Why Health Testing is Important
Professional breeders are often asked: “Why are your puppies so much more expensive than other puppies I’ve seen? And what exactly is health testing?” After all, what difference does health testing make and why do it?
For the average pet owner who just wants a dog to love, the idea of health testing can be a foreign idea. Most pet lovers look at a dog and say, “He looks just fine so he must be healthy.”
But just because a dog “looks okay” doesn’t mean that the dog is structurally sound. For example, not all dogs afflicted with hip or elbow dysplasia limp. Some will never limp or only barely limp; whereas others will be barely able to move without pain. Without proper health testing, a breeder can unintentionally breed a dog afflicted with dysplasia and pass the potentially crippling condition onto the puppies and unsuspecting buyers.
When people call us to inquire about a puppy, we often hear heartbreaking stories about their last Labrador, who may have had health issues like hip dysplasia… The physical pain their dog endured, along with emotional and financial pain it caused the owner brings them to the point they say, “Next time, I’m going to be more deliberate about shopping for a puppy… I want to stack the deck in my favor genetically.” Generally, that’s why they call us.
While testing is not foolproof, it does provide breeders with data that helps them to make intelligent breeding decisions, and to minimize the risk of breeding dogs with relatively avoidable health conditions. The breeder’s cost of testing his dogs for several genetic issues is significant… And armed with the resulting data, he will occasionally have to cull particular dogs from the breeding program.
For the dog owner, surgical corrections for a dog with dysplasia can cost from $3,000-$5,000 minimum, and less invasive alternative therapies like hydrotherapy, physical therapy, or cold laser therapy (along with pain medication) can still cost thousands of dollars.
Every breed of purebred dogs has a known group of diseases for which their breed is at risk. There aren’t tests for everything, but new tests are continually being developed. It is important to test for what we are currently able to so that we can continually reduce the likelihood of those conditions, while also staying current on advancements in genetic testing.
Some diseases can be eliminated from a breeding program altogether by DNA testing. Some of these include Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC), Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM) and potential eye conditions such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). Responsible breeders utilize the available DNA tests so that they can produce puppies and dogs that won’t be affected by these diseases.
So back to the question, “Why are your puppies so much more expensive?” The difference between that $350 newspaper puppy and the $1,600 well-bred puppy is often based on generations of health testing, and the corresponding impact it makes on the lifespan and quality of life that puppy.
Most “newspaper puppy sellers” have never heard of OFA, CERF, DNA tests or anything other than a simple veterinarian puppy exam. Even a thoroughly trained and careful veterinarian will not be able to catch every genetic health issue at an 8 week puppy exam.
These health tests produce healthier puppies and healthier adult dogs that are able to live active lives without being burdened by pain, discomfort or handicaps. A genetically sound puppy may cost a bit more on the front end, but it will cost far less than a lifetime of veterinary care, and spare both the dog and his owner a lot of pain.
As a breeder, using the data gleaned from genetic testing to make wise breeding decisions is what we owe the dogs we produce and families in whom we invest our genetics.