There can be a lot of discussion about what makes a responsible breeder, but one thing pretty much everyone can agree on is health testing. It’s important.
But it can also be SO confusing if you’re new to it!
Health testing is the process of evaluating dogs for heritable diseases and conditions. Every breed of dog has some health concerns that should be tracked, and breeders should be making educated decisions about which dogs to breed and which pairings to make to minimize the risk of passing on those genes. Health testing breeding stock is the #1 prerequisite for being a responsible breeder.
How do you know what tests your breeder should be doing?
Check the “parent club” website. The parent club is the governing body for your breed in your country. There is a Canadian club for every Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) registered breed. Each club recommends certain tests for their breed. Some recommend more than others; it can vary greatly breed to breed. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals also lists recommended tests by breed. Most breeds are looking at cardiac, hips, elbows and eyes. Many will do more, some will do less.
If a breeder is not doing the minimum testing as laid out by their breed club for every breeding dog, do not walk, run.
How do you know if a breeder has done the testing?
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website lists dogs that have been tested through them. You can search for dogs from the kennel in question and see what tests have been done, and the results. There is a minimum age for some tests, and dogs who are not old enough to be properly tested should not be bred.
It can be confusing to look at all the abbreviations (CEA, PRA, DM, LEMP, the list goes on!) but take the time to full read up on your chosen breed’s club website is well worth the effort.
And talk to the breeder you are considering! Good breeders are going to be enthusiastic about educating you about the health of their breed, and want to be transparent about their testing procedures.
A note about things that can’t be tested for:
Not all health tests are guarantees, and not all health problems have a test.
While a dog can be definitively clear of Progressive Retinal Atrophy for example, there are other diseases where there are multiple genetic markers involved, and possible environmental factors as well.
Epilepsy is a good example of this, we have yet to develop a way of truly tracking and preventing it.
Behavioural problems like separation anxiety, sound sensitivity or obsessive compulsive disorder cannot be tested for, but breeders should still be taking steps to avoid producing dogs with mental health problems.
At the end of the day, no one can predict everything and sometimes shit happens. Breeding dogs can be a complex juggling act, and issues can arise through no fault of anyone’s. It is how breeders prevent the preventable and respond to unforeseen issues when they do arrive that makes them responsible.
You can be a responsible puppy buyer and set yourself up for the best chance at a happy, health puppy by researching your breed’s health before choosing a breeder, and doing your due diligence in vetting that breeder’s health testing!