Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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The Canine Health Information Center:  A priceless resource

by C.A. Sharp

First published in Double Helix Network News, Summer 2010


              Providing a source of health information for owners, breeders, and scientists that                                     will assist in breeding healthy dogs.
                                                                                                           – CHIC Mission Statement

Photo By: Heidi Mobley
Photo By: Heidi Mobley
Not very long ago the idea of publicly sharing negative health information on specific dogs was anathema to most breeders; even those who were proactive on breed health issues didn’t want to risk the ostracism that often came with public disclosure.  Even the health registries would provide only normal results to the general public, though scientists focusing on disease research could obtain summary data incorporating the abnormal results.

On another health front, samples for research can be difficult to gather because people aren’t aware of the need.  Even when a study is well-publicized, the most highly motivated donor may not be able to help because the dogs which might have contributed died before the research began.

Today we have a program available that addresses both these critical canine health needs, thanks to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA.)  Established in 1966, OFA was the first canine health registry in North America.  In 2005 they launched the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) in partnership with the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

CHIC was designed to work with breed clubs to establish a central database for individual breed health issues.  In addition the program provides a system that enables breeders and owners to identify health issues in their dogs’ pedigrees.  In addition, CHIC has developed an information system collects and stores diagnostic data based on scientifically valid criteria, and makes that data available to interested canine health researchers.  CHIC’s open health database contains health information on individual dogs, but only with the consent of the dog’s owner.


CHIC provides us with a reliable source of open health data which we, as breeders, can use as a resource for the analysis of pedigrees not only on our own dogs but on breedings we plan to make or other people’s dogs in which we have an interest.   When available, DNA test data listed by CHIC also demonstrates the genotype of a dog for those traits, so there is no guesswork as to whether it might or might not carry a mutation for those diseases.

By encouraging member participation in CHIC, clubs can help develop a health database for their breeds without the difficulties inherent in creating and maintaining it themselves.  With sufficient participation, CHIC will allow breed health committees to monitor disease prevalence at any given point in time and to track changes in frequency over time, types of data that can also be invaluable to research.

For canine health researchers, CHIC provides data on the status of a particular breed or group of breeds and, where needed, provides multi-generational or family group data.  It also maintains a collection of canine DNA samples that can be tapped by researchers for their projects.


CHIC is operated and maintained by OFA.  OFA automatically provides its public domain data in the CHIC database.  This includes all passing results for the various tests OFA lists and any non-passing results which the dog’s owner has agreed to make public.  In addition, OFA has entered into an agreement with the Canine Eye Research Foundation (CERF) to periodically download CERF-normal data into CHIC’s database.

The fees for this service are nominal.  All OFA open and CERF normal data is shared automatically at no cost to the dogs’ owners.  Abnormal results from other sources, like Penn Hip, are listed without charge, though clear or normal results require a fee of $25.  This fee only applies to the first submission for any particular dog.  Therefore, if the owner receives updated information on something already submitted or wants to provide a new result on a different test there is no additional charge.

As of this writing, CHIC’s database contains 60,000 CHIC-qualified dogs from almost 150 breeds.  In addition, its DNA Repository currently holds over 10,000 samples.


Breeds become part of the CHIC program at the request of their breed clubs.  Each participating club must have a health and genetics committee, appoint a liaison to CHIC and provide CHIC with the screening criteria for its breed.  Once this is accomplished, CHIC will search the available breed data and automatically issue CHIC certificates to dogs which have already met the criteria for their breed.  In the case of my breed, the Australian Shepherd, over 300 dogs received CHIC certificates at the time of initial listing.

Criteria can include both mandatory and optional items.  The Australian Shepherds criteria are mandatory hip, eye and elbow exams along with optional thyroid disease testing and DNA tests for Collie Eye Anomaly and the MDR1 mutation, which causes excessive sensitivity to Ivermectin and other drugs.  By contrast, the criteria for the Pomeranian include mandatory eye, cardiac and patellar exams with hip dysplasia, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and thyroiditis screening listed as optional.  Ideally, a breed’s most serious and/or common health issues for which there are acceptable screening procedures should receive mandatory status.  If there are tests available, especially DNA tests, for less common diseases or those with a lesser impact on health, those should be included as “optional.”

Breed club membership should take an active role in helping set breed criteria.  If a test for an important breed health concern isn’t listed, members should lobby their club board and H&G committee to add the item.  Members should also express their views whether they feel a particular test should be mandatory or optional.  Likewise if club membership feels the current status of a particular item, whether optional or mandatory, should be changed, they should let club officials know.

One of the hallmarks of the CHIC program is its flexibility.  Health issues vary widely from breed to breed, so no one-size-fits-all approach would work.  Each breed can customize the program to its own specific needs, with the breed requirements consisting of those diseases or conditions of greatest concern for which adequate and verifiable screening is available.  For example, OFA and PennHip both offer well-established and valid methods of verifying hip status, so either may be submitted for those breeds including hip status in their criteria.  On the other hand, a disease like epilepsy, which must presently be diagnosed by ruling out other possible causes of seizures, cannot be listed because of its lack of a positive screening test.  However, as science identifies the genes responsible for the disease in different breeds and as DNA screening tests become available, epilepsy might be included in a breed’s CHIC criteria.

The individual breed CHIC requirements are not set in stone.  If new health issues become prominent, they may be added to the list of criteria provided there is an appropriate means of testing or screening for that disease.  As DNA tests become more common there will come a time that some diseases may become infrequent in a breed, though this isn’t likely until many dog generations have passed.  At such a time the criteria might, at the club’s request, be down-listed to optional or even removed from the list of requirements.

