Pre-breeding health checks are an essential component of the breeding process. The following health tests I consider to be a minimum level of testing for my own breeding stock. They do have their limitations in that they are a test or exam for the condition of that animal at a given point in time. Many of these tests are recommended to be repeated yearly or over the life of an animal. Breeders who have extensive experience breeding their lines often have information on the prevalence or absence of health conditions that include these heritable conditions and much more. This information is the value of working with an established breeder both in acquiring your lines and pedigree’s, and mentoring you with your breeding program, and works hand in hand with health testing and exams that can be done.
First off, it is important to screen for Brucellosis, a sexually-transmitted bacterial disease. Brucellosis is serious stuff. A latent Brucellosis infection can kill the puppies and/or cause permanent infertility. Female dogs should be tested a few weeks before they come into heat and stud males should be tested twice a year. Brucellosis testing runs $50-$100, depending on where you live.
Tests for heritable (inherited) disorders should be performed as well. Levels of health testing vary widely depending upon the country and breed clubs, for example: The Great Dane Club of Canada (GDCC) recommends a minimum level of health testing for normal hips in breeding stock. The Great Dane Club of America (GDCA) recently joined the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program, and the Club is now recommending the following screenings:
Hip Dysplasia – Results accepted from OFA, OVC, Pennhip, any foreign hip certification program, or an orthpedic specialist.
Eyes – Results accepted from CERF
Congenital Cardiac Disease – Results accepted from OFA
Autoimmune Thyroid Disease – Results accepted from OFA
(For more info about GDCA's relationship to CHIC, go here.)
What is the CHIC program?
The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) is a centralized canine health database sponsored by the American Kennel Club (AKC), its Canine Health Foundation (CHF), and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). For breeders, CHIC offers a reliable source of information regarding dogs they may wish to use in their breeding programs. For buyers, CHIC offers reliable information about the results of a breeder’s health testing. A CHIC number certifies that all breed recommended tests were done, and the results were made public.
What is OFA?
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or OFA, was established in 1966 for the purpose of providing radiographic evaluation, database maintenance, and breeding advice to reduce the incidence of degenerative joint disease, or hip dysplasia, in dogs. Over the past 10-15 years, OFA has expanded its mission to include other heritable
(inherited) diseases such as congenital cardiac disease, and autoimmune thyroid disease.
OFA, Hip Exam:
Qualified radiographs of canine hips are rated for soundness by a team of board-certified veterinary radiologists appointed by OFA. Grades of excellent, good and fair are considered to be within normal limits. If a dog qualifies as normal, it is assigned an OFA number. The OFA evaluation number and grade is accepted by the AKC for those dogs with permanent identification, and their ranking is available to the public via OFA's searchable database.
OFA, Hips Exam Cost:
This test costs approximately $400 – or more, if you go to an orthopedic specialist – plus a $30 registration fee for OFA.
OFA, Cardiac Exam:
OFA maintains a congenital cardiac database for dogs 12 months of age and over. In order to participate, OFA requires a careful clinical examination, performed (preferably) by a veterinarian who has a Specialty of Cardiology, or a veterinarian with advanced training in the subspecialty of congenital heart disease. A dog is determined to be normal if he is without cardiac murmur or if he has a heart murmur determined to be otherwise normal, by virtue of an auscultation exam (stethoscopic exam) or an echocardiographic examination that includes Doppler echocardiography. Other cardiac murmurs are graded "1" through "6," depending on the severity.
OFA, Cardiac Exam Cost:
Auscultation (stethoscopic exam) is the only test required, as long as the results are normal. You can get this done as cheaply as $80 at some clinics. The OFA fee is $15. I prefer to do a full echocardiogram on specific breeding stock as a baseline, which I repeat when my danes are entering old age with an auscultation.. Cost of an echo at a clinic varies from about $275 to $350, but if you go to a specialist you should expect to pay $250-600 for a basic echo with Doppler ultrasound..
OFA, Thyroid Test:
Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common cause of primary hypothyroidism in dogs. It usually, but not always, manifests at 2 to 5 years of age. To qualify for inclusion in OFA's database, and to receive an OFA number, a dog must be examined by a veterinarian and have a serum sample sent to an OFA-approved laboratory. Any dog 12 months of age or older can be certified. OFA recommends that all dogs be reexamined at ages 2,3,4,6, and 8 years.
OFA, Thyroid Test Cost:
Fees vary greatly for thyroid testing, as there are several "parts" to the process. There is always an office visit fee for drawing and processing the dog's blood, a shipping fee for getting the blood to the lab, a lab fee for testing the blood, and finally the actual OFA fee, for registering the results. Here is what I pay:, $20 to draw the blood, $152 for the lab fee if we are doing a full panel, $5 for courier fee, and, finally, $15 for the OFA fee. (There is no fee for submitting follow up reports, equivocal results or failed results.).
The Canine Eye Registration Foundation, or CERF, was established in conjunction with board certified, veterinary ophthalmologists. CERF's goal is to eliminate heritable eye disease in all purebred dogs by forming a centralized, national registry. Certification, which involves a painless examination of the dogs eyes by a qualified American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) diplomat, is good for 12 months from the date of the exam. Afterwards the dog must be reexamined and re-certified to maintain its CERF registration.
CERF Exam Cost:
My cost for the, CERF usually runs ~$60 for the exam, and at about the same cost at a Clinic, and . CERF charges $12 to register, and $8 for updates. It is recommended that CERF be repeated annually or biannually throughout the reproductive period.