Health Clearances for Responsible Breeding

Matt Matasci Matt Matasci · For Breeders · For Shippers · Pet Health · Pets · 13 May

When a prospective buyer is in the market for a puppy, they want to purchase a dog that will have a long, healthy life. There’s no way to guarantee every puppy in every litter is 100% free from health problems, but responsible breeding practices greatly reduce the risk. When you’re running a reputable breeding business, there are many processes to be completed and requirements to meet. Few are more important than ensuring that before breeding it has passed all appropriate health testing for dogs.

Use this guide to familiarize yourself with general screenings and the specific health clearances for your breed.

Parent Clubs Set Health Testing Requirements for Each Breed

Unethical breeders cut corners. Unfortunately, that means some will breed dogs that have a higher likelihood of passing on negative genetic traits. This is unfair to the puppies that may inherit debilitating disorders like hip dysplasia and eye issues; it’s also unfair to the owners who will see them suffer and have to shoulder the financial burden. And, when unregulated, this practice can damage the breed’s lineage.

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Parent Clubs set the health testing requirements for a particular breed. What’s a Parent Club?

  • Every breed has a non-profit, American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized club. The club determines the breed standard and code of ethics.
  • These clubs are very serious about protecting the integrity of the breed’s lineage.
  • One way clubs accomplish this mission is by ensuring dogs with bad genetics aren’t bred, potentially passing on congenital defects.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is an important organization involved in health testing for dogs before breeding.

The Canine Health Information Center Program

Parent Clubs work with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to create a health database called The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC).

What is the CHIC and why is it so helpful?

  • The purpose of this database is to collect information on common health issues in each breed.
  • This information plays a big part in determining what health screenings a dog must pass before being cleared to breed.
  • The dog receives CHIC certification once it passes the tests and the owner allows the results to be publicly listed.

This database is helpful for everyone in the industry, from breeders to buyers. Breeders can use the database to connect with healthy dogs, while buyers gain confidence that the puppy they’re buying is less likely to have inherited breed-specific health problems.

Not all breeds are included in the CHIC program — you can find a list of breeds included in the program on the OFA website. Contact the Parent Club if your breed isn’t included.

If you’re not sure about where to find information on your breed’s Parent Club, don’t worry! The AKC has created a health requirements page as a resource center. This page breaks down every breed by group (non-sporting, sporting, terrier, etc.). These pages include a list of breeds and links to their respective Parent Club’s website. There are also links to each breed’s official health statements, which go into detail about the required health tests and the desired results.

AKC Breeder Programs

Two AKC breeder programs require the completion of all applicable health screenings recommended by the Parent Club:

  • AKC Breeder of Merit Program – This designation is for breeders who go above and beyond. They put particular emphasis on screening for health issues, temperament and genetics, plus placing puppies in responsible homes.
  • AKC Bred with H.E.A.R.T. Program — Breeders in this program are recognized for their responsibility in breeding. Anyone buying a new puppy should look for breeders in this program.

Meet with Your Vet to Plan Tests

Now that you know the required health tests for your dog, what are the next steps? First, you should meet with your vet and determine the logistics of completing the tests. A few questions you should ask include:

  • What is the cost of each health test?
  • For each test, what are the required results? What happens if the dog doesn’t pass a test?
  • Can any of the tests be repeated when the dog is older?

Common Health Tests 

Different breeds are prone to different genetic ailments, each requiring a unique range of tests for ethical breeding. While health clearances vary by breed, there are some testing requirements that are common amongst many breeds.

Physical Examination

This is the most basic test and can be completed by your vet — it’s always a great idea to look for a breeder-friendly vet when you’re getting started. This is less about genetic testing and more about the safety of the dog. Breeders need to have a physical examination completed to ensure there aren’t any obvious health issues that could make breeding dangerous for their dog.

Some things the vet will check include:

  • Listening to the heart and lungs to ensure they’re functioning properly.
  • Examining the dog’s mouth.
  • Checking for eye issues such as glaucoma or cataracts.
  • A joint test to determine the dog’s range of motion.
  • Vaginal exam and cytology to check for abnormalities.
  • The vet may take blood samples for additional blood work.
  • The dog must be current on core vaccinations and dewormings.
  • A stool sample to check for worms — if they’re present in the stool your vet will prescribe a dewormer.

Hip Evaluation

Canine Hip Dysplasia is one of the most common health issues in dogs. Dogs with the condition eventually feel pain with joint movement. While there are environmental factors that can lead to hip dysplasia, it’s often genetic and the result of an abnormal hip joint.

Vets identify hip dysplasia through a hip evaluation. Nearly every breed needs to have this test done and it’s a fairly simple process. The veterinarian takes X-rays of the animal’s hips, then an expert evaluates the images, looking for several key characteristics. The dog will be given a rating after the hips are evaluated. Most Parent Clubs require the X-rays be certified by OFA.

Within Normal Limits

  • Excellent — The deep-seated femoral head (ball) fights tightly into a well-formed socket, which is called the acetabulum.
  • Good — There’s some joint space where the ball fits into the socket, but it’s minimal.
  • Fair — There are some minor irregularities and the ball slips slightly out of the socket.

