue, so they’re not valued and are not turned over to purebred rescue. Ridgeless dogs are very likely to be put to sleep, assumed to be a dangerous cross-bred. Many end up as bait dogs in dog-fighting rings.

The fate of a ridgeless dog is far less than certain if the first and original owner does not act responsibly, and every breeder knows that you can’t always trust owners to act responsibly.

So, as a breeder, if you know that a certain percentage of your ridgeless puppies are going to end up living horrible lives of pain and confusion and loneliness and then be put to death, even if it’s only one percent, you have a decision to make. You can send them out there, trying hard not to think about that one percent, or you can make sure that their lives are short and painless and they never know fear or hunger or fighting. It is an individual decision that no breeder makes lightly. We LOVE our puppies. We ADORE our dogs. Every single time we lose one it is a personal tragedy. So while I may have certain convictions about what I would do, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who make a decision that is different.

5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are unhealthy because uncaring breeders (who, it is pretty explicitly implied, enjoy causing dogs pain) are trying to produce a tiny skull that doesn’t leave enough room for their brains.

Answer: Nobody knows exactly why syringomyelia is a problem in CKCS. The round head type is not appreciably different from many other small dogs, including the English Toy Spaniel, the Shih Tzu, the Maltese, etc. Across the world, good breeders are horrified and are doing something about it. I would bet money that almost every health issue that the documentary pounced on was uncovered by good breeders, the research paid for by good breeders, and the population of good breeders is freaking out and trying to fix.

Note here: (<– linky)

Look at the summary of DNA research. Every single study is being paid for by the breed clubs of various countries, meaning that every penny is coming from the pockets of the breeders themselves.

No one is sure, yet, how to get rid of syringomyelia in CKCS. My sister-in-law owns two Cavaliers, a mom and son, who were given to her by a breeder who MRId the mom and found very mild signs of the disease (the dog is pain-free). That particular breeder was completely clearing out (finding good homes for and never breeding again) every single dog who had any signs of the disorder. The mom dog was imported from England, did well in the shows here, the breeder spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on health testing, and then gave the dog away. That’s the kind of response good breeders are giving to these horrific diseases.

Right now the Cardigan people are tackling IVDD (disc disease). You know who has worked to describe the disease? breeders. Who is donating thousands of dollars to DNA research? Breeders. Who is pushing everybody to do cheek swabs, bringing the swabs to shows, pressuring every owner they can think of? Breeders.

There is no body of individuals more dedicated to stamping out canine genetic disease than the ethical purebred breeders. Every year, the purebred clubs donate literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund studies to identify genes, they are 90% of the customer base for the genetic testing companies, they are the ones pushing for health registries, they rigidly police their own ranks and disavow anyone who is knowingly breeding unhealthy dogs. I’ve never met a single cross-breeding breeder who will volunteer their dogs for studies, but it’s commonplace in the show world. I have a friend who has driven her Danes hundreds of miles, twice a year, on her own nickel, for years now, just so the researchers can do serial ultrasounds on a related family of dogs. When the call goes out for cheek swabs and blood tests and x-rays and echocardiograms, show breeders consider it their duty to respond–never seen a Puggle breeder do anything of the kind.

The idea that breeders are sinister in this is absolutely untrue. There ARE bad apples. Of course. But when you look at the entire body of responsible breeders, it’s an overwhelmingly concerned and careful group of people.

6. It’s a symptom of how terrible CKCS breeders are that they continue to breed affected dogs.

Answer: is an absolute required read to understand this issue. It is a fact that if no Cavalier with any form of indent in the skull is ever bred, the breed will cease to exist. This seems to be a skull formation that exists throughout the breed (and is NOT, and NEVER HAS BEEN, the result of breeders trying to get a smaller and smaller skull regardless of the consequences). The goal of the protocol is to minimize symptoms and the expression of the actual disease, and to move toward a breed that has no skull indentation. Within this protocol, it is acceptable to breed dogs that have the skull indentation but are asymptomatic, as long as you are breeding them to dogs that do not have the indentation.

