How can I know if my new puppy will be free of genetic disease?
There is no way to be absolutely sure any dog – even a mix-breed – will never have an inherited health problem. Purebreds have an advantage in that diseases common in that breed will be known. But even breeders can’t know with 100% certainty because some diseases are rare in a breed and others don’t have DNA tests or simple, easy-to-predict inheritance. However, asking the right questions and requesting to see pertinent health screening results will minimize the risk of something going wrong with the puppy you select.
How do I learn what the common inherited diseases in a breed are?
Do some homework before you go shopping. Check breed club and breed foundation websites for information on breed health issues. (If the breed you are interested in is the Australian Shepherd you have already found the best internet resource for breed health issues.) Look at breeders’ websites and see what they say about health testing. Disease screening or DNA tests mentioned on multiple sites are most likely for common diseases. Talk with breeders about health; any competent Aussie breeder should tell you about hips, eye problems, epilepsy, MDR1, and such other things as they have experience with or knowledge of. They should be able to point you to resources where you can learn more.
Should I buy from a breeder who has never had inherited health issues in his dogs?
Anyone who claims that their dogs’ lines have absolutely no inherited problems is inexperienced, ill-informed, or may be misleading you. If someone has been breeding for a long time, has produced many litters, and still claims never to have produced any problems whatsoever, walk away.
What are the most important health concerns I should ask about in Aussies?
Ask about hip, elbow, thyroid, and eye screening. Breeding dogs should also be DNA tested for MDR1 and cataracts but a dog might not be tested itself if both of its parents tested clear of the mutation. Other testing may have been done depending on what has occurred in the breeder’s line. Allergies, hernias, epilepsy, autoimmune diseases, and two inherited cancers (hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma) are also very common in the breed but lack screening tests. Every breeder should be aware of these diseases and be able to tell you something about them even if she hasn’t experienced them in her own dogs.
How do I ask breeders about health issues?
In a non-confrontational manner, tell breeders you are interested in the breed but want to learn more before you buy. Ask about things like temperament, grooming, activities, necessary training, as well as health. When you get to health, ask what they know about common breed health issues. They should be willing to discuss them. Most breeders will offer the best answer they can, but do be aware that there are a few less scrupulous people. If you are uncomfortable with the answers or think you are being led astray, or get a hostile reaction, thank them for their time and go elsewhere.
Is there any documentation I should ask for on these screening and DNA tests?
An Aussie breeder should be willing and able to show you copies of results from DNA tests, eye exams, and hip, elbow and thyroid screening reports. If you are looking at a specific litter and the breeder does not own the sire, he should have a copy of the dog’s certificates or be willing to get them for you. Some screening can be verified via the internet and the breeder may direct you to the appropriate websites. ASHGI’s IDASH Open Health Database includes a large volume of screening and DNA test results. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) lists a variety of health screening results. Do some checking on your own. Keep in mind that the absence of information in these sources doesn’t necessarily mean the tests haven’t been done so ask the breeder if you don’t find something.
Are all these things one-time tests?
Most of them. However, eyes should be examined when the dog is a young puppy and within a year prior to any breeding until about nine years of age, so make sure eye certificates for the parents of a litter are dated within the past year. Thyroid screening should be done annually from one to four years of age, at six, and finally at eight years.
I see some breeders offering guarantees. Are these important?
If you are seriously considering buying from a particular breeder if she does not bring up guarantees, you will want to ask what health and other guarantees she offers. Specifics will vary from breeder to breeder, but they should be willing to replace the puppy and/or refund at least a significant portion of the purchase price in the event of serious hereditary problems, particularly if they arise in the first couple of years.
Should health guarantees be in a contract?
Not necessarily, but they should be in writing. A guarantee might be a separate document but it should specify the puppy purchased, and be signed and dated by the breeder. Any time you sign a contract for anything, make sure you read and understand what it says. If it requires any action on your part, make sure you understand what is asked and you are willing to comply whether it regards a dog’s health or anything else.
What do I do if I buy a puppy and sometime later there is a health problem?
Your breeder should be a resource. A good breeder will be willing to discuss anything related to the dog with you and provide advice or referrals if you are having difficulties with health, diet, training or any other aspect of dog care. If the dog develops a hereditary disease it is important that you inform the breeder. Most puppies do not go to people active in the breed community, so it is important that pet owners let the breeder know if something went wrong. Most people will be appreciative. If you have the misfortune to deal with one of the few who react negatively, this is not your fault and you shouldn’t let them make you feel bad. You have done your duty by informing them.