Hereditary Diseases

Today I saw a beautiful one year old big, healthy laborador that the owners felt was sitting funny and seemed slow in the morning after sleep.  X-rays revealed an advanced arthritic process in her left hip caused by an inherited disease called hip dysplasia.  This disease results in a loose hip joint and leads to debilitating arthritic changes.  Based on the severity of the damage, treatment ranges from a lifetime of supplements and/or anti inflammatory drugs (with potential side effects), or surgeries. A total hip replacement is the procedure of choice but costs several thousand dollars.  Another salvage procedure can be done where the joint is virtually removed with the intent of removing the source of pain.  

The sad part of this story is that all of this could have been avoided.  This is a known hereditary disease with several genes involved.  Potential parents should be x-rayed as young adults to verify that they have sound hips. The next step is to get the x-rays approved by one of the two foundations that are dedicated to reading them, Penn Hips and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Once processed these potential parents can be bred with an over 90% chance that all their progeny will have healthy sound hips. We also usually x-ray their elbows for potential elbow dysplasia.

The problem could also have been avoided if the owners had known the right questions to ask when looking for a puppy.

A multitude of hereditary diseases exist with many being specific to the breed and others showing up in multiple breeds such as hip dysplasia in large breed dogs.  Many of these diseases now have testing available to make sure parents are not genetic carriers. So, what can you do to avoid make sure you purchase a healthy, happy puppy?

  1. Research.  Nowadays the internet is a cornucopia of information. Yes, you can still get plenty of bad info. but generally good information can be had at sites associated with university veterinary colleges and breed associations.

  2. Contact us for help.  We can advise and coach you with the appropriate pet for your family and the pitfalls of specific breeds.  

  3. Armed with knowledge you can ask the right questions to the breeder. Ask before you actually see the puppies so you don’t get emotionally attached at first sight (as we all do).  If they don’t give you the answers you want to hear or are "wishy washy" with their answers, bid them adieu and move on.

  4. Stay away from "puppy mill" scenarios.  These include many pet shops, people advertising many breeds for sale, farms filled with kennels that are unkempt, and, unfortunately, Amish farmers/breeders in this area.   

  5. Get your new puppy in to us for a health exam.

  6. Skip all this and go to a reputable shelter and purchase a rescue.  This is not without problems because you don’t know the history of the puppy.  Many of the dogs/puppies are brought to these shelters due to behavioural problems. But generally most mixed breeds have very few hereditary diseases.

So, do your research and seek out reputable breeders and don’t be afraid to seek our help. You don’t have to pay show quality prices to get a sound, healthy pet but generally you will have to pay a little more because the breeders have gone to extra expense to assure you of a healthy puppy.  Generally, but not always, when it comes to puppies, you get what you pay for.

Oh, and that can apply to veterinary services also!

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