Borderline

  • Borderline — While more issues are present than a dog with a Fair diagnosis, there aren’t arthritic changes that would put the dog in the Mild, Moderate or Severe categories. Dogs that are deemed Borderline should be re-evaluated six months after the initial diagnosis.

Dysplastic

  • Mild — With mild hip dysplasia, the ball is partially out of the socket resulting in increased joint space. Because the socket is shallow, it only partially covers the ball.
  • Moderate — Moderate hip dysplasia means the ball is barely in the shallow socket.
  • Severe — Dogs in the Severe category have obvious evidence of hip dysplasia. The ball is either partially or completely out of the shallow socket. Additionally, there are arthritic bone changes.

Most dogs with hip dysplasia live full, healthy lives. You can only breed once the dog receives certification that it’s free of hip dysplasia. You cannot ethically breed dogs rated as having Mild, Moderate or Severe hip dysplasia.

An ophthalmologist will check the eyes for any issues as a part of standard health testing for dogs before breeding.

Ophthalmologist Evaluation

Parent Clubs often require an ophthalmologist evaluation when listing the required health testing for dogs before breeding. OFA offers an eye certification which is facilitated by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).

Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists perform CERF certifications. These vets check for eye-related genetic diseases. Not only will they submit the exam forms to the OFA for certification, the organization aggregates all test results to provide a resource center on eye disease trends and breed susceptibility.

Cardiac Exam

Heart issues like a congenital cardiac disease are a dangerous genetic trait. Often, the condition is passed from parents to puppies. That’s why most breeds require a cardiac exam to identify any potential issues in the dam and sire. Some common congenital cardiovascular defects include:

Vets identify issues in the dam and sire with a cardiac exam. There are two types of cardiac exams:

  • Auscultation — The vet will use a stethoscope to listen to each area of the heart.
  • Echocardiograms — The vet uses Doppler technology to examine the heart, plus obtain imagery of the heart. Vets send this information to OFA for analysis.

A cardiac exam is a crucial component of health testing for dogs before breeding.

Thyroid Evaluation

Hypothyroidism is typically an inherited condition. It causes weight gain, hair loss and skin problems. Dogs need to periodic retesting for the condition; one negative test doesn’t guarantee the dog will be thyroiditis-free later in life.

OFA maintains a data set breeders can use as a resource to decide which matings are most appropriate. This has the effect of reducing the occurrence of autoimmune thyroiditis — the most common cause of hyperthyroidism — in puppies.

Luckily, hypothyroidism isn’t life-threatening and you can treat it with a daily supplement. However, if a dog tests positive for autoimmune thyroiditis, you may have a difficult time finding a mating partner.

Vets use assay technology to classify a dog’s thyroid status. There are three main indices of thyroiditis.

  • Free T4 — Also called FT4, this procedure is the best method of assessing thyroid production.
  • Canine Thyroid Simulating Hormone (cTSH) — The cTSH is abnormally elevated in cases of hypothyroidism.
  • Thyroglobulin Autoantibodies (TgAA) — TgAA looks for signs of the autoimmunity process in the thyroid.

In order for a dog to be certified as having a normal thyroid, its FT4 concentration and cTSH must be within the normal range, and it has to have a negative result for the TgAA test. If a dog doesn’t have hypothyroidism it can still be a carrier and pass on the recessive trait to its offspring.

Other Common Health Testing for Dogs Before Breeding

There are dozens of additional tests that certain breeds should pass before being cleared to breed. Here are a few of these health tests and a brief explanation of what they determine:

Elbow Evaluation

Elbow dysplasia is a condition that affects many breeds. The joint doesn’t develop correctly and over time wears down, loses functionality and causes pain and/or lameness. Like the hip evaluation, a vet x-rays your dog’s elbows and sends the imagery to a specialist for assessment and grading.

Patella Evaluation

Patellar luxation means that the dog’s kneecap pops out of place. Never breed a dog with patella luxation because the condition is very painful.

EIC DNA Test

EIC stands for exercise-induced collapse. It’s important to have your dog tested before breeding; if they’re a passive carrier and mate with another passive carrier, their offspring could develop EIC.

PRA Optigen DNA Test

PRA is progressive retinal atrophy, a group of retinal diseases. These inherited diseases lead to blindness.

PFK Disorder DNA Test

PFK is Phosphofructokinase deficiency, which leads to lethargy, anemia and exercise intolerance. The disease causes inadequate amounts of the Phosphofructokinase enzyme, which provides energy to muscles and red blood cells.

Degenerative Myelopathy DNA Test

Degenerative Myelopathy is a disorder that affects a wide range of breeds — it’s like the canine version of Lou Gehrig’s disease. This disorder leads to muscle wasting, loss of coordination and incontinence in late stages. Dogs with the disorder often lose the ability to walk.

Conclusion

Responsible dog breeders understand the importance of maintaining the integrity of the breed. That means following Parent Clubs’ guidelines to a “T,” never cutting corners and only breeding dogs that are unlikely to pass on inherited diseases, syndromes and disorders.

Similarly, breeders who are open to selling puppies to out-of-state buyers should have full trust in their transporter. CitizenShipper vets transporters using stringent background checks — they won’t cut corners when it comes to the safety of your puppies.

Team up with CitizenShipper for your puppy shipping needs and find a pet transporter that will meet the high standards to which you hold your own business.

Last updated at May 17, 2022

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