The Importance of Health Testing

There are several differences between reputable Havanese breeders and those who would be considered a puppy mill or a backyard breeder.  Things like adherence to breed standards and breeding for the betterment of the breed rather than for profit, providing a clean and safe environment, willingness to take back a puppy at any time, accessibility for answering questions and helping with challenges, and the one I’d like to discuss today, health testing.

What is health testing and why do we do it?  Every breed of dog experiences a propensity for certain genetic faults.  For example, Cocker Spaniels can be prone to seizures.  Labrador Retrievers can have Activity Induced Collapse.  A lot of breeds suffer from hip dysplasia or eye problems.  The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals collects data on each breed and keeps statistics on how often they are affected by each disease or condition.  Then, based on the compiled data, recommendations are made on which health tests should be performed for each breed.  For Havanese, the recommended tests are an eye exam by a boarded ACVO Opthmalogist (CERF), hip dysplasia (OFA, OVC or PennHip), and patellar luxation.  The results of each test can be filed by the dog’s owner on the OFA website.  Any dog that does not pass all of the above tests should be spayed or neutered rather than be placed in a breeding program.  While health testing cannot totally eliminate these conditions from occurring, it can minimize the possibility.  Breeding healthy dogs = the healthiest puppies possible, which means less vet bills for you and more years with a happy, loving companion.

It all seems pretty straightforward, right?  Test your dogs for the genetic conditions they’re most prone to having and don’t breed any dog that fails any test.  But if you do your research, you’ll find a lot of breeders say their dogs are health tested, but do not actually follow the guidelines I’ve mentioned above.  These are the most common excuses given:

  • My dogs are checked by my veterinarian  —  Just like with human doctors, veterinarians can have specialties.  The vet you take your dog to is the canine equivalent of a human General Practioner.  “A General Practitioner (GP) is someone who is trained in a wide range of medicine and medical procedures, whereas a consultant undergoes specialty training in a specific field of medicine after completing the same basic medical training.”  This means that most vets do not have the training to be qualified to perform the above mentioned tests.  For example, when OFA does their evaluation for hip dysplasia, x-rays of that dog’s hips are independently evaluated by three board-certified veterinary radiologists.  Each radiologist’s scores are then averaged and a rating is given.  CERF testing needs to be performed by a board certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist.  BAER testing requires special equipment to evaluate the components of the external ear canal, middle/inner ear cavities, cranial nerve and selected areas of the brainstem.  Currently there are only 3 veterinarians in the entire state of North Carolina that own the device and one of those is the Vet School at NC State.  So no matter how good a breeder’s vet is, they are not qualified to perform all of the recommend testing!
  • It’s too expensive to have the testing done  —  It costs an average of $450-$600 to have all four of the above tests performed and recorded.  Other than CERF, which costs about $55 and is conducted annually, these tests only need to be given once.  Considering the average price of a Havanese puppy is $2,000 and an average dam will have 4 litters of 4, the cost of health testing is a very small percentage.
  • Health testing isn’t necessary because Havanese are a healthy breed  —  Havanese in general are a healthy breed, but in order to keep them that way, it is imperative that we only breed the healthiest dogs.  Otherwise we’ll end up having the same rate of health issues that plague breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels or German Shepherds.
  • Health testing doesn’t guarantee healthy puppies  —  No, unfortunately it doesn’t entirely eliminate these conditions from occurring.  But it does greatly minimize them.