Breed Issues and Why We Test
Congenital Health Issues
ALL dogs can have health problems. Just like people, certain health issues have been known to be passed from one generation to another. If you go to a doctor and tell them your parents were diabetic, the doctor will screen you carefully as your chances of developing diabetes is markedly higher than someone who has no history of family with that disease.
So, it is true in dogs.
Certain breeds of dogs have a higher prevalence of health issues. Even breeds deemed overall "healthy" breeds can have certain diseases and disorders that affect them more than another breed. That does NOT mean that mixed breed dogs (ie: mutts) are not affected by these problems. It only means that since you don't know the family history of that dog, that any diseases or disorders are a hidden surprise. Think of it as a child who is adopted and doesn't know who their birth parents are. Any familial issues are a mystery. So to be clear, when people say that mixed breed dogs are healthier, that is untrue. It is not an accurate comparison. It only means that you are not looking for issues that can be potentially passed on.
That being said, whippets are known to have higher incidents of several congenital diseases. These diseases DO run in certain pedigrees. Some of these diseases will have very little impact on the overall quality of life and "lovability" of a whippet. However, some of these diseases do have the potential to have catastrophic deadly consequences to the life of the dog. THAT is why we are so adamant in our view that a responsible breeder should only breed dogs that have current NORMAL results of the issues that affect that breed.
If a breeder says that the parents are health tested, you should ask to SEE those results. They will be printed on an OFA form that looks like the above image. NO OTHER FORM IS ACCEPTABLE. Taking someone's word is not adequate proof of healthy HEALTH TESTED parents.
A health certificate of your new puppy DOES NOT COUNT. It is NOT proof of anything other than that the puppy appeared healthy at the time of the exam, before sale.
Health test results can and should be verifiable by the OFA, which is the body that maintains health records for purebred dogs. Additionally, genetic or DNA based tests ARE NOT considered to be adequate health testing.
Some of you may remember the punnet square from junior high science class. Basically, the Punnett square is a square diagram that is used to predict the genotypes of a particular cross or breeding experiment. It is named after Reginald C. Punnett, who devised the approach. The diagram is used by biologists to determine the probability of an offspring having a particular genotype. The Punnett square is a tabular summary of possible combinations of genes from the mother and genes from the father.
Though the Punnett square only explains one form of inheritance, it is an important concept when trying to understand how and if offspring will be affected by a given disease that is passed on genetically.
Often times people use the term "genetic" when the genetic component is not definitively known. It is an assumption that a person may make if something shows up in a line of dogs but there is not always an exact gene that has been identified, or even the way something is inherited. The important thing to understand is that just because 2 dogs do not exhibit any problems doesn't mean that their offspring will not have problems, so unless a disease HAS a genetic marker, there is NO WAY to guarantee that affected puppies will not result from 2 apparently healthy dogs that are silent carriers of a disease. When looking at a Punnett square, it can be used to examine the genotypical outcome probabilities of the offspring of a single trait (allele), or when crossing multiple traits from the parents.
Some diseases/disorders can show up frequently enough that we can make an educated decision to stay away from suspected lines of dogs in a breeding program as a way to avoid introducing issues into an otherwise healthy line of dogs. Other diseases/disorders are so infrequent that though one could assume that there is a familial component, there is no way to pinpoint where the issue may be coming from and breeding decisions are made based on a breeders experience and knowledge.
You may hear some breeders brag about genetic testing their dogs. Though these tests are fun and can give us useful information, it is NOT considered health testing. Embark/genetic type testing does NOT replace and has NOTHING to do with health testing.
THE ONLY THING THAT GENETIC TESTING CAN TELL YOU IS THE PRESENCE OR ABSENCE OF AN IDENTIFIED GENETIC MARKER.
Why is that important to understand? Because in Whippets, cardiac issues and eye issues can NOT be identified AT THIS TIME as there is yet NO identified marker. Maybe one day science will give us that ability, but again, at this time there is no genetic test that will tell you if a whippet has a gene that will pass on mitral valve disease(MVD), dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), aortic or pulmonic stenosis, or any other heart defect that can ONLY BE DIAGNOSED VIA AN ECHOCARDIOGRAM. Nor can it tell you if a whippet carries the gene that will pass on PRA, a disease that leads to early blindness. Some PRA markers have been identified for some breeds, but NOT whippets.
Again, Genetic testing is definitely NOT what RESPONSIBLE BREEDERS mean by health testing and genetic testing is not recognized as health testing.
The OFA, working with the breed's parent club, recommends the following basic health screening tests for all breeding stock.
The whippet specific list below represents the basic health screening recommendations. It is not all encompassing. There may be other health screening tests appropriate for this breed. And, there may be other health concerns for which there is no commonly accepted screening protocol available.