7. There are a few good breeders, but most of them are in it only for the ribbons and don’t care about health.

Answer: This really isn’t true. The reason that doesn’t work too well to ignore health if you’re a breeder is that it’s very difficult to exist on your own. You have to buy puppies, use other people’s stud dogs, and hopefully other people will ask to use yours. Since there is a huge, HUGE amount of peer pressure within the group to never lose sight of health testing, you will not be welcome. Puppies will not be sold to you; you will not be able to use stud dogs. Your own stud dogs will not be in demand. So you will not succeed consistently or at all.

I know the Dane world better than I know the Cardigan world, yet. So I can tell you that in the community of blue/black breeders, which is maybe 30-40 active and inactive kennels across the US, there’s a set of four or five “show” breeders that do not health-test consistently, or they do health test but they don’t make decisions based on those results. Everybody knows it and nobody will touch them with a ten-foot pole. The non-testing breeders all stick together and they breed to dogs owned by the other members of that group. They are not respected by their peers, nobody sends puppy people to them, and if we can warn puppy people away from them we try. They’re so shunned that most of the other breeders won’t even breed to something with those kennel names in the pedigree–those non-tested dogs as parents or grandparents taint even otherwise excellent breeding prospects, even if the offspring dog has finished its championship, even if the dog itself has health testing. Those non-testing breeders have effectively totally shot themselves in the feet.

So no, I don’t think that there are many more non-testing breeders than there are testing breeders. The dog show world is intensely political, it’s not really “fair” in many ways. It’s far from perfect. But the pressure to consistently health-test, in every breed I’ve seriously investigated or been involved in, is SERIOUS AND REAL.

8. The show ring is the real evil; because it only looks for beauty, breeders only care about looks.

Answer: The community of good breeders knows that the show ring is purely a place where the conformation of the dog is evaluated. Conformation is only one piece of the puzzle. We think that shows are VERY important, and goodness knows we love the gorgeous dogs who are the top winners, but if you are savvy and watch the dogs actually being bred, you’ll find that some of the top-winning dogs of all time have very, very few offspring. That’s because within their breed, even though the breeders recognized the beauty of the dog, it was not a suitable stud dog or brood bitch because of some health, temperament, or ability shortfall.

That’s where the real question of responsibility comes in. Breeding only for looks is, for obvious reasons (that’s what they see on TV), what everybody thinks we do. But it’s far more often that I hear “I’ve got this lovely bitch at home and there is literally not a male in the country I want to breed her to” than the opposite. It would be EASY to breed for looks and nothing else. But you bankrupt yourself ethically and you do a huge disservice to your dogs if you do.

The one place where I think that the program had some leverage with me was with the rears on German Shepherd Dogs. I happen to be a person who thinks that GSD rears are in terrible shape right now–but what they don’t tell you on the video is that the majority of everybody in the show dog community who are not GSD breeders thinks GSD rears are crazy. “My gosh, I can’t even look at them; they look crippled” is the most common show-ring comment. I HOPE that someday they get their heads out of their armpits and realize that it’s nuts, but I will say that even with the enormous change in preferred style, they’re STILL OFAing their dogs. They’re still testing and still breeding carefully. And not every dog is that extreme–I’ve seen the ones that wobble and I hate it, but I’ve also seen dogs winning that are, yes, overangulated and yes, too far down in the rear, but they can stand normally.

In any other breed, a dog who stood like that in the rear would go to the back of the line. Dog shows are NOT about health; they are about soundness. So you could have a dog with lymphoma win Best in Show as long as he looked sound and muscular and his gait was perfect. That’s why you always insist, as a breeder, and why you must insist as a puppy buyer, on health testing as well as show participation.

