Great Danes are wonderful dogs and good responsible breeders work very had to ensure they bring into the world healthy puppies that will live long comfortable lives.
Fortunately now, breeders have help from researchers and veterinarians. If you’ve been looking for a puppy and researching Great Danes you have probably read about of health testing. But what is health testing and why is it important? Isn’t it just taking the puppy to a vet and having it checked out. The answer is NO, health testing is testing done to the PARENTS of the puppy BEFORE the breeding takes place. Why is health testing important? Because having a puppy that develops Hip Dysplasia or Dilated Cardiomyopathy is not only heart breaking for you and your puppy but very expensive, think thousands of dollars in vet bills.
WVGDC is lucky, we’ve received permission from Sandee Elliott to share her article explaining Health Testing. I can’t stress how important it is for YOU and YOUR family to look for a breeder who health tests. If consumers insist puppy breeders health test their dogs BEFORE producing puppies, more healthy puppies will be born and fewer families will be heart broken because their young dog dies or must be put to sleep. We want to help all future Great Dane puppy owners understand how to get a healthy puppy.
Sandee Elliott is the Founder of Northwest Great Dane Rescue located in the Spokane area. Having had Danes all of her life Sandee saw a need and started to rescue Danes on her own about 15 years ago. With help from the local community of Dane exhibitors NWGDR was founded in 2014. Sandee understands that education plays a vital role in the health and safety of our breed and dedicates her time to writing educational articles, moderating several local Dane oriented Facebook groups and manning booths at local community events.
Understanding Health Testing
By: Sandee Elliott
Congratulations! You have decided to buy a purebred puppy and you have made the commitment to buy from a reputable breeder. I applaud you in taking an important step in choosing your next companion and by now I am sure that you are starting to hear a lot of new terminology like “health tested parents” “OFA” and “CHIC” How do you know what it all means? Which of these terms are important and which are gimmicks? You just want a happy, healthy puppy right?
Let us start with health testing as it is one of the most important aspects of breeding healthy, sound dogs. After researching your desired breed you happen to come across a breeder with a fine looking website that states he has puppies from health tested parents. Great! That means the puppies are free from genetic defects right? No. Let’s dig a little deeper into what health testing is and what it means to you and your breeder.
“Some breeders may feel that a trip to the vet prior to breeding for a routine check-up, much like you would get yearly at your doctor’s office, is adequate, when in reality no formal testing has been done.”
The term health tested can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Some breeders may feel that a trip to the vet prior to breeding for a routine check-up, much like you would get yearly at your doctor’s office, is adequate, when in reality no formal testing has been done. Another breeder will say that his dogs come from health tested lines which can mean anything from most of the dogs listed on the pedigree have had the recommended health testing or it can mean that just one or two dogs on the pedigree have had some of the recommended testing. More than likely you will come across the breeder who scoffs at health testing all together and tells you that his dogs have always been healthy so there is no reason to test. You may even come across a breeder that will call out breeders who do health test and say that they only do it because they have problems in their lines.
How do you know which of these breeders is right? Is there really a right way to breed dogs? Every breeder will have a different opinion on what is right, so lucky for you most breeds have a national parent club that is affiliated with the AKC and is dedicated to one specific breed. These clubs set the standard for their individual breed, as well as what health testing is important to that particular breed.
I am a Great Dane person so we will use the Great Dane Club of America (GDCA) as an example. Under the GDCA’s Code of Ethics it states in reference to breeding any Great Dane that “All dogs and bitches to be bred be x-rayed prior to breeding and declared free of hip dysplasia by a knowledgeable Veterinarian or the OFA. It is also encouraged that any and all technology available be used to screen all animals to be used for breeding, according to known problems within the breed (e.g. OFA, cardiac check, thyroid check, vWD, PRA, etc.).”
In order to find out what known problems are in your breed you can visit the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) website at www.offa.org and look up your breed by clicking the tests by breed link in the upper left hand corner.
Following that link you will find that in Great Danes the recommended testing is for hips, thyroid, eyes, and heart. These hereditary diseases are considered of high importance for screening in the Great Dane because this breed has been known to be predisposed (carry) these diseases.
“A reputable breeder will have studied the breed and diseases that can affect it. They will know and understand the ethical responsibility that goes with creating these lives and will take every measure possible to breed dogs free of disease. These breeders see no other way to know for certain that the puppies they will produce will have the best chance possible at a healthy life than to health test all animals that enter their breeding program.”