Eye (CERF or CAER) Exam
Cardiac (ECHOCARDIOGRAM) Evaluation
Ear (BAER)Exam for congenital deafness
Optional tests include exams of their hips for HIP DYSPLASIA and lab work for Autoimmune Thyroiditis
According to the Whippet Health Foundation, Whippets that are actively being bred should have cardiac ECHOCARDIOGRAM exams EVERY YEAR, though some say that every 2 is fine. These exams check for Mitral Valve (MVD or MMVD) Disease which has been found to be very prevalent in our breed. There have been cases of whippets getting Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) which can result from severe MVD.
Mitral Valve Disease can range in severity from very mild with no symptoms and no need for medications to more severe versions that can shorten their lifespan. A MURMUR IS NOT (in itself) diagnostic of anything except a murmur. A murmur is not evidence of any congenital issues. A murmur does not mean a dog has MVD or DCM. A murmur is only a sound that your vet may feel needs further investigation depending on how loud the sound is, where the sound is located, and the tenor or quality of the sound. If your vet hears a suspicious murmur, he will probably suggest that your dog gets a cardiac exam by a canine cardiologist.
Please know that a study by Dr. Stepian found that most whippets (OVER 90%) will in fact have a murmur. It is a normal finding having to do with the anatomy of a whippets chest and the fact that it has a more athletic heart.
Dogs that have been diagnosed with MVD should be followed by a cardiologist and monitored for symptoms. Many can lead a full life. Some develop symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) as they age. But there is a wide range of life expectancy, symptomology, and complications that they may or may not experience.
Echocardiograms should be performed EVERY 2 years.
There are still studies being conducted on a genetic marker for MVD.
Again, if a breeder says that the parents are health tested, you should ask to SEE those results OR VERIFY RESULTS ON THE OFA WEBSITE. They will be printed on an OFA form that looks like the image at the top of this page. NO OTHER FORM IS ACCEPTABLE. Taking someone's word is not adequate proof of healthy HEALTH TESTED parents.
Whippets have been found to have several eye disorders. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) has been found in some whippets and it leads to blindness.
A CAER (formerly CERF) exam by a licensed animal ophthalmologist will uncover any congenital eye issues and this exam should be done every year.
PRA affected whippets become blind, but they adapt to their disability and usually do not suffer. These dogs SHOULD NOT BE BRED.
Again, if a breeder says that the parents are health tested, you should ask to SEE those results. They will be printed on an OFA form that looks like the image at the top of this page. NO OTHER FORM IS ACCEPTABLE. Taking someone's word is not adequate proof of healthy HEALTH TESTED parents. Currently, there is NO genetic test for hereditary eye diseases for whippets. There ARE some breeds of dogs that have this genetic test available, but they are not a one size fits all and are NOT accurate for whippets. At the time of writing this page, the only way to prevent passing hereditary eye issues is to TEST and NOT breed affected dogs.
Whippets can be affected with congenital deafness. BEAR testing should be done on puppies before going to their new homes. Breeding adults should have BAER testing done.
BAER tests are a one time test. Once a dog passes, it passes and does not need to be redone.
Other Congenital Issues
Whippets can be affected with a few other issues. Some can be tested for and others cannot. Testable diseases/disorders include thyroid insufficiencies and hip/elbow dysplasia. Several diseases have no current test. It is simply a matter of if a dog has the issue or not. Heritability is NOT always known.
A dog can have epilepsy due to genetics OR due to head trauma. However, if a dog has epilepsy, it should not be bred. If a dog is diagnosed with epilepsy, unless other dogs in its pedigree (sire, dam, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) are known to have epilepsy, it is imposible to definitively determine if that case is due to heredity.
Dogs that have autoimmune diseases can acquire it from exposure to a trigger, a medication, over vaccination, or some think, genetically. But again, If a dog is diagnosed with this, unless other dogs in its pedigree (sire, dam, siblings, any other dogs in the pedigree.) are known to have this issue, it is imposible to definitively determine if that case is due to heredity. Regardless, they also should not be bred. Not only because the condition could be passed on, but for the health of the animal as breeding can stress the dog exacerbating the condition
Cancers can be environmental in cause but there are also some heritable types of cancer like osteosarcoma. Cancer is an umbrella term, not all being the same and only some run in families.
Other Health Issues
Dogs can be affected with any number of other medical issues.
Allergies to food
Injuries resulting from any number of accidents
Exercise Induced Hyperthermia (EIH)
We at Phoenix test our dogs and submit our dogs results to the OFA. We test HEARTS, and EYES YEARLY. We take baseline thyroid levels and BEAR ear tests on our dogs prior to breeding. We have OFA forms on all our breeding aged dogs and bitches.