The Paw Print Genetics Blog

Why Canine Genetic Testing is so Valuable

Why Canine Genetic Testing is so Valuable

As a continuation of my last blog related to reasons that breeders give for not needing to do genetic testing, I felt that one of these deserved an entire blog of its own. Some breeders will say, "no problem has ever occurred in this family of dogs and I have been breeding this line for 20, 30, 40 years. I don't need to do genetic testing." From my perspective, these breeders either have not been looking very hard, aren't being particularly forthcoming, or denial is a wonderful thing (and a river in Egypt). When I started getting involved in what was referred to as a "very healthy breed" (per the people who had been breeding them for 20, 30, 40 years), I recognized 3 problems in my first 2 dogs that I would consider "genetic". I had not been told to look out for or ask about any of these issues in my extensive research on the health of the breed. In fact as I was at the breeder's home being told of this issue in my new puppy's mother and grandmother I was thinking, "Gee, that is a genetic problem that no one ever told me to ask about." Two years later two of her littermates had died due to the complications of this issue and yet, 17 years later, this issue is still not acknowledged as "genetic." People did acknowledge that the condition occurred "in the breed" but failed to acknowledge a genetic connection to the occurrence of the condition. It was labeled as "just a breed problem" or "that problem is just due to the size of the breed." The other was not acknowledged to occur in the breed at all, but I later discovered that people would whisper here or there about this dog or that puppy with the defect. I spoke pretty openly about the second problem including my experience with the female that I had bred that produced a puppy with the issue (I had not gotten the memo that this was a big no-no in certain parts of the dog world). Interestingly, it was ultimately dubbed by many as "just her dogs have this issue." Even more interestingly, the problem was identified as a significant concern in the breed in Germany about 7 years later and screening has been instituted throughout Europe. It is still not acknowledged in the US by the breed club as a specific issue in the breed. It does not appear to be common but that is difficult to say because an affected puppy could die young and go undiagnosed. It no doubt exists since reports of symptomatic dogs exist back many generations in US bred lines. The frustrating thing is, how many affected dogs could be avoided if people could readily speak openly about health issues that occur in their dogs/puppies? For whatever reason when a dog or puppy with a health issue is produced there seems to be a natural tendency to blame the breeder of the dog(s) for that problem. Instead of people applauding others for speaking up about an issue, in many breeds such people are castigated and blamed. Those who highlight only the good health of their dogs are applauded while those who speak honestly and openly about any negative aspect of their dogs are quite often ridiculed for having experienced "issues." From my perspective this is just the opposite from the approach that would be best for the dogs and the breeds. To be fair, there are some breeds that have been extremely proactive as a group in openly discussing and addressing the health issues that have cropped up in their dogs and in fostering an environment where such problems are openly discussed. As I have said before, the occurrence of health issues is an inevitable reality. If an environment of sharing can be fostered, issues can potentially be caught earlier rather than later (earlier being when fewer affected dogs have been produced). As a health issue is recognized and acknowledged many things can be done to address the issue. One, if a condition is difficult to recognize or diagnose, people who know there may be a risk have the potential to accurately diagnose affected animals. Two, as affected dogs are identified across the breed, breeding measures can be instituted to minimize the risk. Three, since many of the health issues in dogs mimic health issues found in humans, human research dollars can be accessed in addition to canine research dollars to identify the genetics of the condition. With this acknowledgment of disease, a causative gene mutation can potentially be identified to allow for genetic testing (as has occurred with so many of the disorders for which Paw Print Genetics offers testing). The ultimate subsequent benefit can be for both humans and dogs. One example (and there are many) is a disorder referred to as congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB) found in Briards. The gene mutation is in the same gene as a condition in humans called Leber congenital amaurosis type 2. Since this gene has been identified, researchers have been able to go steps further and use this discovery to attempt gene therapy on affected dogs with ultimate success in restoring vision in affected dogs. These are exciting results regarding the potential to treat children affected with this and other forms of hereditary vision loss while the availability of genetic testing has allowed Briard breeders to avoid producing affected puppies. A win-win for all involved. If people truly develop an understanding of health and genetics and acknowledge that genetic issues are a part of life and a part of breeding, an open environment of sharing information can be used to the greatest benefit of all especially the dogs. In some cases, the genetic diseases that Paw Print Genetics is offering testing for are conditions that many people in the breed have not heard of, but each of the gene mutations have specifically been identified in certain dogs of the breed. Screening for uncommon issues when the prevalence is low and few affected dogs have been produced can prevent the issue from becoming spread throughout the breed. Should a particularly lovely and talented male happen to carry an uncommon recessive gene mutation, this can be spread throughout the breed rapidly and not be identified until it has been passed to many offspring in many lines. Identification of and testing for a condition before it becomes widespread is a valuable option for breeders.