Reputable pure-breed dog breeders understand the value and importance of following the AKC breed guidelines for health testing. Early detection of hereditary conditions in breeding pairs and family pets is important, as it can allow for early surgical intervention, weight and exercise management plans, or treatment plans to manage a condition if/when it develops.
The following are some of the more commonly recommended tests that apply to a wide range of breeds. There are more tests than we can easily go into here, but we recommend you become informed on breed-specific tests if you are looking for a pure-breed dog. These tests are also routinely recommended for rescues, and non-pure-breed dogs for the same reasons – early indicators of potential disease, or treatable conditions.
Prior to Breeding:
Tests for Breeding Pairs and Puppies:
Both parents should have had all relevant tests that are appropriate for the breed. The American Kennel Club website lists the recommended tests by breed online. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) manages the database of records. In general, they fall into the following categories:
- Hip scoring
- Elbow grading
- Eye testing
- Hearing tests
- Thyroid tests
- Heart testing
- DNA testing
Before breeding both parents should receive the following tests:
- Brucellosis testing (a bacterial sexually transmitted disease).
- Normal “wellness” testing for the adults such as fecal, heartworm test should be run annually or as recommended by the veterinarian.
- The mom needs to be up to date on all her vaccinations before she is bred.
Medical Tests for Puppies, Prior to Adoption:
- Fecal testing usually between 4-6 weeks of age.
- Pups should have been examined by a veterinarian prior to release to their new homes.
- Usually pups have had at least one deworming, and depending on age, may or may not have received any vaccinations prior to sale/adoption.
AKC and Lifestyle Recommended Tests
Tests fall into two categories: Tests that are recommended by the AKC and relate to the known genetic conditions of the breed, and lifestyle tests that relate to the actual life and activities your specific dog is engaging in.
My own dog is a rescued German Shorthaired Pointer mix. I looked up her breed to see which tests are relevant to her for a long, healthy and happy life. According to the AKC, German Shorthaired Pointers should receive the following evaluations from a veterinarian:
- Hip evaluation
- Elbow evaluation
- Ophthalmologist evaluation
- Cardiac exam
- Cone degeneration DNA test
As an aside, her insurance required an examination of her knees as a pre-requisite if I wanted any future knee surgeries covered by insurance. Since she’s an active dog who runs and takes flying leaps over obstacles in her path, I did not hesitate, but it was not a breed-specific test, for her it was lifestyle specific, and that can be just as important.
These are performed to identify a dog’s personality (shyness, outgoingness, aggressive tendencies). They are not standardized and they vary depending on the purpose of the test.
- Breeders of certain breeds may do Schutzhund training or therapy dog testing to evaluate for career potential.
- Shelters and Breeders evaluate for how well a dog will behave with other pets, and in different scenarios to evaluate for permanent home placements. These types of tests evaluate for shyness, aggressive or friendly behavior, energy levels, and a dog’s general interest in other living things like children, men, cats, rabbits, other dogs, etc.
Temperament tests serve as a guide for the type of lifestyle, family and environment a dog or cat is more likely to flourish in. Ideally a dog that loves to run would not be offered to a person who self-identifies as a “couch potato”. A highly vocal dog (one that barks a lot) may not be ideal for a family that lives in an apartment building, and a clingy, non-independent dog may not do well as a single pet in a family that spends long days away from the home.
AKC Recommended Tests and OFA:
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA):
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals was founded in 1966, and while OFA continues to focus on hip dysplasia in dogs, they have since expanded their mission to include other inherited diseases, and other companion animals such as cats. The OFA website is a great educational resource for pet owners, breeders, and veterinarians.
Canine Health Information Center (CHIC):
This is the public health database sponsored by OFA. Standardized health screenings and tests for common genetic conditions were established to help breeders identify healthy matches. A CHIC number is issued when test results that satisfy the breed club’s requirements have all been completed. The number does not indicate the results, it serves as proof that all the appropriate tests were conducted.
Hip Scoring and Hip Evaluations, Elbow Grading, Knee Grading, Thyroid Clearance, Cardiac Clearance, Eye Clearance and DNA Testing:
OFA, a non-profit, registers and manages the database of results, related breed statistics, provides data to researchers, and recommends the tests and labs where all of the various tests (listed above) can be carried out.
