Veterinary Care for Your BRT Puppy

by Richard Hawkes, DVM


Finding the right veterinarian


Now that you have acquired your Black Russian Terrier, there is basic veterinary care advice I would like to share that should be useful.

First on the list is choosing a veterinarian or veterinary hospital/clinic if you don’t already have one. Certainly the Internet and yellow pages can help you locate veterinary services; however, the best way to find a veterinarian is by word of mouth. Ask your breeder, friends and neighbors who they recommend. It may be difficult to find a veterinarian familiar with BRTs because this is a rare breed. That said, a vet well versed in canine health makes for a trusting doctor-client relationship and can serve you well.

Be sure you know the after-hours policy and locations for emergencies, and where complex cases are referred. Also, it may be prudent to find a veterinarian comfortable with orthopedic issues as these are common with the BRT. Sharing what you know to be health issues in the breed will also be of value to your veterinarian. For example, while most vets know Dalmatians have a huge problem with Hyperuricosuria (HU) – some may not know that Black Russian Terriers suffer the same disease. Knowing speeds diagnosis if there’s a problem.

About vaccinations

Most puppies enter their new homes in the 8 to 10 week age range. You should have some basic information to give to your veterinarian. This includes which vaccines (if any) and dewormer (if any) your puppy already received by the breeder and/or the breeder’s veterinarian. It will be up to you and your veterinarian to decide what vaccine protocol should be used for your puppy going forward. Some of this will depend on where you live and what type of diseases your puppy can be expected to encounter.

Some breeders do not believe in vaccinating. From a canine health viewpoint, I can tell you the puppy series of vaccinations is one of the most important things you can do for your puppy. Vaccinations are aimed to establish immunity to potentially serious and even fatal diseases. In a puppy, risk of disease far outweighs the risk of vaccination.

The first thing to understand is a phenomenon called maternal antibody protection (sometimes referred to as passive immunity). This is the immunity passed from a mother to her puppies when they suckle the first day, ingesting the colostrum portion of the milk. It is important that the mother has good immunity so that puppies get a healthy dose of colostrum. Passive immunity lasts 6 to 16 weeks, and actually interferes with vaccination, sometimes preventing a puppy from acquiring long-term immunity.

This is the basis behind the puppy series. We are hoping to create a strong immune response, and at the same time minimize the times the puppy will have an inadequate antibody level against disease. Another way of saying it: We are providing an increased acquired antibody level from the vaccine as the passive antibody level is falling.

When to vaccinate

Generally, vaccines should be given every 3 to 4 weeks from the time the puppy is 6 to 8 weeks old, with the last booster at 16 weeks. Most of the time, an 8-, 12- and 16-week visit to the veterinarian will suffice. I recommend deworming puppies at 2, 4 and 6 weeks of age. Performing stool parasite checks at 8 and 12 weeks is done to ensure the deworming was adequate. Subsequent deworming is given when appropriate. A booster vaccination should be given one year after the 16-week puppy visit.

After one year, there is a lot of debate about what protocol to follow. It is prudent to discuss this with your veterinarian and ask them to explain what series they would like you to continue. Some vets recommend 3-year vaccines, while others may advocate titering to test immune status in lieu of vaccines. There are pros and cons to each protocol and this is best discussed with your veterinarian. Yearly vaccination is not needed to maintain immunity against most diseases; however, there are a few that may require it. When deciding what to vaccinate against, it is important to assess the risk status of the dog. There isn’t one single vaccine protocol that works for all canines. Mostly, it depends on where you live and what your dog may potentially be exposed to.

Following is a list of the basic canine vaccines:

Core vaccines

DA2P2 – this is a main vaccination given to puppies at 8/12/16 weeks. It is composed of distemper (an often fatal neurologic disease); adenovirus type 2 (part of the kennel cough complex and also cross-protects against adenovirus type 1 – hepatitis); parainfluenza (also part of the kennel cough complex); and parvovirus (an extremely common and sometimes fatal intestinal virus).

