In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a disturbing number of conversations on various forums regarding health issues. They go a little something like this:
“I have a puppy that has been diagnosed with bad (insert problem here…. hips, patellas, eyes, spine, seizures, skin disorder, etc.). Does anyone else have experience with this? Is there anything I can do in addition to what the vet recommends?”
This is not the shocking part. There are pets with health issues, bred by both reputable and negligent breeders.
THIS is the disturbing part. Typical answers to a question like that:
- “Yes, mine started to show symptoms of that at 4 months old.”
- “Yes, I bought a puppy who had to have surgery before it was two years old.”
- “Yes, I’ve had two over the past five years. One had to be euthanized, the other is on medication every day and will be for the rest of her life.”
- “Yes, I have one now that is starting to show symptoms. The breeder has no idea where it came from because her dogs are fine.”
- “Yes, I have one right now with that problem, it’s common in the breed.”
In questioning further, none of them got their puppies from responsible and reputable breeders who health screen against these issues. Because those problems are common in the breed is the very reason responsible breeders screen for it and attempt to eliminate it from future generations. Buyers are often unaware that they should be looking for this, and many breeders joining the conversation were not aware of the many potential problems they could be avoiding with simple health testing.
Here are a few of the misconceptions regarding health testing.
- “My dogs are healthy and none of my puppies have ever had a problem.”
- “My vet checked my dogs and they don’t have health issues.”
- “I have a guarantee on my puppies and I haven’t had any puppies returned.”
Breeders…. THIS IS NOT ENOUGH!
Buyers…. YOU NEED TO DEMAND MORE!
I had this eye opening discovery in one of my very first litters. I started out with dogs I liked but I was new and didn’t know much about pedigrees, health tests, showing, etc. I just knew I loved these dogs and wanted to raise them. One of the first puppies I placed had a health issue. The new owner was devastated. I felt horrible and I returned a large portion of their money to pay their vet bill. I decided then and there that I would not be the cause of anyone’s heartache when it came to placing puppies. My first well bred puppy came to me BAER and CERF(CAER) tested, and with preliminary patella checks. Her parents were also health tested. Three other foundation dogs/puppies came to me that way as well. It’s standard for many reputable breeders, and I adopted this practice, not only to preserve the hearts of my future potential puppy owners, but to preserve my heart too.
No one breeds with the intention of creating a puppy that has health problems, but there are things that can be done to greatly reduce the chances, and to increase the overall health of the litters produced. Many breeders aren’t aware of the minimum health tests that should be done on their breeds prior to producing a litter. Many are not aware of how easy it is to have them done, and how inexpensive many of the tests are. There are some who do not care, some who do not think it makes a difference, and some who are purposefully ignorant of how to breed more responsibly.
But that does not mean that puppy buyers shouldn’t expect more. If they’re going to invest 10-15+ years in a new member of their household, shouldn’t they expect a breeder to take the time and money to make sure that puppy has the best chances of living a healthy, happy, pain-free life? Whether the puppy is $500 or $3500, an adult breeding dog can often be tested for many of the major issues in their breed for under $500. When a breeding dog has multiple puppies in a litter and usually more than one litter, is money ever really an excuse? We can find $500 for an emergency vet bill, why not find it to ensure the health of your dogs and the future of your breeding program?
Another type of issue I have seen in my own breed is claiming their dogs are “health tested”, yet they will do one very minimal test and ignore the others, one of which alone checks for dozens of problems. Saying you are a breeder who “health tests” when only a fraction of your dogs’ health testing has been completed, is like saying you have a college degree after taking only one class. It’s better than nothing, but it’s still not being responsible.
These are things that a potential puppy buyer should look for AT MINIMUM. They may have to wait, and search, and be patient… because when it’s done right, there’s a lot more demand for responsibly bred puppies than for those puppies casually bred and available year round.
- Their breeding dogs should be health tested, and if available, the puppies should be health tested. Not just ONE test, not just TWO tests, but ALL of the recommended minimum testing for their breed as recommended by their national breed club. Go to the club’s website and study the standard and the health issues prior to finding a breeder. Then question the breeder about their testing and breeding practices.
- Find a breeder who screens YOU as much as you screen THEM. Do they offer a health guarantee? Do they offer to take the puppy back if you can’t keep it? Do they seem to care more about how the puppy is placed than whether or not the check clears?
- Are their dogs from health tested pedigrees? A pedigree typically doesn’t matter when it comes to buying a pet, but if a dog comes from multiple generations of health tested dogs, they are more likely to be healthy themselves.
- Does the breeder breed to the standard for the breed? Or do they breed for “fads” such as disqualified colors or patterns? Many fad colors involve crossing with other breeds and compromising bloodlines, quality and breed type. Those who breed to improve the breed, do not breed disqualified traits or faults into their litters. They breed according to the AKC standard as defined by their breed club.
English Bulldog bred for fad colors VS. English Bulldog bred to Standard
Unfortunately rescues and shelters are full of “special needs” dogs with hereditary health problems. Puppies are purchased with the buyers expecting a long happy and healthy life with them. Some health problems can show up right away, some can be more expensive than the family can afford. Every pet owner should take responsibility for their pets through thick and thin, but unfortunately many do not. Sometimes they have no choice. Sadly many of the health issues could have been prevented through responsible breeding.
Those breeders who say they’ve never had a puppy returned, yet don’t health test, may not know the whole story. Who is to say the owners didn’t leave the dog at a shelter due to its health problems, but didn’t want to tell the breeder? Or or put the puppy down because they couldn’t afford the treatment. They would not want to call the breeder and tell them that either.
I know I harp a lot on responsible breeding, but seeing these conversations is heartbreaking. These people don’t need to go through this. These puppies don’t need to go blind by the time they are a year or two old when there is a $45 test that can tell a breeder which dogs can produce puppies that do. A dog doesn’t need to suffer from hip dysplasia when a breeder can be breeding dogs whose hips are rated excellent, rather than breeding a young pair whose hips have never been screened and there’s no way of knowing if they will be in constant pain and lame in a few short years, and produce puppies who will be the same way.
If breeders want to preserve their right to breed, they need to ensure they are doing it responsibly. Keeping our dogs out of shelters starts with placing healthy puppies who have the best chance of living a long healthy life. Pet owners should take responsibility for the pets they bring home, but if they never have to make the choice between making a mortgage payment and paying for their dog’s surgery, we can greatly reduce the number of those who simply can’t.
And if a buyer wants a puppy that has the best chance of living a long healthy life, they need to be responsible as well when choosing their puppy… Not leave it up to the breeder to simply tell them they “breed healthy dogs” or they “never have health problems”. If buyers will not settle for poorly bred puppies, then breeders who produce them or who are negligent in their practices, will either start being more responsible, or they will stop breeding.
Either way, the dogs benefit and their future owners benefit.