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Staffordshire Moorlands,
(Near Ashbourne)

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Mobile: 07884 267 688
Email: jayk@aritaur.co.uk

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Health

HEALTH

Health of the
Dobermann

The overall health of the Dobermann is very good. The average lifespan, is not so good averaging 9.5 years of age. The average lifespan of Aritaur Dobermanns is 10.9. We have bred very long-lived dogs; many over aged 12-13, and a couple to 14. We have also bred very short-lived dogs; the worst aged 4.5 with DCM.

Health conditions in dogs can be no more eradicated than in humans, and buyers must be mindful that with the exception of vWD (von Willebrands disease – like haemophilia) for which there is a DNA test, every other health test is a clinical test of the dog. They are not hereditary tests and whilst results of testing may give us an indication of clinical status, as we don’t know how diseases are inherited, it is impossible to predict future health status. It’s as well in some cases as waving a piece of paper at someone and saying ‘haven’t I done well!’.

 

Few things warm my heart as much as an old dog.  Gary & Karen Ward’s old boy ‘Rebel’ Aritaur Xirius now aged 12.

Health tests are not a guarantee of a healthy animal but should be used sensibly. When we know what we have, we can avoid combinations carrying the same conditions. Any breeder who tells you their dogs are free of disease are either lying or have not bred sufficiently to encounter the problem.

There is no regulation for health testing dogs for breeding and registering with the UK Kennel Club. KC registration is not an indicator of the health or quality of a dog as even puppy farmers can still KC register pups. However, most show and work breeders, and those who are closely linked to them, all health test to some degree and KC Assured Breeders must carry out Hips, Eyes*, and vWD . No good breeders want to produce unhealthy poor quality dogs. Aritaur will never knowingly choose a breeding combination likely to result in health problems, but with the best will in the world, we can’t change nature, and like all other breeders, we have bred dogs who have suffered from hip problems, heart etc, albeit comparatively very few.

 

 It is very difficult for breeders to be open and honest about the health of their dogs, as there are some anti-breeder/ anti-pedigree vigilantes who twist data to make breeders and particular kennels look bad. Aritaur have always had an open policy about health testing and published all our health results, good and bad, but when the information I had gathered was taken by someone and twisted out of context to show ONLY short-lived dogs as an example of poor breeding, I took it down. Who can blame breeders for not sharing their results when the vigilantes are so idealistic and lump both good and bad breeders together?

I feel strongly that to remove a top quality dog from the gene pool due to a poor test (within degrees of reason) of something that does not affect their well-being (ie vWD Carrier) if all other health aspects are excellent, is hugely detrimental to the breed. If the dog is a superb example of breed type, has an outstanding character and otherwise excellent health, to remove them is idealistic and would ultimately result in in-breeding depression. We can all do our best to test for those diseases that we can identify and act rationally and logically on them.

I have great people around me to help care for my dogs. Ann Sread physio, has looked after my dogs physical health from pups to sport dogs and the elderly. Below with Kalina at 12 yrs old for general maintenance. 

There are five main conditions Dobermanns can (but don’t necessarily) have. Scroll down on each:

vWD is an recessive bleeding disorder (similar to haemophillia) where the blood fails to clot. Around 30% of Dobermanns are estimated to carry Type 1 which is the most common type of vWD where lower-than-normal levels of vW factor are produced in the body. A specific DNA test exists to determine the 3 vWD status: Clear, Carrier and Affected. The chart below details possible breeding pair combinations in order to reduce the significance of the disease in a breed. Carrier animals present no risk to themselves as they cannot bleed or suffer from vWD. Mated to only Clears, they will produce some Clear/some Carrier.  It is quite safe to breed sensibly with Carrier dogs.   Furthermore, just because a dog is affected, it does not mean they will necessarily bleed. There are still small amounts of vW factor in the body to help clot blood. There may be mild bleeding problems but the dog usually lives a normal life; although there will be medications which the dog cannot have such as aspirin based meds.  Bleeding depends on other health conditions and the levels of vW factor in the blood.

All Aritaurs are either Clear or Carrier for Von Willebrands Disease.

NB Do not panic if you see someone advertising a mating with vWD Carrier on a parent. It can only pass on vWD Affected status if bred with another Carrier.  

Breeding Pair Combinations for eradication of Von Willebrands Disease. This is the only disease for which we have a DNA test. Use it wisely and keep the gene pool wide. NB Although I would use an Affected male on a Clear female (it would only produce carriers which can’t bleed, and it keeps the gene pool wide), I wouldn’t breed from an Affected female in case there were complications during birth as her clotting factor may be lower than normal due to stress.  

Clear Male Carrier Male Affected Male
Clear Female 100% Clear 50/50 carrier/clear 100% Carrier
Carrier Female 50/50 carrier/clear 25/50/25 clear/carrier/affected 50/50 carrier/affected
Affected Female 100% Carrier 50/50 carrier/affected   100% affected

Ideal Breeding Pair : Puppies will not have the disease gene either as carrier or affected

Breeding is Safe: No affected puppies will be produced. However, some or all puppies will be carriers. Accordingly, it is recommended that carrier dogs which are desirable for breeding, be bred with clear dogs in the future, which will produce 50% carrier dogs, and 50% clear animals, to further reduced the disease gene frequency. These offspring should be tested for this defective gene, and if appropriate (alongside other considerations), only the clear animals in this generation should be used.

