Our goal is to breed healthy dogs so these results are the most important of all. It is very challenging analysing the results because every breeder wants to believe that their dogs don’t have any health problems – and every problem is painful to read about. I would love to be able to say we have no health problems but the only way to be able to say that is to never ask the questions
In the first survey we asked people whether their dog had been to a vet for “acute” health problems (conditions that occurred once or as a single episode) and “chronic” health problems which were recurrent through the dogs life. If the survey shows one thing it is the importance of health insurance!
We found that, as one would expect, all health problems increased with age, but even young dogs get into trouble. 45.3% of dogs under 5 had never had any health problems but the remaining 54.7% had been to the vet for a range of acute health problems which included a range of accidents and injuries. With advancing age problems increase as can be seen in this chart and chronic problems(red) rise steadily:
In the 2016 longevity survey we looked at specific chronic conditions and related these to age of onset. This graph explains why we saw what the raw data seemed to suggest to be an alarming level of arthritis in our dogs in this survey. Arthritis is very common in dogs over 14 years of age and half of our dogs live to over 14 years( see Longevity)
In 2014 a large study of the health of purebred and crossbred dogs in the UK and Australia looked at the incidence of different problems presenting to veterinary surgeries.
I have compared our dog with their figures on the prevalence of particular conditions in all dogs in the study (my apologies to the authors as I’ve lumped a few things together – fortunately my analysis isn’t peer reviewed).
The graph below is very busy but I hope it will make sense! The blue column is the results from the 2014 health survey, the red is the prevalence in all of the dog reported in our survey and the green column is the proportion of these conditions in our dogs who went to the vet for any reason. What this comparison shows is that for a whole range of problems our dogs perform very well.
Over 30% of our dogs present to the vet for conditions I have lumped as “miscellaneous accidents” which include dog bites, lacerations, choking, obstructions, tick and snake bites, bee stings, fractures and other injuries. These are the problems normal healthy dogs go to the vet for and can’t be attributed to breeding (except maybe they’re accident prone?). This is three times higher than the figures from the UK study.
They have very few problems with anal glands, nails or heart disease, lipomas (fatty skin lumps) or conjunctivitis.These are all common problems afflicting pet dogs in the UK study. Their dental health is excellent. Dental problems are the second most common reason for dogs in the 2014 study but we saw very few dental problems in our survey. Dental problems are potentially a serious cause of chronic disease in older dogs – they are more likely to develop cardiac lesions and kidney disease – common causes of death in older dogs
What they do have however is a higher than expected prevalence of ear problems.
Ears and Skin:
It is difficult to obtain clear prevalence data on skin and ear problems however it appears from the data from the UK study showed ear problems to be the single most common reason for dogs to present to the vet – at 10% of all presentations. Dogs were designed by nature to have ears like Dingos and so dropped ears are more likely to develop ear problems.
In our 2011-13 survey the prevalence was 12.6% of all our dogs and 18.6% of our dogs presenting for veterinary treatment had ear problems. The 2016 survey indicates that half our dogs will present to a vet at least once in their life for ear problems.
This is largely a problem related to the conformation of our dogs and of all Poodles and their Oodle relations so this result is probably to be expected in all retriever/poodle mixed breeds.. Floppy ears, particularly if they have hairy ear canals will predispose dogs to ear problems. All the breeds in our cross breds have lop ears (which are dominant to pricked ears) so it is impossible to breed prick eared Oodles (and they may look a little strange). We can and do select against dogs with very hairy ear canals but this characteristic is common in poodles and can’t be completely eliminated. Keeping the amount of Poodle in our crossbreds to no more than 50% is our best chance of minimising this problem.
The 2016 survey identified a significantly higher incidence of ear problems in dogs fed only dry dog food, compared with dogs fed a mix of wet and dry food and scraps. For this reason I now use “grain free” commercial food for my puppies. Increasingly there is evidence that highly processed foods are implicated in human allergy and immune related diseases and recent research on the importance of a mixed diet in maintaining healthy gut flora should be an area for research in canine nutrition.
