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What You Need To Know About Hereditary Diseases In Dogs

If there’s one thing we tend to brush past when it comes to the medical health of our pooches, it’s hereditary diseases. When actually, it’s something we should all be thinking about, even before the breeding process. Hereditary diseases affect all breeds of dogs and can seriously limit their quality of life.

Annie is a specialist trauma psychotherapist and is passionate about conservation, animal welfare & mental health. She combines working with animals outside in nature in her work with clients.

Button is a Bernese Mountain Dog and works with Annie’s clients as an emotional therapy dog. She was diagnosed with the hereditary diseases Elbow and Hip Dysplasia at the tender age of 7 months.

Seeing the damaging effect hereditary diseases have on dogs, Annie started working with Paws Against to develop and promote an important campaign called, What’s in my Genes?

Annie and Button

What’s in my Genes?

This campaign aims to raise awareness of hereditary disease in dogs. The ultimate goal is for ALL breeding dogs to have the relevant hereditary health tests for their breed prior to breeding and only those deemed suitable, to be bred from.

Prior to buying puppies, the campaign encourages us to ask for the relevant health certificates of parent dogs and to learn and understand the impact of breed-specific diseases. This should in turn resulting in more and more breeders health testing their dogs.

We invited Annie to give us the scoop on hereditary diseases and why it’s so important that we keep them on our radar. Over to Annie to tell you more!

Button’s Story

Hi I’m Annie and this is a picture of Button. We are lucky to live in the beautiful countryside of Devon. 

Button was diagnosed with hereditary elbow and hip dysplasia at 7 months old

Sadly at the age of 7 months Button was diagnosed with both Elbow and Hip Dysplasia. After experiencing the devastating consequences of these diseases – for Button this meant operations and procedures leading on to pain meds and reduced exercise for life. For me, guilt as to what had I done wrong for her to have to go through so much at such a young age. Coupled with angst as to how I can help her live with these painful conditions, a year devoted to her recuperation and as horrid as it is to mention, the huge financial cost.

Learning that Button’s Elbow and Hip Dysplasia were due to  complex hereditary diseases which can be made worse by incorrect exercise, being overweight, jumping up or down at an early age, we subsequently decided to start a campaign to raise awareness of hereditary diseases in dogs hoping to help puppy buyers understand the necessity to ask for the parent dogs hereditary health certificates before comitting to buying a puppy, and for them to understand the importance of the right kind and amount of exercise, the importance of diet and keeping the correct weight for the breed.

We want to help you understand about hereditary disease in dogs and the questions you need to ask the breeder of any puppy you are thinking of buying. So here’s the answers to the most asked questions.

Questions Around Hereditary Diseases

What’s a hereditary disease?

These are diseases which can be passed down from mum and dad to their pups. It passes from those pups to their pups and on it goes through generation and generation.

Why are tests needed?

Many hereditary diseases cause pain & suffering and some even death. Not all diseases are visible so even if a dog doesn’t show any signs of a disease they could still have it and could potentially pass it down to their puppies if they are bred from.

Why does testing matter?

The health of the breeding dog is paramount, along with temperament, to the health and wellbeing of its offspring.  A healthy parent helps to form a good foundation on which a puppy can mature.

Don’t all breeders test for hereditary diseases?

Some health conscientious breeders do test for some hereditary disease but despite advice to do so many breeders still don’t.

Why do puppy buyers need to ask to see health certificates:

If we only buy from breeders who have done the relevant health tests for that breed we are helping create a culture of health (together with temperament) first. Public demand for health tests will hopefully drive breeders to test. This will help to reduce instances of these diseases in future generations. Thereby reducing the pain and suffering of thousands of puppies and dogs. 

I’m only concerned with a rescue dog so how does this impact rescue centres? 

Behaviour – many hereditary diseases cause pain and discomfort, this can cause a dog to become reactive.  There are very many “reactive” dogs which have ended up in dog rescue centres.

What are the most important things to research when thinking of buying puppy?

  1. The best place to start is by looking into the puppy contract. This is full of do’s and don’ts when buying a puppy and The Dog Breeding Reform Group website.
  1. Check out which hereditary (and other) diseases the particular breed of dog you are looking at are susceptible to. You can find this out on various websites but this one is particularly comprehensive.
  1. Learn more about the different tests and schemes available through the British Veterinary Association and Kennel Club.
  1. Armed with this knowledge please ask to see the parent dogs’ hereditary health certificates. Check with your vet what the results mean. 

You can never be 100% sure that a dog won’t inherit a disease. There are always those sneaky genes that get through but testing does help reduce incidences. This gives you, the puppy buyer, a better chance of having a puppy as free as possible from hereditary diseases and a potential lifetime of pain and reduced quality of life.

Questions to ask the breeder about hereditary diseases in dogs:

Always make sure your see the pups with their mum

  1. Have the parent dogs been health tested for the hereditary diseases relevant to their breed and can I see the results? – research/ask your vet what the results mean
  1. Can the breeder explain the reasoning behind breeding with a dog if the test results are poor?– ask your vet if this is OK

What’s in my Genes? Raising awareness of hereditary diseases in dogs:

This year we are mainly concentrating on raising awareness of Elbow and Hip Dysplasia:

How can you help raise awareness about hereditary diseases in dogs?

Please like and follow us on social media sharing our posts and tweets. We also have a competition our competition running and you can find out more information by visiting our website (ends 31st October 2021).

We would also encourage you to explain to friends who are thinking of buying a puppy the importance of hereditary health. Advise them where to find guidance on which tests results they should be asking for.

Have You Had Any Experience With Hereditary Diseases?

Share your stories with us in the comments below.


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