Chapter 4
How To Know What Type Dog Is Best For You

Health Testing for Disease-Prone Dogs

There is an easy way to reduce your risk of getting a purebred dog with one or more genetic diseases. Responsible breeders work to manage the genetics in the crosses they create by requiring health tests for their breeding stock. These tests certify the presence or absence of various diseases common in the dogs he breeds. This discussion will focus on the organizations that perform these tests, what tests are available, and how to interpret their results. The organizations that provide testing for various purebred diseases that have a genetic basis include the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) which works to detect several skeletal abnormalities and Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) that works to identify genetically based problems with a dog's vision. By adopting dogs from responsible breeders that certify their dogs' health, with one of these organizations, you have a reasonable expectation of whether or not your dog will experience common genetically-based breed-specific health problems. Health testing for disease-prone dogs is absolutely vital to the process of finding the right purebred dog. If breeders don't test their dogs for health-related issues, you have no way of reducing your chances of getting a genetically unhealthy dog. If you get a purebred dog from a breeder who requires health tests that certify the absence of symptoms for genetic health problems common in the dogs he breeds, you will know even more about the potential for specific genetic health problems. Some breeders routinely certify their dogs with the organizations dedicated to detecting the presence of certain genetic abnormalities. Breeders may tell you that their line is healthy, or that the puppy's dam and sire have no health problems, but that's no substitute for a health test. In some cases, breeders genuinely believe their dogs are healthy and don't require testing. In other cases, breeders simply lie to sell puppies. However, due to the high COI in purebred dogs, it's probable that a purebred dog has some degree of health problem, unless health testing has proven that the dog is free of these issues. If a breeder conducts health testing, ask what kind of tests he uses and ask to see your puppy's and parent's health test certifications and reports. Breeders who conduct health tests typically do so through one of two agencies: OFA or CERF. OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and OFA test include hip, elbow, knee, cardiac, and thyroid tests. CERF is the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, and CERF testing determines whether your dog has heritable eye disease. BAER testing, which stands for Brainstorm Auditory Evoked Response, can determine whether a dog has hearing problems or deafness. Beware of breeders who use phrases like "vet tested," or "health certificates." If the health certificate is from a general veterinarian, it doesn't mean your puppy is healthy. It only means that a vet has examined the puppy and doesn't see any outward signs of health problems. Many of the health problems that OFA and CERF certifications test aren't evident in a standard examination conducted by a general veterinarian, so these 'health checks' convey very limited information. If a breeder does conduct OFA or CERF certification, ask to see the reports or certification number for both the puppy and its parents so you can validate the claims of health testing. You can check the OFA or CERF database online to verify that a dog has been tested and that the test results match what the breeder claims.