Recurrent skin problems were 1% higher in our dogs than in the UK report. I looked at our figures more closely and found that of the 12.6% of dogs reported to have ear problems, we found single episodes of ear problems in 4.4% of dogs, and of the dogs with recurrent ear problems of the remaining 8.2% – 4% had other skin problems as well, suggesting that a significant proportion of these problems are probably allergy related (although unfortunately I didn’t ask this question specifically).
These problems appear to arise across all the breed combinations surveyed. With this in mind I have reconsidered my feeding advice for my dogs and now recommend a diet based on real food, rather than just canned or ultra processed dry food, and I encourage omega-3 fatty acid supplementation of all dogs rather than only dogs with allergic skin problems. I have prepared some advice on the management of itchy skin which you can read in this article: Managing Itchy Skin.
Arthritis in old age is a common occurrence in dogs and is an inflammatory disease which is common in western humans and their dogs. Increasingly, diets which promote inflammation are being identified as a major factor in human disease. There are some specific conditions which are likely to cause arthritis which we looked at in the survey:
Hip Dysplasia (HD) refers to a conformational defect which produces a loose connection in the canine hip joint. It has a strong “breed predisposition” indicating a genetic component to the disease. It is a disease which causes serious arthritis issues in Labradors and Golden Retrievers and has been reported to affect from 53% – 73% of dogs in these breeds. Hip Dysplasia was one of the conditions I considered in my initial thoughts about cross breeding.
In our survey we encountered 5 cases of diagnosed Hip Dysplasia which represents a prevalence of 1%. This was encouraging and consistent with my records of reported cases over the last 20 years. I believe that this confirms my view that complementary crossbreeding can effectively control this problem.
In the past we have screened our dogs for HD but as the evidenc accumulated of the low prevalence of the condition in our crossbreds, I did not do this routinely. Although I seriously doubt that that screening will improve our figures we now routinely screen our Golden Retrievers, Retriever cross and male Moyen Poodles at 12 months of age.
Cranial Cuciate Ligament (CCL) Injury
CCL injury (often called anterior cruciate ligament or ACL as it is in humans) is a common injury to the knees of dogs. It usually ovccurs in dogs from 7-10 years of age and occurs most commonly in large breed dog. Dogs over 22 kg are more likely to develop CCL injury at an earlier age.
The prevalence of CCL injury was reported in a 2004 study to be 3.48% of all dogs with a 2.25% in entire dogs and a 4.71% incidence in desexed dogs. There are some reports suggesting that desexed females are twice as likely as entire female to develop CCL injury. Trauma alone is responsible for approximately 20% of all CCL injury.
All our dogs are desexed and we found that the the prevalence of CCL injury in our survey was 4.6% which is higher than we would like to see but is consistent with the findings for desexed dogs in the 2004 survey
Some authors argue that early desexing may be increase the risk of CCL injury risk but one 1993 review found no link with age of desexing and I can find no research to support this. I have read several rebuttals of this opinion and our figures do not support the contention that early desexing increases the risk of CCL injury.
Treatment of CCL is controversial – especially in dogs under 15kg – in these dogs the efficacy of surgery in CCL injury has been difficult to show. 85% of dogs less than 15kg will have satisfactory outcomes with conservative therapy (diet, pain relief and appropriate exercise). A conservative approach to treatment, at least in smaller dogs, is to restrict your dogs exercise for 6-8 weeks to allow pain and swelling to subside and then reassess whether surgery is necessary.
Urinary tract problems
Because our dogs are desexed at a very early age (Early Age Gonadectomy(EAG)) I was most concerned to determine whether they were experiencing urinary tract problems,
The incidence in desexed female dogs reported in the literature ranges – from 5.12% in one retrospective study – to Ettinger (a veterinary bible) reporting: “Urinary incontinence can affect up to one out of five spayed female dogs(20%!), and develops an average of 2.9 years after the dog has been spayed”
The most quoted research paper on EAG (Spain et al, 2004) showed an incidence of 12.9% in EAG female dogs under 5 years of age compared with only 5% in dogs up to 5 years old desexed after 5 months of age. This has led to a recommendation from many veterinarians that female dogs should not be desexed before 4 months of age. The RSPCA supports EAG and has written a review paper on this practice however I was anxious to see what our survey showed.
