by Richard Hawkes, DVM
There are a variety of health tests that most breeding dogs should have performed prior to being used in a breeding program. This article focuses on testing in the Black Russian Terrier. Breeders who perform these tests and thoughtfully select breeding mates based on the results will increase the likelihood of producing the healthiest puppies possible.
Unfortunately, when dealing with genetics, you can have undesirable results even when breeding two ideal mates. Such is the nature of canine genetics. However, with proper testing and selection, more often than not the results will be better when breeding dogs with superior health scores than those with known problems.
All breeding dogs should at a minimum have the required tests performed to be assigned a Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) number.
For the Black Russian Terrier, obtaining a CHIC number involves testing for:
Hip dysplasia (HD) | Elbow dysplasia (ED) | Eye disease | Congenital cardiac diseases | Juvenile laryngeal paralysis & polyneuropathy (JLPP) | Dominant Black DNA test | Agouti DNA test
Guardian Bears recommends that in addition to the above, breeding mates also be tested for:
Hyperuricosuria (HU) | Thyroid illness | Temperament
Following are descriptions of the tests, and you can find more in-depth information about these health issues in our article called Health Concerns In Black Russian Terriers. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about these health issues and related testing.
Hip Dysplasia (HD)
1. The most commonly performed test for hip dysplasia in the USA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) radiograph, or x-ray. Hips are usually radiographed at 2 years of age and sent to the OFA for evaluation. The hips are then assigned a grade. The grades range from normal (excellent/good/fair), to borderline, to dysplastic (mild, moderate, severe).
2. PennHIP evaluation: This method of determining hip dysplasia uses a distraction device to measure how much laxity a dog’s hips have. It is this laxity that is of primary concern in the development of dysplasia (i.e., the looser the hips, the more likely dysplasia is to develop). The hips are assigned a score and compared to the hips of other dogs of the same breed. Generally, a laxity score (DI) under 0.4 is desirable.
3. In the ideal world, only dogs with excellent or good hips would be bred. However, this would be nearly impossible in BRTs. According to the OFA, the incidence of hip dysplasia in this breed is approximately 42% (2016). Thus finding suitable dogs that also pass the other recommended tests may be difficult. Also, HD is considered to be a multifactorial disease and may not be completely dependent on breeding. Ideally, both parent dogs should be dysplasia-free. When using the PennHIP method, selecting dogs with a DI in the top 50% of the breed will help lower hip scores and decrease dysplasia over time.
4. Bottom line: Ask for the hip scores of the parents. If both parents are dysplastic then there is an increased likelihood that the puppy will be dysplastic. It would also be wise to look at the pedigree and determine how often dysplasia has been present in the lines. Ask what type of guarantees the breeder has, if any, against dysplasia.
Elbow Dysplasia (ED)
1. Elbow dysplasia screening also involves radiographs. The elbows are x-rayed in extreme flexion and submitted to the OFA for evaluation.
2. There are no grades for a radiographically normal elbow.
3. Dysplastic elbows are graded as follows — Grade I: minimal bone change along the anconeal process (less than 3 mm); Grade II: additional bone proliferation along the anconeal process (3-5 mm) and subchondral bone changes; Grade III: well developed degenerative joint disease with bone proliferation along the anconeal process greater than 5 mm
4. As with HD, elbow dysplasia is a multifactorial condition. It is recommended to not breed dogs with elbow dysplasia if possible.
5. The incidence of elbow dysplasia in the BRT is approximately 28% according to the OFA database (2016).
1. OFA guidelines require examination by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist and deemed free of genetic eye diseases.
3. Because of the late onset nature of some eye conditions, a dog must have an exam yearly to maintain its OFA clearance for breeding.
4. Exams are often done at AKC events, making it easier for dog owners to have access to veterinary ophthalmologists.
5. All dogs should have an exam prior to breeding. Dogs with known genetic eye diseases should not be bred.
Congenital Cardiac Disease
1. This aspect of health testing generally involves a veterinarian auscultating the dog’s chest for evidence of heart disease (murmurs or arrhythmia).
2. If the practitioner does not suspect heart disease, no more tests are required.
3. If heart disease is suspected, follow-up tests may be indicated. These can include x-ray, ultrasound or EKG. Usually, a referral to a veterinary cardiologist is warranted.
