These hereditary problems in dogs include defects of the skeleton, malformations of the eye and the facial construction, and a tendency to conditions leading to blindness, heart disease, deafness, bleeding disorders and epilepsy, although some of these conditions may also arise from injury.
It is as well to remember that some hereditary problems in dogs are quite common and may cause trouble, suffering and expense later.
It makes sense, therefore, to take newly purchased puppies to a veterinary surgeon to have them checked in this respect. Such problems as in-tuming eyelids (entropion), umbilical or inguinal hernias, weak knee joints (slipping patellas), incorrect undershot or twisted (wry) jaws or cryptorchidism (one or no testicle descended into the scrotum), may not have been noticeable to you but will be readily picked up on a routine full examination.
The vet will tell you whether the condition is likely to cause an immediate or long-term problem and give advice about what can be done, usually surgically, to correct the fault.
On occasion he may even advise you to contact the breeder, or even to return the puppy. Some breeds may be more likely to develop certain inherited conditions than others. It is as well to bear this in mind when choosing a dog. Your veterinary surgeon or a knowledgeable breeder will be able to advise you in this respect.
The British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club (BVA/ KC) jointly administer a scheme to evaluate hip dysplasia in dogs a condition of deformed hip joints which can lead to chronic pain and lameness.
Hip dysplasia is especially important in German Shepherd Dogs (Alsatians), Briards, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Labradors, Old English Sheepdogs, Pyreneans, Rottweilers and Rough Collies, but other breeds of medium to large size are also affected.
The dog’s hips are X-rayed by your own veterinary surgeon, once only, after the age of 12 months. Your veterinary surgeon will give you all the necessary information.
The X-ray is then sent to the British Veterinary Association where it is examined and evaluated for normality by members of an appointed panel who have a special interest in orthopaedics.
The X-ray is assessed on nine different aspects of the hip joint, each leg being calculated separately. Each aspect of the hip is scored up to a maximum of 6 points 6 being indicative of a high level of deformity, 9 x 6 points equals a maximum of 54 scored for a really bad hip, or 108 for both. Low scores, eg 2 right and 4 left equalling 6 in total are very good hip dysplasia scores. 0 : 0 is absolutely normal.
In some breeds normality has not been reached and may be difficult to achieve, so what may be a poor score in one breed may be acceptable in another. The breeder or breed club should be able to tell you the target score for your breed.
In all the breeds mentioned earlier, puppy buyers should insist on seeing a BVA hip score for both sire and dam, and should in due course have their own pet X-rayed in order to contribute information on the progeny those dogs are producing.
Dogs and bitches are capable of producing puppies with hip joints better or worse than their own, and correct rearing plays some part in determining the final state of the hips.
However, breeding from the best is slowly improving the state of the hip joint in those breeds where the BVA/KC scheme has been used for some time.
It is important that every hip X-ray should be sent to the BVA for scoring so that hips are evaluated on a nationwide standard. Local evaluation by individual veterinary surgeons may not be acceptable to stud dog or bitch owners and does nothing to improve the standard within the breed. The extra expense of scoring by the official panel is always worthwhile.
BVA and the Kennel Club also operate an official eye examination scheme to detect several eye conditions, among them those leading to painful blindness. The recommendation is that dogs and bitches should be examined annually for the whole of their lives, as many eye conditions can be late in onset, often after the dogs concerned have been used for breeding.
This applies of course to those breeds which are principally affected by such problems and particularly the animals intended for breeding.
When a fault is found in the eyes of a dog which may have produced one or two generations of descendants, ethical breeders will want to withdraw that dog from their breeding programme, but obviously all those who have related animals will also be affected. It is only by this means that we can hope to eradicate the many eye diseases from which dogs suffer.
The official eye examinations are conducted by a panel of veterinary surgeons with post-graduate qualifica tions in ophthalmology. Examinations are either held privately (your veterinary surgeon will refer you) or at examination sessions arranged, often in conjunction with shows, by breed clubs.
Where numbers of dogs are examined at one time, the fee for each is reduced and, by special permission of the Kennel Club, dogs not entered at the show may attend for eye examination. No anaesthetic is required. The examination takes only a few moments and a report is given immediately.
Breeds most susceptible to eye problems include Smooth and Rough Collies, Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs. Puppies from these breeds should be screened at 8 weeks old for a defect peculiar to Collies Collie eye anomaly. Do not buy a puppy in these breeds with a view to using it for breeding until you have the examination verdict.
Other eye diseases affect primarily American Cocker Spaniels, Bassets, Bloodhounds, Briards, Cavaliers, Cockers, English Springers, Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters, Labradors, Miniature and Toy Poodles, as well as other breeds.
Some white coated dogs, Dalmatians, white Boxers and Bull Terriers, may be deaf in one or both ears. A deaf dog is extremely handicapped and needs very special care. Puppies may be tested for hearing at 8 weeks of age at the Animal Health Trust at Newmarket in Suffolk.
Some breed clubs operate their own screening schemes for particular diseases which affect that breed, eg heart defects in Cavaliers and Boxers. Ask the breeder and your veterinary surgeon about breed-related diseases.