Using DNA marker tests

In rare breeds one of the best ways to ensure long term health in a breed is the try to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible.  The more man made road blocks that limit our breeding choices for non Major Issues will tend to limit overal genetic diversity.  One way to maintain genetic diversity is to constantly outcross.  The biggest drawbacks to this is that it does not reduce the incidence of recessive health issues and you have inconsistent quality in the resulting offspring and everyone has the same genes in their genetic background.  Another way is for breeders to line breed on different lines and then judiciously outcross to other lines when an outcross is needed.  This maintains genetic diversity in the breed, you are able to reduce the incidence of recessive health issues and you get more consistency in breed type using this method. 

 In rare breeds I would ONLY use genetic marker test results judiciously  for Major problems/issues that would affect their quality of life.  I would define Major problems in Rare breeds as Crippling problems,  Blinding problems, ongoing diseases that impact quality of life or potential Lethal problems.  

Usually the more testing that is done for minor issues/problems the less likely the candidate will be used for breeding,  IMO -We are artificially limiting the gene pool for NO GOOD REASON when specifically talking about SV RA in it's current state.

What you should know about DNA marker tests is that their results many times are inaccurate up until they have at least 5-10 Thousand participants in their data bank that they have meticulously judged each individual's potential test results against actual physical findings in old age to make sure the test results are Accurate.  At this point the test would be about 70 percent accurate yet many breeders are starting to use the genetic marker test to base their breeding program on.   I think this is a BIG Mistake!

Specifically for the SV RA - By definition it is currently not a major issue.  It usually only affects dogs over 12 and ONLY limits their sight in dim lighting.  It does need to be monitored so if it starts affecting sight in daytime hours or starts causing true (total) blindness issues in young or middle aged dogs it becomes a Major Problem or issue that needs to be bred away from.  

The only Current accurate test for SV RA is the OFA (Cerf) eye tests done by Vet Opthamologist.  It is recommended that you do a test as a young dog at around 2 years of age,  as a middle aged dog , and as an old dog at 12-14.    The only problem with using the OFA test is that is only accurate up to the date of the test.  A normal rating means that your dog is Clear or a Carrier of the SV RA up until the date the test was done. . If the dog is still has normal findings at old age then you can assume that dog is Clear of SV RA. 

At this time the ONLY thing I would use the DNA marker test for is to not breed an affected individual to another affected individual.  I would NOT drop a good quality Vallhund from my breeding program if the DNA marker test says they are affected.  You will not know for sure until you do an OFA eye test in old age.   What many people do not see is that this gene may actually positively impact longevity and health because currently a dog would have to live past 12 years of age to get SV RA.  

Research in Humans for this issue found that it is closely linked to Glaucoma,  Diabetes, and Obesity.   To me a good preventative measure is to get our Valls off Commercial dog food formulations with corn (high starch/high sugar) in it by the time they are middle aged  to help avoid diabetes.  Would also also keep our dogs fit and trim for their lifetime.  Do not let your pet/companion get obese.   Doing these things may actually help your dog avoid this issue. 


Major Problems in Rare Breeds

Major Problems that you would not want to breed.

Crippling problems-  

Hips- When using Orthopedic foundation results that are linked to crippling problems are usually associated with Moderate or Severe Hip Dysplasia (HD) results.   Mild HD will not show outwards signs of soreness. IMO if the inside of the Hip Joint capsule shows normal femur head conformation and there is not any Osteo Arthritis present I would consider this animal to be a possible breeding candidate with the caviote that it be bred to partner with Good or Excellent ratings with deep sockets (acetabulums)  * I would do the same with a dog with Fair or Borderline rated results.

Elbows- Orthopedic fournation results associated with crippling problems usually involves a grade 2 or 3 rating.  Grade one elbows are not associated with pain, or crippling disorders.  IMO this could be a potential breeding animal with the caviote that it be bred to a partner with normal elbows and whose parents had normal elbows. 

Blinding problems -  

Defined as being Blind in normal daytime lighting that would affect young or middle aged dogs.      This could be from Juvenile or old age onset cataracs.   

Swedish Vallhund RA usually only affects sight in older dogs in dim lighting.  ie that can still see enough to get around and have a normal home life in bright daytime lighting.    *Punctate cataracs are thought to be congenital and they do not grow with age.  Does not impact sight.  

Lethal problems-  any problem that has a genetic component that would cause death in young or middle aged dogs. 

Swissy Health Issues

Lethal Health Issues-

Tick Borne vs. Cervical damage (or Wobblers) - Please reference the Tab/section labeled Tick Borne illness vs Nerve Damage. 

Early occuring cancers- These kinds of cancers usually show up before the age of five.  They can be any kind of cancer. Ussually affects a very small percentage of Swissys.  May have a genetic predisposition.  It is best not to use any affected individuals in your breeding program.

Ideopathic Epilepsy-  In Swissys it ussually shows up in very low percentages and affects animals less than 3 years of age. In most cases seizures can be controlled with medications.  There can be many causes. Exposure to environmental toxins, over dosing with vaccines containing mercury,  exposure to fertilizers and garden chemicals, radiation, anaesthesia, head trauma can be causes.   It is best to NOT go on with offspring of any affected individuals that have seizures for unknown causes.  IMO Swissy tend to have a lower trigger point to get seizure disorders.  Best advice is to avoid exposure to environmental toxins,  reduce amount of vaccines you give over lifetime of dog and avoid doing unnecessary surgeries. 

