Health Testing: The Ins and Outs from an Ethical Breeder's Perspective
Updated: Aug 2
When a breeder decides to match a particular bitch with a specific stud dog it is with the hope that together this combination will not only produce healthy, vibrant puppies that make wonderful companions, but also something spectacular for their specific discipline (be in the show ring or performance sports or another discipline).
At Aureate we pride ourselves on only breeding the very best in our Program to the very best match for that particular bitch, regardless of where that potential match is located. We strive for longevity in our dogs, exceptional temperaments, beautiful ground covering movement, stunning silhouettes and overall health. That being said, we do not breed frequently and we have a high bar of evaluation for any whippet not only before we breed but throughout that dog's life. Meaning we are committed to the betterment not only of our individual program, but also the breed at large. We are committed to spending $1000's each year on health testing our breeding dogs or any dog potentially standing at Stud. As such health testing is NOT a pre-breeding test. It is commitment to health test long after that dog's last litter.
In terms of the reasons why we health test, it is to eliminate from our bloodlines undesirable traits and conditions we can select against by making the tough, but necessary decision to not breed a particular dog or their get. The reason we continue to test our dogs long after their breeding life is over is because we are committed to monitoring our bloodlines for their general health. Breeder's who are only screening their dogs prior to breeding are NOT committed to the longevity of their dogs or the dogs they are selling you. It's a gimmick they are using to fool unsuspecting buyers into believing they are purchasing from a reputable breeder, and here is why:
The earliest age the Orthopedic Health Foundation will certify an echocardiogram for pre-breeding screening is 2 years old. The reason being prior to that age, the dog and the cardiac tissue is still growing. Outside of conditions present at birth (congenital) like Pulmonic Stenosis and to a lesser extent Aortic Stenosis (along with a plethora of other cardiac defects). When we screen our dogs for their general cardiac health what in the vast majority of the time we are trying to prevent, ie the burden of disease or prevalence, is mitral valve disease (MVD) resulting in congestive heart failure and premature death. This disease has two categories: early onset and age related. The early onset of MVD occurs before the age of seven years of age and is believed to have different factors leading to the degenerative changes seen in the MV as opposed to myxomatous MVD. Early onset disease advances quickly and dogs die as a result of the disease as opposed to other causes.
Here's the other important factors to consider. The average age of onset in early MVD is between 4-6 years of age. So are you starting to understand why a breeder who only screens their dogs prior to breeding them at 2 years of age is COMPLETELY missing out the point of health screening!!!
Now many responsible breeders may decide to breed their bitch at age 2 after she has completed and passed her health testing. However, the key difference here is that they will continue to evaluate the health of that bitch throughout her life, even repeating her echocardiograms well into her teen years. Of course the bitch is only 1/2 of the genetic potential in any breeding, yes I know many master breeders will state the bitch provides 80% of the genetic potential in the litter. However, anyone who understands biology will appreciate that is simply not how genetics work. What master breeders are likely eluding to is that a quality bitch matched to an excellent dog will produce well. A mediocre or poor caliber bitch, including a lackluster pedigree bred to an excellent dog is unlikely to produce anything of merit. Back to our original point, a responsible breeder will not only continue to monitor the health of the dogs in house, but also maintain continuity with their colleagues of stud dogs they've used for years.
Responsible breeders will follow their breeding decisions over multiple decades and if they notice a rising incidence of certain diseases occurring in related dogs they will eliminate those dogs from their program or depending on the nature of the condition may only allow them to be used on dogs with whom that disease has not been associated. *(It is important to remember that not all conditions are found to have a heredity nature, the vast majority are multi-factorial or idiosyncratic. We don't want to limit the genetic diversity of our breed by discarding of quality dogs with one relative with an esoteric condition.)
If you are interested in learning more about our individual program and the health testing we do at Aureate please reach out to us. All our results are released to OFA and we follow the recommendations set by the Whippet Health Foundation. We evaluate all dogs in our program with annual CAER assessments by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist, echocardiograms by a board certified veterinary cardiologist every 1-2 years for the life of the dog. Most importantly to us we take the time to bring all our dogs each year to the AWC National Specialty so their health testing, especially echoes can be performed by the world experts in our Breed! We also complete BAER assessments as well.
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