HEALTH CLEARANCES MEAN?
What do health clearances mean?
"Health clearances" are often also referred to as "health testing." These are the tests performed on parent dogs before they are bred to ensure we are not breeding dogs with any known health conditions that can be inherited and that we can test for.
We often see breeders advertising that their dogs are "health tested" but you need to ask specifically what that means and what they test for.
There are people who think a normal annual vet check is enough to call their dogs "health tested." Technically , I suppose they are, but in the spirit of what we are talking about here this is a misrepresentation of pre-breeding health clearances.
Other breeders may advertise that their dogs are genetically tested. That's great, but that's only a fraction of the puzzle, and much more needs to be done in addition to genetic screening. Genetic screening is good, but in our opinion, it's not enough.
Pre-breeding health clearances involve any systems for which there are known genetic disorders and for which we have a screening method. This includes genetic testing (DNA testing), but for our breed it also includes eyes, heart, knees, elbows, and knees.
Does this mean your puppies will never get sick?
Unfortunately, it does not.
What it means is that there are a number of health screenings we can do to check for conditions that 1. we know are heritable (can be inherited) and 2. there are tests or screening methods for.
There are conditions we can't yet test for preventatively. In our breed that includes Addison's Disease and some kinds of seizures, among others.
Health clearances are a form of risk reduction. They do not completely eliminate risk. Puppies and dogs are living beings, and as such are subject to disease and injury. We just do everything we can in the planning of our litters to reduce the risk of any of these conditions being passed down to our puppies.
They are tests we are able to perform to help reduce the risk of producing puppies that may have health conditions with a known genetic component. There are conditions that we know are genetic, but there may not yet be tests available.
What are you able to test parent dogs for?
We are able to screen parents for a number of heritable genetic conditions. We do full genetic panels. Most genetic conditions are recessive, which means that both parents must have the mutated gene for the puppies to be at risk of that condition. So we always test our parent dogs for these genetic diseases so that we never breed two carriers together.
These include testing for bleeding disorders (Von Willebrands disease—vWd), genetic blindness (progressive retinal atrophy—PRCD-PRA, GR-PRA1, and GR-PRA2), genetic skin disorders (ichthyosis—ICH), spinal cord degenerative disease (degenerative myelopathy—DM), and a neurologic and seizure disorder (neonatal encephalopathy with seizures—NEWS).
We test for a genetic mutation that may infer a very small amount of risk for chondrodystrophy, a disease that is very rare in our breed. It causes disc disease in breeds with short legs and long backs, but rarely causes disease in dogs with the same or similar structure to Goldendoodles. This test and our breeding practices informed by the test are described in detail here.
We test for known and testable genetic disorders of the eye, but not all disorders show up on the genetic screenings. We also perform OFA Companion Animal Eye Registry (CAER) testing, which is where a board certified ophthalmologist examines the dog's eyes. We perform this test regularly in accordance with Goldendoodle Association (GANA) requirements.
Our parent dogs receive OFA cardiac evaluations to ensure they don't have heart disease.
Patellar luxation, or dislocating knees, is a painful condition known to be in mini and toy poodles (but not standard poodles) and known to be passed from parents. Luxating patellas are highly correalted with the cranial cruciate ligament disease (CCLD), so this screening also heals reduce CCLD risk. We have an OFA veterinary exam on all of our dogs that have mini or toy poodles in their pedigree or are under 50 lbs.
Elbows and hips
We screen elbows and hips for dysplasia, a developmental abnormality of the elbows and hips. These are painful, debilitating conditions. The screening involves certification of joint health (through an x-ray or series of x-rays) by one of the certifying agencies. We have elbows certified by either OFA or eVet/Dr Wallace and hips by either OFA, PennHip, or eVet/Dr Wallace.
We also take into consideration the joint health of grandparents, siblings, and other relatives when making breeding decisions. Weight, diet, environmental exposures, and age-appropriate exercise also play a strong role in dysplasia. See this link for the role weight and diet have on the incidence of hip dysplasia. Dysplasia is a complex disease so we consider all factors.
It's a sad an unfortunate truth that dogs with hips certified as excellent can and do sometimes produce puppies that can have dysplasia. This is a good example of risk reduction. We make the best breeding choices we can, but they don't always guarantee the results we all want and hope for.
Conditions there are no screening tests for
We don't yet have the ability to screen parents for diseases and conditions like Addison's disease, or idiopathic seizures. While we find this clearly upsetting, there are ways we can and do reduce risks for these conditions.
This includes extensive pedigree analysis of the disease status of relatives to inform us if these conditions are in fact in our gene pool and lines. We avoid breeding dogs who have these conditions prevalent in their lines and we never breed dogs who have these conditions themselves.
We don't live in a perfect world. We can't prevent all diseases and conditions, but we follow the science to reduce the risks for our puppies as much as possible. We use industry guidelines, we talk to our vets, we read research papers, we consult with specialists, and we stay educated.
We also make great efforts to maintain healthy genetic diversity. Many conditions appear in breeds because the gene pools are not healthy.
Most AKC breeds have gene pools where the average coefficient of inbreeding—a measure of how related dogs are) is the equivalent of breeding full siblings or worse.
Inbreeding is also linked to reduced MHC diversity, which is an indication of immune system health.
Several factors contribute to our health genetic diversity. That includes
Having an open stud book, or open gene pool. Most breeds have closed stud books, which means no new genetics can every be brought into the breed. It's nearly impossible in most breeds to find dogs that are not related. The Goldendoodle Association is adamant about keeping our gene pool open so that we can maintain healthy genetic diversity.
Cross breeding. Goldendoodles are a cross of two breeds, Poodles and Golden Retrievers. We gain immense genetic diversity benefits from our cross. And since our gene pool is open, we can always bring in new blood through both foundation breeds. Moreover, while Poodles are all considered one breed, toy, mini, moyen and standard poodles are different sizes and are very rarely interbred, which means that they loose the potential for diversity, but since we cross breed, we gain the added diversity of the all sub-breeds.
Genetic analysis. We are so grateful to live in a time where we have the ability to determine relatedness in dogs not just from flawed and sometimes inaccurate or misleading pedigrees, but also from genetic analysis. We are now able to look at the MHC diversity of our dogs (indicator of immune health) as well as the inbreeding coefficient (COI), which tells us how inbred the dog is or how closely related their parents are. Even better, we now have the ability to have genetic estimate performed for breeding pairs to estimate the COI of a litter. We strive for COIs in the low single digits, the known range for prevention of health issues imacted by genetic diversity.
So while we can't prevent all bad things from happening, as you can see we go to great lengths to reduce the risk of heritable diseases and conditios as much as possible. There's a tremendous difference in the risk you take in getting a puppy with no or inadequate health clearances versus thorough clearances like we perform.