Bloat/Torsion- In Swissys most cases start with enlarged spleens.  Spleens can enlarge for a variety of reasons. Exposure to environmental toxins,  viral or bacterial infections,  trauma are just a few of the causes.  If you notice your dog starting to bloat,,, give a simethicone tablet (gas X) and use a stomach tube if stomach keeps getting larger.   Sometimes you will see a dog that doesn't eat,  looks like it is abdominal pain... Take to vet,,, IF spleen is enlarged,  REMOVE it and tack the stomach.  This will reoccur and cause death if speenectomy and stomach tack are not done at the same time. 
What has helped me with this condition is to reduce amount of exposure to environmental toxins , especially vaccines with mercury in it .I also feed a higher fat (14-20 % fat), wheat free diet supplemented with slightly cooked chucky veggies and raw bones/meat given several times per week.

Non Lethal Health Issues

Preventative joint protocols-  I put ALL my pups on Equinyl combo until they are two years of age.  Then I take them off of it until they are 7 years old.  Seniors will benefit from being on Equinyl Combo as it will make them more comfortable in their twilight years.   Equinyl Combo has Ester C,  MSM, Condroitin, Mg, Manganese and other micro minerals found to alleviate joint pain and helpful in generating new cartilage and bone matrixes. 

Structural issues-

Hip Dysplasia- Very seldom will you see clinical hip dysplasia.  Clinical issues usually associated with obesity and ofa ratings of Moderate or Severe.

OCD- Biggest clinical structural issue is OCD syndrome affecting shoulder joint.   IF you have a lame pup,  I take them into vet and if there is a flap present on exray then I remove it immediately,,, IF NO mouse or cartilage flap is present then I put pup on Equinyl Plus and keep them on it for first two years of life.   Eventually they will get better if you take steps to stop pup from reinjuring the shoulder joint.

Elbow dysplasia- Very seldom will you see clinical elbow dysplasia.  Clinical elbow dysplasia is usually associated with ofa grade 2 or 3. 

Eye issues-

Blinding issues- 
 In Swissys Juvenile and Old age onset Cataracs can cause blinding issues.  I would NOT use a dog that has this condition in my breeding program. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy- Causes severe blinding issues ,,, do not use affected animals in breeding programs.

Non Blinding issues
Punctate Cataracs- Thought to be embryonic blood vessels that do not get reabsorbed. Does NOT cause blindness issues.

Distichia- Extra eyelashes-  IF clinical problem it can be surgically corrected.

Entropion-  Inverted row of eyelashes,,,  Can be surgically corrected.

Dan's opinion-  If the dog has evidence of arthritis in hip joint capsule you should not breed it.  IF the dog has a hip or elbow rating that is associated with clinical issues you should not breed it (Grade 2 or 3 elbows).  If the dog has minor structural issues or non blinding faults,  do NOT double up on them in your breeding decisions.   There are NO perfect dogs out there.  
If a breeder says their lines are clear of any of the above health issues they are uninformed and may not know their pedigrees as well as they should OR they have not been breeding long enough.  Realistically there are no separate families or lines in this breed at the present time.  American and Western European pedigrees are very related to each other.   IF you decide to get a Swissy you will have to contend with the fact that your Swissy may have one of the above health issues in their lifetime. It is a chance you will have to take if you decide to get a Swissy.  I will say that the majority of our Swissys are pretty healthy as a whole.    

Other sources to look into are or

Try to learn as much about our breed as you can before you buy your swissy. Realize that Temperament, Structural integrity and Longevity are important things to be looking when selecting your swissy puppy and should be what an ethical breeder's goals are to produce.  Good luck in your research.

Vallhund Health Issues

Vallhunds tend to be very active dogs so care must be taken to avoid high impact exercise or performance events until bone plates have closed and joints have had a chance to mature at 15-18 months of age.    

As with most herding dogs, Vallhunds have genetic eye issues that must be screened for.  They include blinding issues such as PRA, juvenile, and old age cataracs.  They can also have distichia, entropion and punctate cataracs that do not affect sight. 

SV Retinopathy- To me it is a minor issue as it predominately affects dogs older than 12 years old and usually only affects vision in dim lighting.  Research is showing that RA is closely linked to glaucoma,  diabetes and obesity.

***One of the best things a dog owner can do is to make sure that your dog is changed to a dog food formulation that does not have corn in it by the time it is six years old.  The use of this high starch /high sugar grain can lead to obesity, and diabetes.

Currently the only Accurate eye test for this issue is the OFA eye test.  It the dog comes back clear, the dog is genetically Clear or a Carrier (not Affected) up to the date of the test.  Future tests are indicated.  I usually test my SV before the first breedings, in mid life then in old age. 

The DNA Marker test to date is inaccurate and I will not base my breeding plans on any test that has inaccurate findings.  

I personally think it is a dangerous risk to any rare breed with a very small gene pool to put artificial manmade road blocks on possible breeding plans on issues that do not cause death, clinical crippling issues or complete loss of sight (especially in young or middle aged dogs).  

As with any dog, care must be taken to avoid contact with environmental toxins and over vaccinosis. 

For the most part Vallhunds seem to be a pretty healthy breed.