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 alone 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
we know are heritable (can be inherited) and
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.
Pre-breeding health clearances 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.
Additionally, there are conditions that we know are genetic, but there may not yet be tests available, so we are unable to test for or warranty those conditions.
Some people think breeders should warranty everything and anything that can happen to their puppy. While we completely understand that this comes from the desire for their dear puppy to never have any health challenges, this is an unrealistic expectation to place on a breeder.
Puppies and dogs are living beings, and as such are subject to disease and injury. We do everything we can in the planning of our litters to reduce the risk of any conditions being passed down to our puppies, but there are many, many things in life that breeders have no control over and, therefore, are unable to warranty.
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 is associated with disc disease in breeds with short legs and long backs, but we rarely see this 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.
To try to cover those eye disorders that do not have an available genetic test, 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 correlated 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 for which there are no readily available screening tests
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 make an effort to reduce risks for these conditions.
This includes 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.
Since there are no readily commercially available pre-breeding screening tests for these conditions at this time, we are unable to warranty them.
Congenital defects, also known as birth defects, are disorders present at birth. They can be genetic, but this type of defect also includes structural conditions that resulted from development while in the womb.
There are over 400 known developmental disorders that can occur in dogs. These disorders can affect any body system. Some examples of these types of developmental disorders include hydrocephalus, cleft palate, hernias, portosystemic shunts ("liver shunts"), spina bifida, and innocent or chronic heart murmurs.
We take great care in providing our breeding dogs with a safe environment and not breeding lines known to be predisposed to congenital defects. Beyond that, congenital defects with no known and testable genetic component are out of our control, therefore we are unable to warranty them.
Dentition and "bite"
Our breed standard calls for a "scissor bite," and we breed toward this type of dentition. We specifically do not breed dogs with anything other than a good scissor bite, however, as with human children, not all of our puppies will have perfect dentition.
Breed standards represent the ideal dog. This is not a dog that exists, but one that we keep in our mind when we breed so that we are always working to keep the breed sound and better it when possible.
There are breed standards that call for bites other than scissor bites, including breeds such as Boxers, ShiTzus, King Charles Spaniels, and French Bulldogs.
This means that there's nothing wrong with a puppy that has a slight overbite, underbite, or other type of non-scissor bite. We just won't breed a dog with that type of dentition as we don't want to "favor" it and breed it in as a common physical feature.
Other types of conditions
There are other types of conditions that are minor or innocent that we don't warranty as they don't impact quality of life or cause serious health issues. These include conditions that are common in puppies, such as umbilical hernias, puppy UTIs, cryptorchidism, and puppy vaginitis.
Our puppies are on a departing protocol given to us by our veterinarian, and go home with a negative parasite test, however ALL puppies have parasites (yuck, we know!) so we are unable to warranty against parasites. We strongly recommend you talk to your veterinarian about placing your puppy on a parasite preventative to keep your puppy as parasite free as possible.
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.
Many 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 the genetic diversity in our dogs. That includes:
Having an open stud book, or open gene pool. Most breeds have closed stud books, which means no new genetics can ever be brought into the breed.
It's nearly impossible in many 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 all the breed varieties.
Genetic analysis. We are so grateful to live in a time where we have the ability to determine relatedness in dogs not just from 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 conditions 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.