High Risk Breeding: Some puppies may be carriers, and some puppies may affected (although they may not suffer from bleeding). Although there may be some clear puppies when breeding carrier to carrier, this type of breeding is strongly not recommended.

Affected to Affected -Breeding Not Recommended: All puppies will be genetically affected. The only option for breeding from an affected animal, is to a clear animal as the ultimate goal has to be to produce clear animals. However, each time a dog is eliminated from a breeding program it minimizes the gene-pool. The purebred population of a breed cannot afford to downsize their population – ie choice of mate by avoiding carrier animals completely, as other serious problems would quickly arise by restricting breeding to a small selection of only clear dogs. If a small gene pool of affected animals is frequently bred from, the lower the clotting factor in the offspring therefore producing greatly increased risk of bleeding.

All mammals will eventually die of heart failure if they remain otherwise healthy. DCM is a progressive Dobermann heart disease causing weakening of the left ventricle and muscle walls. The left ventricle becomes dilated and has no muscle strength. There are two types of death from DCM – the first is sudden and unexplained death, the other is a prolonged death of congestive heart failure where the lungs back up with fluid, starts to cough to expel fluid from the lungs. If a Dobermann starts to cough and kennel cough is ruled out, DCM should be considered. DCM is not specific to age, but most DCM dogs successfully hide their condition which starts to be symptomatic usually from around 5 yrs onwards. There is no cure, just medication – primarily diuretics. DCM is the breed’s 3rd biggest killer after old age and cancer (just as with humans). DCM is hereditary BUT, importantly no-one knows HOW. It is an apparent paradox that short-lived dogs can produce long-lived dogs, and vice-versa. We have bred dogs in one litter with three having sudden death at 7, 8, 8.5 yrs, and three at 11 (cancer), 11.3(cancer), and 11.5 yrs (spinal collapse).

If you consider the Punnett equation would work as such:

  • Where “A” is Positive/Affected and “a” is Clear/Negative:
  • Aa x aa would mean offspring would each have a 50% chance of inheriting the illness.
  • Aa x Aa would mean offspring would each have a 75% chance of inheriting the illness.
  • AA x aa or AA x AA would mean 100% could inherit the illness.

Testing for DCM:

  • Stethoscope testing is a first step to identifying serious cardiac abnormalities, but it cannot identify DCM. Nor can X-ray.
  • Gene testing – in 2010 American geneticist Kate Meurs discovered one of the genetic mutations responsible for causing Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dobermanns and is not consistent with the disease European Dobermanns for some reason. Unfortunately it seemed not to have been the panacea we all hoped for, but good work continues. There have been studies into the Titin gene which are currently progressing very well.
  • Troponin testing – Troponin is a protein released by the heart when it is under stress. The test is used in hospitals to distinguish between heart attacks and angina for example.
  • Holter Monitor (aka 24 hour tape). A jacket with a device which records the electrical activity of the heart continuously over 24 hours
  • Echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of the heart beating and pumping blood.
  • Update 17.03.2020 from Sue Thorn – Dobermann Breed Health Co-ordinator from Jo Dukes McEwan – UK lead on DCM at Liverpool University:

    Sue writes: I now have the preliminary results of Jo Dukes-McEwan’s research into the use of blood biomarkers for initial DCM testing. She concludes that the biomarkers are an effective first test, provided lower threshholds are used, aboive which echo and Holter are carried out. The summary is below.
    Cardiac biomarkers as primary screening Dobermanns for DCM
    Dr Jo Dukes-McEwan and colleagues have been researching use of blood biomarkers for diagnosis for some years. A project funded by the Dobermann community and the Kennel Club Charitable Trust sought to establish whether the two blood biomarkers – Cardiac Troponin I (cTnI) and N-terminal pro-BNP (NTproBNP) – used together, would be a better predictor of occult DCM (ie before symptoms appear) than either separately, and whether these could be used as a reliable, low-cost first-line test, reserving the more expensive echo and 24-hour Holter tests for follow-up where indicated.
    Dr Dukes-McEwan’s preliminary results conclude that the two biomarkers together are an adequate initial test for DCM, provided cut-offs of 0.06 ng/mL are used for cTnI and 626 pmol/L for NTproBNP. These are lower than the current cut-offs of 0.07 and 900. Results above these cut-offs do not necessarily mean that the dog has DCM, nor that it will develop DCM, as other health issues can cause elevated results, but it does mean additional testing is indicated by echo and Holter.
    The research is based on results of tests on 59 Dobermanns without DCM (as tested by echo and Holter) and 52 already diagnosed with DCM (based on echo, Holter or both). The research showed that, when the two tests are used together, ROC analysis area under the curve was 0.876 (where 1.0 is a perfect test and 0.5 is a random results). This is better than either separately and means that, of an average 100 dogs tested, it will correctly identify DCM status in almost 90%, compared to use of echo and Holter. We have nothing better with which to compare echo and Holter, so we can’t say what percentage those tests identify correctly.
    This summary is based on a short abstract published in the proceedings of the 2020 BSAVA conference. The full paper will be submitted in due course.