Now, every breeder who has bred dogs long enough will have something pop up in their lines. It does not make them a bad breeder and because their line may carry for something does not mean that that particular line needs to be wiped out. What matters is what the breeder does with that knowledge. It could be a complete fluke, an injury, environmental, or another disease process interfering. It may be as simple as not breeding that one affected dog or breeding to non-carriers. The point is, I would trust a breeder that is open and honest about what they have than one that claims to have never had a problem. This is where you will also see the term “CHIC” come into play.
“CHIC” or Canine Health Information Center is a health database sponsored by OFA that is optional for breeders to enter with their dogs to share information pertaining to their breed. In order for a dog to obtain a CHIC number the dog must have been health tested to the recommendations of the OFA and the owner must agree to share the results, pass or fail. This cooperation of breeders strengthens the breed by allowing other breeders to research what lines may carry for what. However, as a new puppy owner you need to be sure you look into that CHIC number and see what tests they passed and if they failed any to be truly informed about the line you are looking at.
Now that you know what testing is recommended to do for your breed you can make your own decisions based on that knowledge. If you are ok with the “my dogs have always been healthy” stance then go for it. If you want some proof to back up a breeder’s statements of “health tested” then let me show you how to do your own research.
We are going to use my dog Ginger, as an example for this lesson. Please note that at the time I am writing this she has just turned two years old and her testing is not complete, but she has enough on the books to learn with.
The first thing I would do if I were trying to sell you a puppy from this bitch is to show you the records I received from the OFA after her testing was complete (pictured at right). I could show you in person or a scanned record, however you should note that these records have been known to be altered in the past so it is best for you to check it out yourself with the OFA.
To get started go to www.OFFA.org. In the box below the words “Quicksearch a Dog” it says Name or Reg#. Enter either, “Paxton’s Keep Calm and Ginger On” or her AKC# which is- WS46356506. Either one will bring up a search result showing her name along with the testing that I have already done on her. Click on any of those results.
Screen shot from www.offa.org
You should now see all of her information, as well as her current health testing results.
Under Cardiac you will notice that it says Cardiologist, ECHO. That means that a Board Certified Cardiologist performed an Echocardiogram (Ultrasound on her heart). You could also see a dog listed as Normal, Practitioner which means a vet listened for a heart murmur and found it to be normal at that time.
Eye examinations are only good for a year so you will note that on Ginger’s it says Normal: 2016. If we were more than a year out you would see a little asterisk that tells you that the eye exam is no longer valid as it is more than one year old.
While you are on her page you can click on her sire and dam to see the results of the health testing they have had done. From there you could spend several hours looking through her relations and get a feel for the strengths or weaknesses in a line.
If you want to look up just a line of dogs or a particular breeder you can always use the “Advanced Search” button at the OFA page and type in just a kennel name and select the breed in the list below. It is very interesting what you can or cannot find when searching for so called, “health tested” dogs.
Let me also point out that in order to list a dog with the OFA, that dog has to belong to a registry such as the AKC or CKC (Canadian Kennel Club). That does not mean that if the dog is an import (which can usually obtain AKC registration easily) or is not registered with one of the aforementioned registries that it cannot or should not be health tested in accordance with the breed. These dogs can be taken to Cardiologists and Orthopedists just the same as registered dogs. The difference is that they will not receive an OFA number, they will instead have a written statement from the Veterinarian performing the examination with their professional opinion regarding the health of the dog at that time. I feel this is important for you to know because this is used as a common excuse among breeders that do not want to health test.
One more note to consider. You might see a dog listed that says “Preliminary.” What that means is that the OFA sets certain age limits on when a test can be accepted. For example, hips are accepted at two years of age. Let’s say you have a bitch that comes into heat and you want to breed her, but the dog you want to breed her with is 10 days shy of that two year mark. Being a responsible breeder you want to be sure you are breeding a healthy litter so you take him to the vet, have his hips evaluated and they come back as good. He is too young to get an OFA number, but he will be given a Preliminary evaluation rating of good and you can breed with a clear conscious. In order to get an OFA number the dog will have to be tested again after the age of 2.
In my lifetime I have had all types of Danes from all types of breeding. I have had very poorly bred dogs who have done ok, poorly bred dogs that have suffered tremendously, healthy well-bred dogs, and I drew the unlucky straw and got an unhealthy well-bred dog once too. It’s a crap shoot with any dog, but I feel like if you talk to enough knowledgeable breed enthusiasts they will agree that you are starting out ahead of the game by starting with a puppy who was given the very best genetic start possible.