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Why is Genetic Testing Important, I Just Want a Pet?!

Importance of Canine Genetic testing anytime you breed


by Martine Huslig on April 22, 2013 in Trixie's Paw Prints

Many people with a "cute little dog" who are going to breed it to their friend's "cute little dog" and sell the puppies will say, "I don't need to do genetic testing on the dogs/parents, I am not a breeder." If you plan a litter of puppies, you are a breeder.

Other people will say, "There is nothing wrong with the mother and father, they are perfectly healthy. I do not need to do genetic testing." Carriers of genetic problems are often invisible and without testing; you cannot predict whether your litter will be at risk for disease.

Some people will say, "I am only breeding pets and I have never seen any issues in the puppies I produce. I do not need to do genetic testing." Pets are just as likely to get the genetic diseases associated with their breed as show or working dogs and in any scenario, people are quite obviously emotionally attached to their pets. $53.33 billion was spent in the US last year on pets with $13.67 billion of that spent on veterinary care alone (source). Many genetic issues do not get diagnosed as a genetic issue or may develop years after you have bred that dog. Health and genetic screening on the parents is important to minimize the chance that these issues will occur. It is just as important for pet owners, as it is to serious show dog owners, to have the healthiest dog possible. Health issues are health issues and often heartbreaking and expensive. Every measure possible should be taken to avoid health issues especially when genetic testing is as cost effective and readily available as it is from Paw Print Genetics™.

Some people will say, "I am only buying a pet. I do not need to get my puppy from a responsible breeder." A responsible breeder being one who does, among other things, health screens and genetic testing on their breeding dogs as indicated based on the family history and breed in order to ensure that they produce the healthiest puppies possible. Most often these potential buyers are saying this because they want to spend less on the purchase price of the puppy and feel that puppies from a "responsible breeder" cost too much. They are often failing to look at the long-term financial and emotional costs potentially involved in having a dog with health issues. Many of these people will not think twice about spending thousands on veterinary care, training, and grooming, but will balk at the purchase price of the puppy.

At the same time, high purchase price does not necessarily mean that the puppy is well bred or that genetic testing has been done. It is important for potential puppy buyers to look at the pedigree (genetic family history) of their new puppy, ask questions, and see documentation on health and genetic testing that has been done on the parents such as the Canine Genetic Health Certificate© that is offered by Paw Print Genetics™.  Prospective buyers should ask questions, research, and learn about the issues for which their puppy may be at risk. In some cases (especially if considering breeding their dog in the future) they may wish to have genetic testing done before they purchase the puppy. Because Paw Print Genetics can screen for multiple genetic diseases with simple cheek swabs, this testing is easily done on puppies at relatively early ages. If the puppy purchased is not intended for breeding, the buyer may still be concerned that their new dog may develop an inherited condition. If the buyer intends on breeding the new puppy, remember that all living creatures carry gene mutations and non-working genes that have a potential to be an issue if they are bred with another carrier. However, from a health perspective, carriers should not be symptomatic (should not have the disease) and will make great pets. They may not be suitable under certain breeding circumstances to produce litters but being identified as a carrier of a recessive disorder in no way affects their suitability as a pet.

If you are producing puppies, those puppies have a risk for genetic disease. If you are producing puppies, you are a breeder. "Not being a breeder" does not remove the potential risk of genetic disease that comes with reproduction. This risk is why every expectant couple says "We want a boy (or "we want a girl)...but we do not care as long as the baby is healthy". By breeding purebred dogs, dogs of known heritage or intentionally bred dogs, there is an opportunity to screen for diseases to reduce the risk for genetic health issues as much as possible. By purchasing a puppy of known heritage, you have the opportunity to determine if testing has been done for diseases for which they are at risk based on their breed(s). With genetic testing you can avoid the diseases for which you tested. Although it will not exclude all possible inherited and acquired diseases, this is your best available option to increase the odds of having a healthy dog. With disease like ichthyosis, hyperoxaluria, severe combined immune deficiency and the many others that have genetic testing available, knowing this information could be critical to your puppy’s success and health. ***

All of our adults have the DNA screened through Paw Prints Genetics so that we are aware of their genetic status for several diseases and we can make the best informed pairing decisions. That being said some of this information is more useful than others and we rely on scientific studies and research to help us best leverage the information we learn. For example, MDR1 was a gene originally linked with a drug sensitivity issue long associated with Aussies and other herding breeds. However, since this gene was identified veterinarians and Australian Shepherd owners have found unfortunately "clear" or not carrying a mutant variant of the gene does not mean they are safe from the deadly effects of certain medications. So since the MDR1 gene test doesn't give us relevant information that helps us prevent anything, we do not pay attention to this test when pairing. Rather we treat all of our dogs like they are "affected" for this disorder regardless of their MDR1 status. It seems to be a breed related issue rather than one clearly linked to a simple dominant/recessive genetic disorder. It is also something that is easily managed by avoiding the problematic medication there are several alternatives for. We ask that our puppy families do the same and avoid the false sense of security based on their puppy being "clear" for the MDR1 gene. We have the same mindset with the DM gene test. It is on the Aussie breed panel as the labs have been able to "identify" the particular gene associated with the disease in other breeds. However, the original lab that developed the DM test does not recommend the Australian Shepherd as a breed of concern. In the studies that have been conducted, they cannot identify the disease as an issue in our breed and several others even though the gene appears to be present. Because the disease does not appear to affect Australian Shepherds, we do not focus on the results of their DM tests when making pairing decisions. We also guarantee our puppies against DM for life regardless of their genetic status, that is how confident we are that it is a non-issue in our breed. We are very committed to producing the highest quality Aussies we can and that means using all the tools we have to the best of our ability to ultimately best preserve our breed. Genetic health testing is a great tool but it is not the be all end all! 

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