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"No Matter What You Are Told, No Breeding Line is Free of Health Problems"

If you are told a breeding line is free of health problems, do not believe it - it is idyllic and not at all true! Any person who tells you this is either not thorough enough in his/her research, has not been breeding long enough to learn about the pedigrees, or is just plain outright lying - so be overly cautious. (From statements by Peggy Adamson, renowned Doberman Judge and breeder)

One of the most critical things to consider when breeding a litter of Dobermans is health and longevity. These two things are not synonymous, nor are they mutually exclusive, so it is extremely important to consider both factors when making a breeding decision.

With the average life expectancy of Dobermans being under 10 years of age, it is becoming increasingly important for breeders to pay more attention to hereditary diseases. Some common diseases affecting Dobermans are cardiomyopathy, cancer, hypothyroidism, and Cervical Vestibular Instability (Wobbler's). Less serious are von Willebrand's Disease and eye diseases.

Cardiomyopathy is the big killer in Dobermans, being the #1 cause of death in males and the #3 cause in females. It is a disease which affects the heart, and once diagnosed a dog can only expect to live for about 3 to 6 months. There are some screens in place to diagnose this disease, but due to its complexity there is no definitive (i.e. DNA) test.

Researchers are working on identifying a DNA marker to accurately diagnose this disease. The most reliable test we have right now is the holter monitor. This device is strapped onto the dog., and it monitors and records the beating of the heart over a 24 hour period. The data is recorded on a cassette tape and sent to the researchers to study. This test should be done annually.

Cancer is the #1 cause of death in female Dobermans, with the most common being mammary. The spay procedure can reduce the probability of cancer by up to 90%. Therefore, it is recommended that all non-breeding stock be spayed to reduce the likelihood of cancer. As in humans, there is no genetic test to determine if a dog will develop cancer, so we must rely on pedigree research. Vets and other animal specialists are investigating the links between cancer and nutrition and over vaccinating.

Cervical Vestibular Instability (CVI or Wobbler's) is a disease affecting the spine and neck of a dog. It is a disease primarily found in Dobermans and Great Danes as well as some breeds of horses. Most often, Dobermans will be affected with this disease between the ages of 4 and 5. Although it is the neck area or the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae that are affected, an affected dog will initially lose movement in its rear and will actually "wobble"; when trying to maintain its balance.

As the disease progresses, the dog will become more limited in its movement and is often in extensive pain. The pain can be controlled with steroids, and the dog can maintain a moderate quality of life if precautions are taken. Exercise should be limited, stairs should be avoided and no pressure should EVER be placed on the neck (so no collars should be used). For this reason, not a lot of research has been conducted on CVI.

Hypothyroidism in Dobermans is much the same as in humans. Affecting the thyroid gland, it can have devastating effects on an affected dog. Symptoms include shedding, poor coat, and in extreme cases fainting. The disease rarely results in death in Dobermans, but is something to consider when breeding, as daily supplementation can be required for an affected dog. This can be both expensive and a nuisance over time.

An annual complete thyroid panel (checking the levels of TSH, T4, T3, Free T3, Free T4 and Thyroxin) should be conducted on dogs to ensure proper maintenance and control of the thyroid. This disease is believed to be genetic, and some bloodlines are heavily affected with it while others remain relatively clear. An interesting bit of information is that red Dobermans are more often affected than black Dobermans.

The Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) is an organization that certifies dogs that have tested clear for genetically transmitted eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma. Exams should be done annually and submitted to CERF for current registration. Dobermans are much less prone to eye diseases than other breeds.

Hip dysplasia affects many breeds of purebred dogs. Hip x-rays can be taken at any age. X-rays should be taken by a qualified vet/radiologist and then sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to receive a registration number and a rating. If the dog is less than 24 months of age, a preliminary result will be issued, but for the result to be considered final, the dog must be more than 24 months of age when the x-rays are taken. To get a rating, three qualified radiologists from the OFA read the x-ray (2 for a preliminary result).

Possible ratings are: excellent, good, fair, borderline and dysplastic (levels I, II, III). Once a dog receives an OFA number, this result is considered the dog's final evaluation. OFA houses the largest animal health database in the world. They have a public registry for hip and elbow dysplasia, VWD, Thyroid, CERF and cardiomyopathy. However, only dogs that have passed these tests are recorded in the database.

It is the responsibility of the owners to submit their dogs' results to OFA and to authorize OFA to make this information public. However, it is still an excellent source of information.

Von Willebrand's Disease (VWD) is a bleeding disorder affecting mainly Dobermans, Shelties, Scottish Terriers, Manchester Terriers, Corgis and Poodles. Some of these breeds suffer from Type 3 VWD, which is an extremely serious form of the condition where dogs can spontaneously bleed. It can be a death sentence for a dog. Luckily, Dobermans are not in this category.

Dobermans suffer from Type 1 VWD where they may be genetically affected with the disease but rarely exhibit signs of bleeding. They will never bleed spontaneously because they still have von willebrand's factor circulating through their systems, and most bleeding can be easily and safely controlled.

There is a DNA test for vWd. The disease is a simple recessive disorder, which has made a DNA test much easier to identify. Every dog has two genes for VWD. Each of these genes may be a clear gene or an affected gene. Dogs who carry two copies of the clear gene are considered CLEAR, dogs with two copies of the affected gene are considered AFFECTED and dogs with one copy of each gene are considered CARRIERS. Please note that affected dogs RARELY exhibit clinical signs of the disease. Also note that carriers do not actually carry the disease, but rather carry one copy of the gene. They will not exhibit ANY clinical signs of the disease.

Breeding two clear dogs is optimal, however this should not be the only criteria for selecting a breeding pair. Temperament, longevity and conformation as well as pedigrees MUST be considered too.

There is yet another complexity to making a breeding decision: longevity. This is a CRITICAL factor to consider since some dogs may test clear for all diseases and yet come from a pedigree where the average life span is 7 years of age. Conversely, a dog may test positive for hypothyroidism yet come from a line of 13 and 14 year old relatives.

When talking about cardio, cancer or CVI ("The Big Three"), a dog who tests positive and/or dies of one of these genetic diseases has often contributed to the gene pool prior to the diagnosis or death. By the time the diagnosis is made, 3 or more generations of progeny can be alive and well. At this stage, it is unrealistic for a breeder to toss out all of the dogs in his/her breeding program and start again with new dogs who may have the same health problems or even more! It is for these reasons that the entire dog and pedigree must be considered prior to making a breeding decision.

Given all of the information presented above, it is important to consider both the health results of a given dog as well as the overall longevity represented in the pedigree. For certain tests there are definitive results: vwd and hip dysplasia. For most, however, there is no surefire way of knowing if a dog will ever develop the disease.

Cardio, cancer, CVI, eye disease and hypothyroidism all qualify here. The best we can do is to ensure that these tests have been passed at the time of breeding and that there are minimal occurrences of these diseases in the bloodline and pedigree.

OFA houses the largest animal health database in the world. They have a public registry for hip and elbow dysplasia, VWD, Thyroid, CERF and cardiomyopathy. However, only dogs who have passed these tests are recorded in the database.

It is the responsibility of the owners to submit their dogs' results to OFA and to authorize OFA to make this information public. However, it is still an excellent source of information.