Rabies – the age at which a puppy receives its rabies vaccine, and the frequency of the vaccine, is determined by state regulatory officials. It is often given at 12-16 weeks the first time, then every 1-3 years thereafter.

Non-core vaccines

These vaccines may or may not be given, depending on the risk assessment of your puppy:

Bordetella (with or without parainfluenza and adenovirus 2) – This protects against the kennel cough complex. Usually given to dogs that are boarded frequently, go to the groomer or compete in dog shows. Frequency is every 6-12 months.

Leptosporosis – This is a bacterial disease that tends to be found in areas with standing water and wildlife. It is often endemic in rodent populations. Leptosporosis will infect either the liver or kidneys, or both. It can be fatal. It is also zoonotic, meaning a dog owner can catch this from their pet. Usually it is boosted yearly, as immunity is not long-lived.

Lyme – Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease most prevalent in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions of the USA. This vaccine also is given yearly due to short-lived immunity. You will want to ask if your veterinarian is seeing Lyme disease in your area. You will also want to consider where your dog may travel. Tick prevention is important as well.

Canine Influenza – These upper respiratory diseases are similar to but potentially much more severe (up to 5%-10% mortality) than kennel cough. Flu can occur suddenly and spread rapidly. The same dogs at risk for kennel cough are at risk for influenza. Check the Internet for potential outbreaks before traveling to a dog show or boarding your BRT. Two strains of influenza virus have been identified in the United States: 1) Canine H3N8 influenza was first identified in Florida in 2004 in Greyhounds. It is thought this strain developed from an equine H3N8 influenza strain that jumped from horses to dogs. It has now been identified in dogs in most U.S. states. 2) Canine H3N2 influenza is an especially virulent and contagious flu first identified in the United States in 2015 after an outbreak in dogs in the Chicago area. In 2017, as of this writing, the strain has been diagnosed in dogs in more than 30 U.S. states. Vaccines are available for both H3N8 and H3N2, including a bivalent vaccine offering protection against both strains. It is important to note that vaccination may not prevent infection but rather reduce the risk, severity and duration of illness. BRT owners should discuss the need for flu vaccines with your veterinarians.

Other vaccines

Several other vaccines exist but are NOT recommended due to a shown lack of efficacy:

• Giardia
• Rattlesnake Vaccine
• Coronavirus (disease is not severe enough to warrant vaccine)
• Adenovirus Type 1 (this vaccine can cause an immune condition known as “blue-eye.” Since type 2 adenovirus cross-protects, it is not needed and should never be given)

What else should you consider for your new BRT puppy?

Fleas and ticks

Running-on-BeachDepending on where you live, flea and tick prevention may be strongly encouraged. Fleas are a nuisance and transmit infectious diseases, including Mycoplasma and the Plague. Some dogs can be very sensitive to flea saliva, and may develop skin infections or hot spots. It is much easier to prevent fleas than eradicate them from your dog or environment. Ticks also carry nasty diseases, such as Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis, to name a few. These diseases can be very serious, sometimes fatal, and are often hard to diagnose. With regard to these external parasites, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure! Discuss appropriate flea and tick prevention strategies with your veterinarian. There are many products out there, and your vet is in the best position to make a recommendation for you.

Canine heartworm disease – it’s a big issue

Heartworms have been reported in all 48 U.S. continental states, and prevention is a must for all dogs in the USA. This disease can be devastating to the health of your BRT. It is expensive to treat and can cause death. There are many options available to prevent heartworms. Discuss this with your veterinarian and choose an appropriate product to prevent heartworm disease. It used to be that seasonal administration of heartworm preventives was considered an effective strategy; however, new evidence points to the existence of resistant strains of heartworm. As such, the American Heartworm Society recommends all dogs be on year-round heartworm preventive medicine.

Regular check-ups

Regular check-ups by your veterinarian are an important tool in helping keep your BRT healthy and happy. After the initial puppy series, yearly visits should be done as a minimum. As your BRT ages, or if it starts to have health problems, more frequent visits may be suggested. Preventive tests, such as blood work and urine screens, may be recommended and can help to detect disease at an early stage, often before a dog becomes clinically ill. I recommend a full blood profile be performed at 5-6 years of age as a baseline of a dog’s health status.