How about temperament? Any registered dog on full registration (as opposed to limited, which means that the breeder doesn’t want the dog shown or bred) who is not spayed or neutered can be entered in a dog show and can walk in the ring. That means there are absolutely dogs with poor temperaments in the ring. Again, this is one of the reasons that you sometimes see those top winners with very few offspring. If the handler is good enough to keep the dog from biting the judge, it can and will win. If it does bite, it will be excused and/or disqualified and after 3 DQs you’re done; you can’t ever show the dog again. Dogs that attack other dogs and do harm will sometimes be immediately banned, sometimes not. That’s why you never, as a breeder, breed to a dog without either getting your hands on him yourself or getting the opinion of someone you trust who HAS had their hands on him.

I would honestly invite anyone who is interested in this subject to attend a dog show. I strongly suspect that you’d not find a crazy freak show full of unhealthy dogs. I’ve said this before and I’ll offer again–if someone in the New England area wants to attend a show (to look at the different breeds, to see whether show dogs are abused, to see if this documentary is correct, etc.) and I can get there, I’ll walk around with you and show you what’s going on and what happens with the different breeds.

9. Mixed-breed dogs are healthier and have better temperaments than purebreds because they have hybrid vigor.

Answer: Here’s the way it usually works: Mixed-breed comes into vet. Vet says “I’m so sorry; your dog has osteosarcoma. These things just happen sometimes.” Boxer comes into vet. Vet says “I’m so sorry; your dog has osteosarcoma. It’s because he’s a Boxer.” Labeling plays a HUGE part in our perception of purebred health.

The other thing that happens is that people’s experience with purebreds-and this includes VETS’ experience with purebreds-tends to be almost exclusively with poorly bred ones. How many actively showing, health-tested, hunt-tested Labs have you ever met? How many World Sieger Shepherds? If all you’ve ever met are badly bred purebreds, of COURSE you think they’re all unhealthy and squirrely–they probably are, because they’ve been bred for nothing more than an certificate of registration, and with no more care than you’d use in choosing a pair of socks. An UNTESTED purebred is a very poor health risk, because if you’ve got two dogs on the street at least they have to be strong and sound enough to get tab A into slot B. Purebreds have no such restriction; a bad breeder will find some way to get the bitch pregnant.

There is absolutely no such thing as hybrid vigor in dogs. Hybrid vigor is a term that means that when you breed two TOTALLY unrelated breeds, or even two species, the resulting babies are bigger, taller, stronger, healthier than either parent. So Brahma-Limousin cows, for example, are heartier than either Brahma or Limousin purebreds. In order to take advantage of hybrid vigor, you have to keep breeding the originals–in other words, you don’t keep breeding the Brahmousin to each other or they become just another purebred with no advantages; you’re constantly producing new ones using the two unrelated breeds.

All purebred dogs are about 150-200 years old, and they all came from the same place (Europe). Aside from a few primitive breeds like the Chow, genetic testing has proven that even the breeds that look old are modern European creations (much to the chagrin of the Ibizan hound people). Until 200 years ago, there was no notion of a closed stud book, so while you had some lines that were relatively pure, the fact is that if it could herd and looked mostly like a corgi it WAS a corgi, and the same dog in another part of England would possibly have been labeled as desirable Shetland Sheepdog breeding stock.

So when you breed a Labrador and a Poodle, for example, you’re not accessing any “hybrid vigor.” You’re putting back together two breeds that were probably freely exchanging genes no more than a couple hundred years ago. The hip dysplasia in Poodles is the same hip dysplasia as is in Labs. The genes for thyroid disorders in Dobermans are the same as the genes for thyroid disorders in Rottweilers. You’re right that the genes have to meet to be expressed–and they’re quite as likely to meet when you cross-breed as when you breed two purebreds, except in the relatively few breeds that have genuine issues with a few cancers.