To examine the hips for scoring, dogs are sedated and x-rays are taken when the dog is lying on its back. The aim is to see how well the hip joint fits into the socket. The hip scoring panel assess the x-rays and grade the hips on 7 different aspects of fit and function. Each aspect of each hip is assigned a numerical score with 0 being excellent and 53 being the worst. The total score available is 106 The supposed* ‘average’ UK score is a total of 10.

It is uncommon to see severe dysplasia in Dobermanns. HD is primarily hereditary, although environmental factors such as a high protein diet and over exercise in puppies may play a large part in the development of the disease. X-Rays can be carried out usually from one year of age. The mode of inheritance of Hip Dysplasia is unknown, as identifying the gene marker responsible for HD is not possible given the variable scores of each factor. The pelvis and surrounding area is also taken into consideration on the overall score. Parents with excellent scores can produce progeny with very poor scores – ie two GSD brothers we knew of who were raised in the same household, on the same diet with the same environmental factors. Parents were 0:2 and 2:2, grandparents were 1:0, 2:1, 1:0 and 3:2, produced the brothers – one was scored at 4, the other at 86.

Generally the higher the score, the higher probability of clinical signs of the disease in the dog. Scoring is not an exact science. Is 15; 20; 25; 30; 40, 50 a ‘bad’ score? There is no figure at which any particular dog becomes clinically dysplastic. Although hip scoring is such an inexact science and as a clinical test is relatively worthless as a predictive tool, I continue to hip test to enable me to avoid mating two high-scoring dogs.

Why would any breeder use a dog above the ‘UK average?

With an average of 3,000 registrations annually, and around 30 dogs scored annually, 1% is wholly insufficient to gain a true average. The BVA idealistically state: “Breeders wishing to reduce the risk of HD should select their breeding stock (both dogs and bitches) only from animals with hip scores well below the Breed Mean Score. Many clinically sound dogs may have high HD scores and should not therefore be used for breeding”. This utter idealism by the BVA can exclude otherwise magnificent dogs from breeding, and reduces the gene pool of otherwise healthy dogs by removing a dog with one comparatively ‘poor’ score from breeding. Probably only a handful of breeding dogs and bitches have scores ‘well below’ 10.

Aritaur dogs range from a very low 2:2 (4) to one dog with a 32:32 (64) score and our average hip score is a total of 9. Nutrition, early exercise and particularly early castration has a major effect on hips. Whilst it can’t alter the shape of the socket, the degree of laxity could be altered.

 

PHPV (Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous) is an eye condition which can but rarely causes loss of vision. As with human infants, puppies are born with a shield of primary vitreous (membrane) covering the immature eye. ‘Persistent’ ie does not disappear by 7 weeks as it should, means it leaves strands which may interfere with vision. Very few dogs are tested in the UK and a grading is not given as it is in some European countries, so we do not know how much of a problem it is in the breed in the UK but it seems of low incidence. Scandinavian countries (notoriously the toughest for grading of all health tests) allow breeding a dog with a grade of up to 2/3 to a Clear partner. Without a grading system in this country, dogs with just the equivalent to Grade 1 with a tiny piece of primary vitreous in the corner of an eye, which will never progress or hinder sight and which will not necessarily be passed on, could be wrongly excluded from the gene pool for no good reason whatsoever. The other breeders in the KC Assured Breeder Scheme and I have made it very clear to the Kennel Club that we will not be adhering to the new rule from the British Veterinary Association to have dogs eye tested annually. PHPV is the only listed condition that Dobermanns can develop, and it is not a progressive disease, so testing annually is in our opinion is meaningless and purely lines the pockets of the opthalmologists. Give us a grading system and we might. Once again, the BVA is offering contradictory and idealistic advice.

 

CS is a degeneration in the structure of the spinal column in the neck resulting in instability between the vertebrae and placing pressure on the spinal cord. This results in compression or instability on the spinal cord resulting in loss of hind co-ordination and the classic wobbly hind legs.

It may be caused by congenital abnormality, birth defect, trauma and possibly genetics although this has never been proven to any satisfactory conclusion (see below). In mild cases there may be just local tissue swelling resulting in neck pain, stiffness and swelling, but either way (and the term wobblers encompasses all possible causes) it results in lack of co-ordination in the hind legs. Examination by X-Ray can be carried out usually from one year of age. During the 80’s and 90’s, there was a programme at Liverpool University of neck scoring Dobermanns to identify hereditary cause of the disease. Unfortunately, testing was found to be an unreliable method of identifying which dogs would develop the problem, with progeny from normal parents being affected and vice versa. The disease can be instigated by injury. Early exercise and diet may be factors as it is in HD, and although severe malformation in puppies is rare, this could equally be caused by