What about spaying or neutering?

This may somewhat depend on the contract you have with your breeder. They may have a clause stating when they want a dog surgically altered. Also, if the dog is to be used for breeding, obviously it cannot be spayed or neutered. In addition, there is some debate as to when is the best time to spay or neuter. New evidence shows that early sterilization may actually increase the risk for orthopedic problems later in life. This is thought to be due to the failure of the growth plates to close at the normal time due to the reduction in the sex hormones (estrogen/testosterone). As a breed, the Black Russian Terrier certainly is known to have its fair share of orthopedic issues. However, early spaying/neutering has been shown to be protective with respect to the prevention of some cancers, the avoidance of unwanted heat cycles or pregnancy, and may aid in helping to resolve behavioral issues.

My personal recommendation for this breed: If you are going to spay or neuter, do it between 15 and 18 months. You may have to endure a heat cycle if your dog is female. Also, you may be expected to pay more for the surgery, as it is a more complicated procedure in a large breed dog at this age, versus altering when young (4-6 months). Breeding females can still benefit from spaying after their breeding career is finished. This can eliminate the chance of pyometra, a life-threatening uterine infection, as well as ovarian cancers.

Food for thought

You alone are responsible for what your puppy eats. Doing basic research, whether reading online resources or canine nutrition books, or following the advice of your veterinarian, is very important in establishing your feeding strategy. What to feed puppies and dogs is a hotly and passionately debated issue. Puppy foods for large or giant breed dogs, or consulting a nutritionist to formulate a correct diet for growth, is extremely important during this stage of development for your BRT puppy.

Feeding the proper amount of protein, calcium, phosphorous and energy is critical to the healthy development of a growing BRT puppy. An incorrect calcium/phosphorus ratio can lead to developmental bone disorders such as osteomalacia. Too much protein and energy in the diet can also spur too-rapid growth, which may contribute to diseases such as panosteitis and osteochondrosis dessicans.

Some people feel strongly that home feeding (raw or cooked) diets are far superior to commercially available dog foods. Others might argue that home-prepared diets are not balanced for lifelong feeding, and may lead to nutritional deficiencies or increase the risk of food-borne illnesses.

Buying a commercial diet is more convenient and often cheaper than home-prepared foods; however, what about all of the recent dog food recalls? Are manufacturers doing all they can to ensure safety and quality? Here is my recommendation: If you choose to feed a commercial diet, ask your vet for advice.

I personally suggest sticking to a premium food from a company that has not been plagued by recalls. Look at the ingredient list and be sure you are comfortable with the diet and the company producing it. There are websites that may help you sort through ingredients and options. Just beware, not all websites are completely dependable in providing trustworthy information.

Do not take short cuts where the health of your puppy is at stake

Whatever food you choose, ensure your puppy eats it readily, has normal stools, no issues with stomach upset, and maintains a nice, healthy coat. If you choose to home-prepare food, whether raw or cooked, it is very important to ensure you are meeting your puppy’s nutritional requirements. This can be achieved by consulting a veterinary nutritionist, looking through literature (there are many books and Internet articles available), and reading online forums directed at home feeding dogs. There are also veterinary supplements designed for use with home feeding to ensure a balanced diet.

Special feeding situations may arise

Hyperuricosuria (HU) is one of them. As mentioned, this is a genetic condition known to affect BRTs. If you have an affected puppy, proper feeding is critical to keeping your dog healthy. A low-purine, water-enhanced diet is paramount. Consulting a veterinarian is recommended. If your puppy suffers from food allergies, a feeding trial may be recommended by your veterinarian. Food allergies frequently manifest as chronic skin disease (ear infections, itchy feet and rear), poor appetite, frequent stomach upset and loose stools.

In conclusion

We hope you have found helpful information and value in all of the articles on Black Russian Terrier health issues, health testing and veterinary care – and wish you many years of happiness with your Black Russian Terrier.