There are a number of different considerations when choosing which dogs to use for breeding, these include:
Responsible breeders will consider the health of their puppies to be a priority, increasing the probability that healthy puppies will go on to live long and happy lives.
Another concern is the breeding of pedigree dogs for specific exaggerated features. Humans have changed the way dogs look and act by choosing which dogs to breed together. This is called Selective Breeding. Many pedigree dogs of different breeds experience compromised welfare due to selective breeding. Some have physical conformation which can result in disability, behavioural problems or pain, and therefore unnecessary suffering and reduced quality of life.
Society has become desensitised to these welfare issues to such an extent that the production of anatomically deformed dogs is neither shocking or considered abnormal. Dogs are regularly bred whose heads are too large to give birth naturally, or have a much greater risk of inheriting a heart problem, or whose faces are so flat that they will not be able to breathe or exercise normally. These are just three examples among many. Selective breeding of pedigree dogs by people has caused this problem, so we have a moral obligation to solve it.
Only breed from dogs whose anatomy, temperament and genetic predisposition for disease or disorder make them likely to produce puppies which will have a high quality of life, free from pain and suffering.
Only breed dogs to meet current demand so that each puppy can be successfully homed in a suitable and caring environment.
It is important that you take into consideration all health test results, the general health of each parent, the temperament of the dogs and the look of the dogs as well as the results of any breeding dog’s parents, grandparents, siblings and previous offspring.
Breeders of crossbred dogs should look at the health information for each breed that makes up their dog. If you are thinking of breeding a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle, for example, you should consider carrying out all of the tests for both breeds: BVA/KC Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Schemes, BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Scheme, DNA tests, and breed club recommendations.
All dogs are at risk of inheriting diseases, regardless of whether they are purebred or crossbred dogs. A substantial amount of research has been carried out to analyse these diseases by investigating important factors, such as what causes them, which breeds may be affected and how the disease is inherited. Funding into this type of research has enabled the development of tests and screening schemes, and resources which allow breeders to help reduce the number of affected dogs and eventually eradicate these conditions.
Where DNA tests and screening schemes are available, breeders are able to test their breeding stock for these inherited diseases before the dogs are bred from. Testing all potential breeding stock allows breeders to better understand the kind of genes a dog may pass on to its offspring, giving them the information required to avoid producing clinically affected puppies. Making informed decisions from health test results enables breeders to adapt their breeding programmes and reduce the risk of the diseases appearing in future generations.
Not all inherited conditions are congenital, i.e. present at birth. Sometimes an inherited disease does not develop until later in its life. DNA and screening tests can detect these conditions before they are actually noticeable in your dog. Before breeding, check whether any inherited disorders affect your breed. Speak to your vet about having your dog tested for the conditions relevant to your particular breed.
BVA and the Kennel Club work in partnership to provide a number of health screening programmes - the Canine Health Schemes (CHS). These enable breeders to screen for a range of inherited diseases so they can make informed decisions as to whether those dogs should be included in breeding programmes.
Hip Dysplasia is a common inherited orthopaedic problem of dogs. Abnormal development of the structures that make up the hip joint leads to joint deformity. ‘Dysplasia’ means abnormal growth. The developmental changes appear first and later one or both hip joints may become mechanically defective. At this stage the joint(s) may be painful and cause lameness. In extreme cases the dog may find movement very difficult and may suffer considerably. It is generally accepted that Hip Dysplasia is more common in larger breeds including large cross breeds. Common examples include:
Elbow Dysplasia simply means ‘abnormal development of the elbow’. The term includes a number of specific abnormalities that affect different sites within the joint. These cause problems by affecting the growth of the cartilage which forms the surface of the joint or the structures around it. Elbow Dysplasia has been identified as a significant problem in many breeds. Importantly, the condition appears to be increasing worldwide. It begins in puppyhood, and can affect the dog for the rest of its life.
Dogs in which Elbow Dysplasia caused lameness are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Their lameness makes their condition obvious. However, there are many dogs with subclinical disease that have an increased risk of producing offspring with Elbow Dysplasia. These animals are not obvious and can only be detected by screening. In general, medium and large breed dogs (including medium and large crossbreeds) are considered to be most vulnerable to Elbow Dysplasia, although the condition has been found in some smaller breeds. Some common breeds at risk are:
Elbow dysplasia has a strong genetic component and so screening of dogs’ elbows by radiography (x-ray) and grading the changes will help breeders to select the most suitable dogs for breeding.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) screening programme for hereditary eye disease in dogs is run in conjunction with the Kennel Club (KC) and the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS). The scheme is based on eye examination and is a means of identifying inherited and non-inherited ocular conditions in dogs. The majority of dogs presented for examination under the Eye Scheme are pedigree dogs with known inherited diseases of the eye, but all dogs, including cross breeds, can be examined. This approach reassures breeders that the dogs they are to use for breeding have healthy eyes and the inclusive approach means that new and emerging problems are more likely to be recognised. The aim of the Eye Scheme is to reduce or eliminate the incidence of inherited eye disease.
Syringomyelia (SM) is a neurological condition most often seen in the Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The condition is often attributed to Chiari-like malformation (CM) and is characterised by the development of one or more fluid filled cavities within the spinal cord due to abnormal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. The purpose of the BVA/KC CM/SM Scheme is to reduce or eliminate the incidence of inherited CM and SM in dogs.
See the BVA Website for further details of these health schemes:
DNA testing your dog before breeding, and checking the DNA of suitable mates, can have huge positive health implications for both your puppies and potentially the health and welfare of the breed as a whole. Inherited diseases, passed from one generation of dog to the next, can cause terrible suffering. Many conditions have symptoms distressing for both the dog and the owner, are untreatable and often shorten the life span of the dog.
These hereditary diseases are caused by mutations, changes to the DNA, which prevent the gene from working normally and lead to the onset of the disease in affected dogs. These mutations arise spontaneously, but, once in the population, will be passed down the generations.
With responsible breeding and DNA testing, the prevalence of these hereditary diseases can be greatly reduced, or in some cases, eradicated completely from a breed; meaning fewer dogs need suffer from painful neurological conditions or hereditary blindness, for example. In many of these diseases two copies of the faulty gene, one inherited from each parent, need to be present for a dog to be affected with the disorder. However, dogs with only one copy of the faulty gene (and one copy of the normal, working, gene) will not show symptoms but will pass the faulty gene to around 50% of their pups. When two of these "carriers" are mated, affected pups may be born who have two copies of the faulty gene. So the most effective way to control a recessive disease is with DNA testing.
The Animal Health Trust (AHT) was one of the first laboratories in the world to offer DNA testing to dog owners. You can find a list of the canine DNA tests they offer on their website using an alphabetical index to select tests by breed:
The Kennel Club also provide an extensive list of breed specific health tests, and laboratories which perform the analysis:
If you have a question, please email us or call us on 0800 413 969. Our dedicated consumer care team are available to answer any questions you may have. If you are concerned about the immediate health of your pet, please seek the advice of your vet as soon as possible.Email us