There are two tests to evaluate hips, both of which have pros and cons, both of which are reliable for estimating the potential that a dog will develop osteoarthritis and canine hip dysplasia later in life.
University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP):
PennHIP testing is accurate in puppies as young as 16 weeks of age. The procedure involves sedation (to relax the dog, so he or she is not tensioning the muscles), and a set of three specific radiograph views that will be read by a radiologist. The procedure should be carried out by a PennHIP certified veterinarian.
During a PennHIP exam, the doctor measures for joint laxity (or degree of looseness in the joint). You will receive a report from the radiologist with your dog’s Distraction Index (DI) and an evaluation of evidence of arthritis. The DI is a measurement of the distance the ball can be displaced from the socket; the measurement is a range from zero to 1, where 0.3 has been identified as a threshold. A DI from 0 to 0.3 indicates a dog that is “non-susceptible” to Osteoarthritis. A DI between 0.3 and 1 indicates a dog that is “susceptible” to osteoarthritis.
Studies show that dogs with more lax/loose joints have a higher likelihood of developing these two painful conditions (osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia).
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) Test:
OFA testing rates your dog’s susceptibility to hip dysplasia on a seven-point scoring system. For this tests, one radiograph view is interpreted by three different radiologists and their ratings are averaged to arrive at your dog’s score (excellent, good, fair, borderline, mild, moderate and severe). Sedation may or may not be needed, depending on your dog’s energy level.
A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association (JAVMA) in 2010 evaluated whether OFA or PennHIP was more accurate in predicting osteoarthritis. The study featured 439 dogs screened between 1987 and 2008. “Results suggested that OFA scoring of HE [hip-extended] radiographs underestimated susceptibility to osteoarthritis in dogs, which may impede progress in reducing or eliminating hip dysplasia through breeding.”
Puppies who are identified early as having lax joints might be good candidates for corrective surgery. As dogs age, surgical options remain, but they become more invasive. Speak to your veterinarian about which test your dog should have.
Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) is a hearing test performed for dogs and cats over the age of 35 days. Each ear is tested independently. The test is the same in humans, headphones play waveforms that, when measured, indicate whether or not the hearing pathways are working. In docile puppies sedation is not needed, light sedation might be needed for more rambunctious pups.
The test is conducted by placing very small electrodes under the skin of the scalp and placing foam ear pods into the pet’s ears. A computer produces noises into the headphones in the dog or cat’s ear, and the electrodes measure electrical activity associated with a hearing response. The speed and intensity level at which they travel, are measured and an evaluation of hearing ability is the result.
Exercise-induced Collapse (EIC) DNA Test:
Labrador Retrievers, among several other breeds are recommended by the AKC for EIC DNA tests. These tests measure for a neuromuscular disorder characterized by muscle weakness, lack of coordination and life-threatening collapse after intense exercise. Affected dogs can show symptoms as early as 5 months of age. And while this can be a life-threatening condition, knowledge of a dog’s DNA can help an owner recognize triggers and provide appropriate exercise for their dog, if he or she tests positively for this recessive gene.
Oh Boy! Now What?
None of this information is intended to cause alarm or fear. The more information you have, the better informed you will be. This in turn helps you to make important health-related decisions with your veterinarian, and serve as an advocate for your pet.
There are more types of tests than we can go into here, but a reputable breeder will know their breed’s recommended and required tests and will be able to speak about them at great length.
If you are looking for a pure-breed dog, educate yourself about the tests your dog should be tested for and ask the breeder about the parents’ results. If possible, and where appropriate based on age, also ask about any health tests or results for the dog you are considering. The results won’t necessarily cause you to change your mind about the dog you bring home, they may indicate lifestyle needs, potential future surgeries, or they may indicate an incredibly healthy dog. What the results actually show is that you have found a reputable breeder. In this case, a “good breeder” is defined as someone who cares about progressively improving their bloodline, and by extension, the breed itself. A “good breeder” cares about the dogs he or she is breeding, and they care about placing dogs in forever homes.