Let’s Talk About Health Testing

June 6, 2009

Recently Garrett, over at Ebonwald Cardigans posted about testing.  He opined that we need to know about more than just the dogs in a direct ancestral line with our dogs.  In other words, what is the health status of brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles.  I decided to take this theme and discuss it from my perspective.

I come from German Shepherd Dogs, and boy have they suffered from a lot of diseases and defects!  The breed’s early popularity (due to their war work and Rin Tin Tin) shot it to the top of the AKC breed list.  What follows is never good for a breed.  Some people saw dollar signs so obtained a male and a female and started making puppies.  Occasionally those people began really learning about the breed and became selective in the girls they used for breeding and in their choice of stud dogs.  Sometimes these “breeders” actually began studying the breed.  They learned about correct structure, about structural defects and diseases, they worked for better temperament.  Most often, however, they just produced litters and sold puppies until there was no market for the offspring.

Those of us who have Cardigan Welsh Corgis are in a position to avoid the mass proliferation of the breed by dollar-oriented breeders.  Cardigans are not yet that common.  We are also in a position to make our breed sounder and healthier by learning about the physical and mental obstacles that are out there — and then by being selective.  The question is, about what should we be selective?  Is the breed standard the ultimate guide to what a “good breeder” seeks to produce?  It is at this point that there is divergence of opinion.  I believe (because I choose to believe it) that we, as a group, can produce dogs that are not only beautiful on the outside, but are also genetically healthy.  It requires more effort, being even more selective than we must be when we focus on physical beauty alone, and, yes, it costs more money.

I believe it is important because most of the puppies do not mirror the breed standard at a level where they will be successful in the Conformation ring; most of the offspring will find (hopefully) loving pet homes.  They will charm and delight their families and be faithful little companions for their entire lives.  I would never wish on a Cardi owner (pet or otherwise) the myriad of physical problems I experienced with my German Shepherds.  The only way I know to diminish the occurrence of those problems in any breed, including Cardis, is to health test and to use the testing as a tool in selecting for the next generation.  There is not instant gratification when we do it this way.  There are small steps forward and sometimes a big step or two backward.  The goal must remain.

Individual breeders make their own choices about what testing they do or do not do, what they believe is important, and what they can afford to do.  This is not a contest with the person who’s done the most testing being declared the winner.  The winners are the dogs that will live long and die of old age, pain free.  There are registries that record health test results, some of them, like OFA, are public databases, and there are tests that the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America has designated for a Canine Health Information Center registration (CHIC).  If a breeder chooses to use the closed PennHip registry, for instance, someone interested in using a stud dog or buying a puppy from that breeder may still ask for copies of testing results.  The dog’s owner is not sworn to secrecy.  Shame on breeders/owners who falsely claim PennHip testing (or good results), knowing there is no public access to the data base.

I used the public registries and had Chase entered in the CHIC database because I do not want to force people who are “researching” potential stud dogs, who might have an interest in my dog, to call me to ask about the dog’s health status.  With Chase’s OFA page and his CHIC designation and his own web site (corny as it is), all his information is available without pressure.  If someone likes what he/she reads, then he/she may contact me to ask if Chase really leaps tall buildings in a single bound.  I believe use of the OFA health registration and the CHIC takes the pressure off.

Here’s what happened with Chase from the beginning.  He finished his American Championship from the puppy classes.  For many health tests the dog must be at least a year old.  He was tested at a year because I had received inquiries about his availability as a stud dog.  I was deciding whether to make him available or to neuter him — I don’t believe every Champion must be used for breeding.  (I don’t think he knows about this so would prefer you not disclose it to him.) The health test results came back so well that I decided to keep him intact — at least until he ate another cell phone. With the DNA tests — like PRA and DM, having a clear dog, even if other members of the family are not clear, is a gift. It means that the things we really like about a dog are available without having to worry about those two problems. Other of our health issues are not so cut and dried.

Each of us must decide what is important to the breed and to ourselves, as well as what we can reasonably afford to do. I come from a breed that has so many problems, that I am perhaps a little overboard.

Chase came from a breeder that does health testing, so by testing him, I added to the knowledge base.  When he is used, the test results will help the breeder know (in some respects) what they might expect in offspring.  Chase’s parents are nine and thirteen.  I am able to see how hale and hearty they are which gives me hope that Chase and I will grow old together — though he’ll probably remain sounder than I will.

Sometimes I test dogs that I know will never be bred — particularly for something like DM for which we are just now gathering data.  Sometimes I send DNA samples to a research facility like U.C. Davis where they are looking for a genetic marker for IVDD.  I believe it is my responsibility to the breed to help gather pertinent information, to help develop the means to weed out diseases and defects.  I’ve found that the veterinarians to whom I take my dogs are delighted to assist with drawing blood for the research efforts and don’t charge for the blood draw.  If it’s a cheek swab that’s needed, any of us can do it at home.

So, it’s my opinion that each of us, involved in any aspect of breeding or showing dogs, has a responsibility to our breed.  How we choose to fulfill that responsibility is a personal decision.  What we excuse or overlook is our personal decision, the traits for which we select is a personal decision.  I can live with mine.


  1. C-Myste says:

    Another thing that comes into play with some of the testing is that I am fascinated by genetics. One of the reasons I have Cardigans instead of a simpler breed is the fun involved in color genetics. Had I come of age at a slightly later time perhaps I could have been a geneticist.

    I am pro-testing not just so that I can say “my dog is clear of xxxxx” but to contribute to the knowledge base of Cardigan genetics and of the entire canine genome.

  2. Garrett says:

    Penni you can say things so much more elloquently than I 🙂 Thank you 🙂

    I agree with you and Carolyn. I love the genetics and finding out as much as I can about each dog (same for my other species). Its not that I love to say they are so healthy, but I’m glad they are, and I love KNOWING that they are. More importantly I too believe that its ultimately for the betterment of the breed in the long run.

    May I use some of your post for my website? Your wording is just fabulous.

  3. dawn says:

    I agree as well which is why I have tested my dogs, show dogs and non show dogs. I also wanted to make the right decisions when I bred for the health of the puppies, and how can you even begin to do that if you ignore potential health issues, which is what not testing does. As I stated before I applaud any testing versus none, and I applaud more those that post results. I have not been able to get much history for many of the dogs behind mine, but what I can I documented and used to try to make the most educated deceision I could.

  4. Hear, hear.

    When I get Buzz’s blood drawn for his next cbc/chem I am going to ask them to take a bit extra so we can send it to Missouri. I think that includes OFA notification, but if it doesn’t, I’ll see to it that his results are published.

    I think that even though he’s been neutered for 10.5 of his 11.5 years, his info is valuable. His dad was responsible for several litters, I believe, so Buzz’s DM status ought to be of interest to someone…..

  5. Sandy says:

    OMG…am I glad I know you. Your opinion is powerful, as is your “pen”.