In our survey we had 5 reports of urinary incontinence (or 2.7% of respondents’ female dogs), one of which occurred in a young dog. This is consistent with an earlier survey carried out in 1999 and with feedback from my owners since then. This incidence is much lower than the prevalence reported in other studies. Rather than leap to the conclusion that early desexing reduces the likelihood of the urinary incontinence in my female dogs, I believe that the favourable result relates to the effects of crossbreeding and the reported low incidence of obesity in our dogs (5%).
We had one report of a recessed vulva (causing a urinary infection and constant licking) which some researchers suggests is a greater risk in early desexed females, however I couldn’t find any data to support this claim.
Recessed vulvas appear to be a conformational problem related to breed and so having a genetic basis. Early desexing doesn’t cause a recessed vulva, but going though normal heat cycles may correct the problem if the bitch is not speyed before puberty. The normal practice of desexing at 6 months would not be protective in this case.
We have established that early surgery is simple and effective in correcting this problem. We have a very low prevalence of recessed vulva, but we now check carefully and perform corrective surgery in the occasional puppy that seems excessively recessed.
Other health problems
We identified several serious health problems: Epilepsy, Glaucoma and autoimmune diseases . In all these conditions there is no effective screening program and problems that arise can only be identified with hindsight
The prevalence of canine epilepsy has been reported in the UK as 0.62%. In the survey we recorded 8 affected dogs or 1.5%. This is a disappointing result. Epilepsy appears to be inherited in a “polygenic recessive mode” which means that several genes are involved and these only show up when the genes are all present on both chromosomes. There have been single genes identified in some breeds but in Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Poodles there are no tests yet available to screen for the genes involved.
It is reported that up to 30% of dogs with epilepsy are “refractory to treatment” – that is they are not controlled with normal anti epileptic medication. In the last 22 years we have had one dog returned because of uncontrolled epilepsy. Fortunately it appears that the affected dogs in our survey were all effectively maintained on anti epileptic drugs and some required no medication.
On the plus side we have identified the dogs known to be carriers and they are no longer involved in our breeding program.
The prevalence of glaucoma (a disease causing increased pressure in the eye) in dogs is quite high in – 0.89% of all dogs in a North American study, with estimates in Australia from 0.6% to 1%. It is predisposed by structural abnormalities in the anterior chamber of the eye which, with age, can cause obstruction in the fluid drainage from the eye leading to a painful build up of pressure which usually results in blindness – eventually in both eyes.
We have seen a similar incidence of this problem with 4 dogs reported in the survey (0.8%). In my 22 years of breeding approximately 100 puppies a year I have become aware of 13 cases of glaucoma – a total incidence of 0.6%, which is consistent with the findings in our survey.
Glaucoma is a horrible disease because it is painful and because most dogs affected will have one eye removed. The battle to save their second eye will involve repeated and expensive surgical intervention and a lifetime of medication. Some owners have chosen not to follow this course and have had both of their dog’s eyes removed – leaving their dog completely blind, but pain and drug free. This is a terrible choice to make, but sightless dogs can live full and rewarding lives. Here is one of our dogs, Molly aged 12, who lost her sight when she was six years old:
Glaucoma is challenging problem for breeders because it doesn’t occur until the dog reaches 6-7 years of age – by which time the parents will be retired from breeding.
Gonioscopy (examination of the anterior chamber by an eye specialist) can detect changes in the anterior chamber which predispose to the condition, however some dogs with apparently normal eyes can develop the disease and some abnormal eyes may never develop the problem.
We no longer have any dogs in our breeding program who have bred this disease. All our dogs have had full eye exams including gonioscopic examinations and have been found to be clear of any eye abnormalities, BUT this will never guarantee that the problem will not arise again.
We found a 1% incidence of cataracts in the older dogs in the survey, which was encouraging as cataracts are reported in one study in North America to affect 16.8% of dogs over 7 years of age
There were 4 dogs (0.8%) who were severely affected by autoimmune disease affecting the blood. This is a concern, which at this stage seems impossible to prevent. None of the dogs in the survey were related and there are no screening tests yet available to detect a predisposition to these problems.