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What Is Health Testing for Dogs?


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Every dog owner wants their pet to be healthy and live a long life. Whether you’re new to owning a dog or planning to add another pet to your family, it’s important to know more about the breed you’re considering to make an informed decision. That’s where health testing for dogs comes in.

Some dog breeds are more susceptible to certain health issues than others. Health testing can identify genetic or lifestyle factors that increase your dog’s risk of disease. These tests can also help you take steps to prevent your dog from developing these issues or minimize the impact on your dog’s daily life.

Each breed has health testing requirements, as defined by an AKC Breed Parent Club. A breed parent club is a national club that is recognized by AKC and dedicated to a particular breed. These clubs expect that their members will obtain necessary health tests before breeding their dogs. Learn more about health testing and why it can make a difference to your dog’s health and longevity.

What Is Health Testing?

In the veterinary community, health testing refers to “the comprehensive evaluation of prospective breeding dogs (sire and dam), which encompasses breed-specific assessments aimed at decreasing the prevalence of heritable disorders in offspring,” says Greg Burns, DVM, assistant professor of small animal theriogenology at Colorado State University. Essentially, the purpose of these screening tests is to identify diseases that can be passed from parents to offspring. This helps breeders find the best matches for their breeding stock to create healthy puppies.

English-Springer-Spaniels-walking-togeth
©everydoghasastory - stock.adobe.com

Dr. Burns explains that there has been a recent shift among pet owners in how they use the term health testing, largely in response to the rise in genetic tests marketed to consumers. “While such genetics tests are used as part of pre-breeding evaluations and offer value, it’s crucial to recognize that many of these tests were originally developed for testing the sire and dam prior to breeding, and their validation often relies on a breed-specific context, and accurate interpretation,” he says.

When health testing is done for breeding purposes, it involves “a tailored approach, guided by recommendations from individual breed parent clubs,” he says. You can access these recommendations through databases such as the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), which provides information to breeders and owners on health issues prevalent in specific breeds and protocols for health screening. As a prospective dog owner, health testing for dogs refers to routine physical examinations and standard measures to prevent illness, like regular checkups and vaccinations.

Common Health Tests for Dogs

Typically, health testing falls into two main categories: genotypic and phenotypic tests. Genotype is a dog’s unique sequence of DNA, whereas phenotype refers to how these genes are expressed including observable traits like height and eye color. Veterinary specialists perform genotypic tests for disorders that are caused by a specific, identifiable gene (or genes), Dr. Burns explains. One example is a disorder called chondrodysplasia, which is a genetic skeletal condition in the Alaskan Malamute that results in short stature and curvature of the front limbs.

Alaskan-Malamute-puppy-laying-down-outdo
Eve Photography/Shutterstock

Phenotypic tests are used when “specific genes may not be identifiable, where conditions involve multiple genes, or where manifestations emerge later in life,” he says. Examples of phenotypic tests include temperament assessment, radiographic evaluation for hip and elbow dysplasia, echocardiograms for heart problems, evaluation of eye problems, and many others, he says.

Because so many health tests are currently available and depend on the breed, it’s critical to interpret the results in relation to a specific breed. This will help to ensure “informed decision-making and optimal breeding practices,” he adds.

Tests Needed for the Dam and Sire

Accountable breeders will ensure that the dam and sire undergo comprehensive health testing before breeding to create healthy and balanced puppies. “This proactive measure significantly decreases the likelihood, albeit not eliminating the occurrence, of heritable (i.e., passed from parents to offspring) health issues in the offspring commonly associated with their respective breeds,” Dr. Burns says. With early detection, the vet may be able to recommend treatment plans such as special diets, exercise, or surgery to manage a condition.

To learn which health tests are necessary, you can consult a veterinarian or breed parent club. Before puppies go to their new homes, they need to be examined by a veterinarian for general health, as well as breed-specific abnormalities. Depending on the age of your puppy, they may receive their first set of vaccinations, a microchip, and a deworming protocol.

If puppies are intended for breeding, they may be tested for heritable genetic defects, according to Dr. Burns. “These are typically done by the new owner,” he says. “Some of the phenotypic tests will be conducted at the litter exam. However, many of these tests must be performed later in life.”

Get to Know the Breeder

Golden Retriever sitting with people in an office.
©LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS - stock.adobe.com

Before purchasing a puppy from a breeder, ask to see the results of health testing and associated certifications as recommended by AKC National Breed Clubs for the sire and dam of your puppy’s litter, Dr. Burns says. You can also inquire about the results for previous generations. If you’re looking for a Golden Retriever, for example, ask if the sire and dam have been screened for elbow and hip dysplasia, as well as eye and heart abnormalities.

Screening for dysplasia includes hip and elbow radiographs. Eye abnormalities are found through examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Similarly, a board-certified veterinary cardiologist should examine the dogs for heart abnormalities. “These assessments would comprise the minimum testing requirements for Golden Retrievers,” he says.

Accountable breeders have a wealth of knowledge about their breed and are more than happy to educate prospective owners. They also want to learn about you, so be prepared to answer questions. Another sign of a reputable breeder is a willingness to meet and allow you to visit their dogs. Ideally, puppies will be in a breeding environment with lots of handling and socialization.

Many breeders have puppy waitlists, so you can expect to wait months or even a year for a puppy. Make sure you understand what’s involved in purchasing a puppy including whether a deposit is required and which health tests will be done before your puppy comes home.

Health Tests for Your New Puppy

One of the first items on your checklist for getting a puppy is scheduling an appointment with a veterinarian. This also applies to rescued and mixed-breed dogs. At this visit, the veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination which includes the following:

  • Assessing your puppy’s overall health
  • Administering necessary vaccinations
  • Giving your puppy a deworming treatment
  • Providing guidance on dietary requirements
  • Outlining training protocols
  • Discussing plans for spaying or neutering
Cavalier-King-Charles-Spaniel-puppy-layi
Geoff Hardy via Getty Images

In addition to these routine assessments, your veterinarian may also look for breed-specific abnormalities, such as a luxating patella, umbilical hernia, or stenotic nares (i.e., narrow nostrils). The vet will recommend ongoing health monitoring if your puppy is predisposed to a particular condition, Dr. Burns says. Examples include hip dysplasia in the German Shepherd Dog or heart disease in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

“In such cases, the veterinarian may recommend specific health tests later in the dog’s life to detect and manage potential health concerns proactively,” he says. Whether you’re looking for a pet, a show dog, or a sporting companion, health testing for dogs plays an important role in preventing disease and treating chronic conditions. Asking the right questions of breeders and consulting a veterinarian can help you prepare for what lies ahead.

The post What Is Health Testing for Dogs? appeared first on American Kennel Club.

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