I have four dogs in the house, all of which I love dearly. The Cardigans represent the best lines in the US. They have strong, enduring structure, their backs are not too long or too short (won’t break down under stress); their teeth have a perfect bite so they’ll always be able to eat, even in old age; their front feet turn out no more than 30%, so they won’t get arthritis. They’ve been genetically tested for PRA, heart, hips; I know exactly how long their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and gg-grandparents lived and what they died of (actually, thanks to the great good health of Cardis, most of those dogs are still alive). I have an accidental cross rescue, a dachshund/Jack Russell Terrier. He’s also achondroplastic, like the Cardigans, but in his case there’s been no care to make sure his feet don’t turn out too much or that his back is level and strong. His elbows do not touch his body, so he can’t run as fast or corner as quickly as they can. His feet turn out and are flat, so he doesn’t have the tendon system he needs to keep his feet from hurting when he gets older. I have no way of knowing whether he’ll suffer from eye, heart, hip, or spinal problems as he ages. I also have a “designer dog,” a deliberately crossbred Papillon-Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She has cherry eye, a congenitally deformed jaw, and bowed front legs, and for her whole life I’ll have to watch out for glaucoma, epilepsy, spinal disorders, brain disorders, etc., because none of those have ever been tested for, as far as I know, in her generations of puppy-mill ancestors. So from my point of view this is not even close to an argument.

10. The dog on the program was so congenitally deformed that he had to sit on an “ice pillow” so he wouldn’t die!

Danny, the Peke pictured, was on a cool bed, which is an extremly common tool used in the show ring to keep the dogs comfortable so they won’t pant. It’s got a gel inside that is at room temperature but helps transfer heat, and it feels pleasant to the dog, like lying on a tile floor. Some exhibitors will put an ice pack under the bed to cool it off. We don’t want them to pant because an open mouth makes a bad picture. Judges can’t see the profile of the dog’s head properly if the dog is panting; the dog can’t show an alert or pretty expression when it is panting. We like to have a nice photograph, too; it’s important to us as breeders that photos show our dogs at their best. Danny was in no danger of overheating. It had been a very long day for everyone; Danny was going to need to have his picture taken hundreds or thousands of times and was under hundreds of lights. That made him pant, so his handler wisely let him lie down on a cool bed. No dog would ever lie down on an actual ice pack, any more than you’d lie down on a block of ice.

11. Purebreds are so deformed that they have to be bred by AI and have c-sections!

There’s a huge difference between “have to be” and “usually are.”

Good breeders typically get one or two or three litters from each female. Every single litter is extremely precious and represents the investment of years of effort and thousands and thousands of dollars, and we LOVE our breeding bitches. That means that we have a very low tolerance for the risks associated with breeding.

So a large proportion of ALL breeders, across ALL breeds, preferentially use AI (either “fresh,” where the male is collected right there and the bitch immediately inseminated, or surgical). They don’t want to risk infection, injury (I’ve had a male injured during breeding, so I know this happens), or the possibility that either dog won’t get the job done.

Pekingese CAN breed normally, but their breeders are very worried about the possibility of injury when the two dogs involved are short and heavy, so they do AIs. As I said, this is true across the spectrum of breeds including those very “natural” in shape and size.

There are SO many reasons that dogs end up with sections, and some are a “weakness” and others are not. The c-sections we had with the Danes were on a mother and daughter; the mom’s section was because she had dead puppies inside that had set up a huge infection; she delivered five live and five dead puppies and I sectioned her for the last (live) puppy. Her daughter’s labor stalled out, and when the vet opened her up she found the puppies “shrink wrapped” in an extraordinarily tight uterus (she actually had to be spayed to get the puppies out). For each, if I had let the labor progress she would eventually have delivered. But we would have had what I considered, at the time, exhausted and terrified, too high a chance of losing puppies or mom. Objectively, looking back, I don’t know.

Neither bitch could be bred again, obviously (massive infection and scarring, mandatory spay), but even though this was in mom and daughter I don’t think I would have called it a genetic weakness.

If you have a whole bunch of related dogs who are all ending up with primary inertia–yup, I’m willing to call that a genetic problem. But the number of times I’ve actually seen that isn’t high. Most of the times when you have a high incidence of c-sections it’s for slow labors, which IS something I’d love to have erradicated in purebreds, but the reason they’re sections is that it’s a nervous breeder who sections quickly and for any reason that could possibly lead to puppy death (ummm, guilty as charged).

And of course a true dystocia you’ve got to section or everybody dies.