Quality control

In addition to requiring a scientifically verifiable method of screening for each CHIC item, every dog must have permanent ID, in the form of a microchip or tattoo.  At present a DNA profile will not qualify because there is no practical way for an examining veterinarian to verify it in the brief time a dog might be in his or her care for a screening test.  However, most veterinary clinics now have microchip scanners and a tattoo is readily observed.

No dog becomes part of the CHIC database without the owner’s consent, either by voluntarily submitting data or a DNA sample, x-rays or test results to OFA or by presenting their dogs for CERF exams.  Open reporting of health screening results is strongly encouraged but abnormal data is only included at the specific request of the owner.  Statistical reports and summary data, which do not include information about individual dogs, are available to researchers upon request.

Upon completing of its breed’s mandatory CHIC requirements, a dog becomes CHIC certified.  Its owner will receive a report identifying the dog, issuing it a CHIC number and listing its test and screening results, including the age at which the testing was done.  Having a CHIC number does not imply normal results for those tests.  A dog will be CHIC certified even if it has abnormal results for one or more.  The purpose of the program is to encourage open reporting of health information, bad as well as good.  Updated reports are issued as new results, for instance a more current CERF exam, become available.  If breed requirements should change, a dog will continue to have a CHIC number even if it has not had the newly required test.

DNA Banking

In 2007 CHIC established the DNA Repository, which collects and stores DNA samples from dogs of participating breeds along with pedigree and health data on those dogs.  Currently the health information must be filed and updated via paper forms, but OFA is developing an on-line process that will make it easier for owners and keep the CHIC records current.

Samples are submitted either by blood collected in EDTA tubes or with a set of cheek swabs.  The samples are then processed and stored on CHIC’s behalf by the University of Missouri (blood) or the University of California-Davis (cheek swabs.)  Even though there are two sampling options and cheek swabs are easier for the dog owner, blood is the preferable sample type.  It provides more material and meets the needs of most if not all genetics researchers.  (Several have remarked to this author that they prefer not to use swab samples.)

Owners should view the repository as a way of saving for the future:  One no longer needs to bemoan the fact that a key dog in your breeding program has passed on before a DNA health test has been developed.  In the case of stud dogs with stored semen, his banked sample means you have a way of testing without using up that valuable resource as a test sample.

Another benefit of long-term storage is making key samples available for research.  One of the key reasons CHIC’s DNA bank was created was to facilitate research sample collection.  Gathering samples from adequate numbers of affected and carrier dogs is often the most difficult part of sample recruitment.  Sometimes, even though an owner is anxious to contribute, a dog passes on before a research project focusing on its disease is initiated. By sending samples to the CHIC DNA Repository, they will be available whenever the need for them arises.  If your breed has a small population, consistent contributions to the repository over time can amass enough samples for your breed to participate in research projects.

For researchers the repository has the potential to provide both related and unrelated sample sets, depending on the needs of the specific project.  In order to make sure samples are wisely used, OFA has arranged with CHF and the Morris Animal Foundation to review applications for sample grants to assure the scientific value of the research and that the samples will be used in a way that should benefit purebred dog health.  So far, samples have been released for 12 research projects.

As of this writing, CHIC’s DNA Repository holds samples from most of the CHIC approved breeds.  Golden Retrievers, with some 2000 of the 10,000 total samples submitted, have by far the largest collection.  By comparison, Australian Shepherds have only 93 samples, even though the breed is one of the more populous.  Breed clubs and concerned individuals should promote and encourage participation in CHIC’s DNA Repository.  The more samples any given breed has collected, the more likely it will be included in research.

On the Web

Like any progressive organization, CHIC has a website offering detailed information about its programs, forms for participation, and a listing of the CHIC breeds. Each breed’s name links to a page that lists its CHIC requirements.

The site also has an excellent search engine which people can use to review data on individual CHIC-certified dogs or groups of dogs by kennel name or by breed.  If desired, the search can be refined by gender and/or by a date-of-birth range.  Each dog’s record lists the tests it has had, when they were performed and the result.  It also offers links to the records of the dog’s parents, offspring, and full and half siblings, so the user can easily review health records on an extended family.

You can use the same search feature to view individuals or lists of dogs with samples in the DNA bank. Those which are also CHIC qualified will have a small CHIC logo posted next to their names.


OFA offers a survey service that can complement a breed’s CHIC participation.   Every breed should have periodic health surveys, but they aren’t easy to do.  Design, programming, implementation and data analysis can be demanding.  The programming can also be costly.  OFA has a variety of survey types and will work with clubs to put together a format that meets a breed’s needs.  There are several active surveys on OFA’s website that interested persons can examine.  The links can be found toward the bottom of OFA’s home page. You can also view the results to-date for each survey.

CHIC has tremendous potential as health resource for breed clubs and breeders.  It is operated by one of the oldest and most-respected canine health organizations in the US, so its longevity and the quality of its program are assured.  The only thing it needs to make it all that it can be for our dogs is us.  It is up to us to get our animals screened and provide data, including abnormal results, to CHIC’s database.  It is up to us to collect and submit DNA samples to the DNA Repository.  It is up to us to actively make our health concerns known to our clubs so they can tailor our breeds’ CHIC requirements to the highest standards for our dogs’ health, now and into the future.

For information about enrolling a breed in CHIC, e-mail or phone 573-442-0418 x222.

For DNA Repository information, e-mail. Also use this address to send in health updates on dogs with samples in the repository.  Include the dog’s name and registration number, your name and contact information along with the specific health updates.