4. Dogs diagnosed as having congenital heart disease should not be bred.
5. Currently, congenital heart disease is rare in the BRT. There have been no abnormal results submitted to the OFA. This does not mean that heart disease does not exist in the BRT. It may be that it is showing up after the dog’s breeding career is over, or owners are not submitting the results if murmurs are detected on the exam.
6. Subaortic Stenosis (SAS) is a heart condition known to affect BRTs. Incidence of SAS is not currently known.
1. All breeding dogs should have the hyperuricosuria genetic test performed to determine their HU status (N/N, N/HU, or HU/HU). Knowing the HU status of the parents will give you an idea of the likelihood of the puppy having HU. If either of the parents is normal (N/N), then you will know that none of the puppies will be affected with this disease. If affected (HU/HU) or carrier (N/HU) dogs are bred to each other, a certain percentage of the puppies can be expected to be affected with HU.
2. The HU test is a cheek swab test and can be done at any age. It is possible that the puppies could be tested before being sold/purchased. It is prudent to ask what the HU status of the parent dogs is to help determine if HU is expected to be present in the puppies.
3. Through selective breeding, producing HU-affected puppies can be avoided. Be sure to know the status of the puppy prior to purchasing and any guarantees the breeder may give regarding HU if the status is not known when the puppy is purchased. Purchasing a puppy of unknown HU status is discouraged. While this disease is treatable, it requires effort and expense for the owner to control. Knowing that HU can be prevented through breeding, BRT breeders have an obligation to inform a puppy purchaser if the puppy is affected by or may be affected by HU. If a breeder will not disclose the HU status of the parent dogs and puppies (if available), we recommend looking elsewhere for a puppy.
Juvenile Laryngeal Paralysis & Polyneuropathy (JLPP)
1. Juvenile laryngeal paralysis & polyneuropathy (JLPP) is an autosomal recessive, hereditary disease that affects Black Russian Terrier puppies, with symptoms typically emerging around 3 months of age. Click here to learn more about JLPP directly from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), as well as order a DNA test kit.
2. The mortality rate in affected puppies is 100%, with affected puppies typically not surviving beyond six months. The condition is often misdiagnosed as pneumonia.
3. A DNA test is available, which allows breeders to eliminate the possibility of producing JLPP-affected puppies. If you do not know whether your puppy’s parents were tested and would like to know your puppy’s status, you can go to the OFA website and order the test by clicking here. Just scroll down the page until you see Juvenile Laryngeal Paralysis and Polyneuropathy. The test is $65 (as of June 2015).
4. JLPP-affected puppies have difficulty breathing and may have a change in their bark. As the disease progresses, affected puppies develop weakness and loss of coordination in the hind limbs. This weakness progresses to affect front limbs. Puppies may also have difficulty swallowing, resulting in choking or aspiration pneumonia.
5. Researchers at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in 2014 successfully identified the mutation associated with juvenile laryngeal paralysis & polyneuropathy (JLPP) in Black Russian Terriers.
6. The JLPP DNA test identifies carriers of this trait. As long as both parents in a breeding program are tested and one parent is clear of the mutation, no affected pups will be born.
1. Thyroid disease is diagnosed by blood tests. Blood is sent to an OFA-approved thyroid lab and the results are collected and reported by the OFA.
2. Thyroid disease is rare in the Black Russian Terrier, with an incidence rate of 2.1% as reported by the OFA (2016).
3. Immune thyroiditis leading to hypothyroidism has a genetic basis in dogs, thus dogs afflicted with this disease should not be bred.
1. Given that the BRT is a strong, powerful breed of dog, having a BRT with an unstable, aggressive temperament can prove to be a serious problem. BRTs should be confident, brave, courageous and somewhat aloof towards strangers. They are highly intelligent, having been bred to guard and protect. Having a dog with a stable temperament is important.
2. Temperament is not easy to measure and is a factor of both genetics and environment.
3. We recommend that breeding dogs demonstrate a stable temperament. Having a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate is desirable as a minimum indicator of temperament. Passing the American Temperament Testing Society (ATTS) test thus obtaining a TT title is very desirable as a marker of a well balanced dog with respect to temperament.
Now that you have read about important health concerns in the Black Russian Terrier and the tests recommended for BRT breeding dogs, you should have basic knowledge and understanding to proceed to the next step:
Finding a BRT breeder and purchasing a puppy