I’m honestly not sure there’s ANY data about c-section frequency in dogs. I’ve certainly never seen a study or seen a study referred to. You have to understand that c-sections in dogs are run entirely by breeder judgment; except for the very rare complete dystocia, these are ALL breeders making the decisions. So rates are heavily, probably almost completely, influenced by personal comfort levels and not necessarily by any kind of medical reality.

Let me give you an example: I have a friend, a GREAT breeder, who breeds Mastiffs. She sections every bitch, every time. They do not get a trial of labor, nothing. For her, losing a puppy is absolutely unacceptable. She also needs the predictability of being able to take two weeks off work for each litter. So she progestone tests, knows the day of ovulation, schedules the section for the exact day when delivery should occur (this is actually OK in dogs–there’s not a wide range like there is in human women), and sections every bitch.

So she’s got multiple generations getting multiple c-sections. But *could* those bitches have free-whelped? Quite possibly. She could, in fact, have the freest of free-whelping Mastiffs in the entire country, but the stats would not reflect that.

I have another friend, a Bull Terrier breeder, who NEVER sections except for a complete dystocia/malpresentation. She wants the bitch to whelp no matter what. She’s lost large proportions of entire litters during the whelping process; almost every litter has at least one or two stillborns. So are her dogs statistically complete free-whelpers? Absolutely. Would they be free-whelpers if they lived in my house? VERY doubtful.

Pekingese (and bulldogs and pugs and so on) CAN free-whelp. But they will lose puppies if they do, and these are already breeds who cost a huge amount (not just in money) to get pregnant and who have small litters. A single stillborn represents half the litter, often. When canine c-sections are relatively safe and ensure that you get every puppy out alive, for many breeders (across ALL breeds) and or many repro vets, this decision is absolutely understandable.

All those inbred purebreds have bad hips, so I’m going to buy a Aussie-Doodle-Pom

I don’t want to go on for days and days about hip dysplasia, although I could, but no, there’s no real data that would indicate that it’s less common in mixed breeds. It tends to follow a trend line of heavier bodies, regardless of size. So Pugs have an extraordinarily high rate of dysplasia, as do the heavy medium-sized dogs (Bassets, Bulldogs), the heavy large dogs (Clumbers, Labs) and the heavy giant dogs (mastiffs, bloodhounds). The lighter, “racier” dogs have a much lower rate. Greyhounds have virtually none at all, no matter how randomly they’re bred.

What this means in terms of mixed breeds is that if you’ve got a big heavy mix, it’s got a very good chance of having iffy hips, because it’s big and heavy AND because it doesn’t have any health testing behind it. There’s no reason to think that a Lab/Bloodhound/St. Bernard mix is going to have any better hips than Labs, Bloodhounds, or Saints. Ditto a Lhasa/Basset/Cocker, or even a Pekingese/pug.

The best way to protect yourself against hip diseases, if you want one of the larger or heavier dogs, is actually to buy from an excellent purebred breeder who has generations of hip testing behind the dogs (so has managed to buck the trend and produce good hips on his or her dogs) and offers some kind of health warranty so you get a replacement puppy if yours turns out crippled.

Many people would rather adopt, which is wonderful. In that case, when you are looking at rescuing a large-breed puppy, you need to feed super carefully (Never Puppy Food!), keep the dog very slim when he or she is growing, and encourage lots and lots of free exercise (long walks, hikes, playing, etc.).

If you really want a dysplastic dog, go buy a large-breed purebred or first-generation mix (“designer dog”) from a careless breeder with no health testing, make sure you feed puppy food and maintain a nice rolly-polly puppy, and keep the dog crated a lot.

Oh, and you can do Penn Hip on puppies as young as 16 weeks. It’s a lot of money to throw at a problem that may or may not exist, but if you need the information it’s certainly possible to get a decent hip picture that early. I would discourage you from doing any other method at that age, though–some vets say they can diagnose via palpation; others will look at traditional OFA-style films. Neither is anywhere close to accurate at that age. Penn Hip when young, OFA is fine for 18 months and above.