Category Archives: Health

A Call To Arms For The Rymans

The recent revelation of forged OFA certificates has brought to the forefront the need to address what we feel is a severe and growing threat to the Ryman-types regarding hip dysplasia and other genetic diseases. We have been watching a disheartening trend toward paying little or no attention to health issues, especially among newer breeders, and it’s about time we spoke up about it. We are focusing on hips in this post, but if a breeder isn’t even getting OFAs you can pretty much guarantee they aren’t doing anything about any other health problems either.

Why Are We So Concerned?

Most of these newer breeders probably don’t know just how bad it used to be. In the late 1980s when we first became involved with Rymans they were notorious for having the worst hips of any English setters. An average Ryman-type litter out of the more troublesome lines produced 40%+ dysplasia. Certain lines were nearly 100% dysplastic, often rated severe, and many with hips completely out of the socket. When our first advertisements came out we got DOZENS of phone calls from people who had to put down their 8, 9, or 10 year old Ryman because it couldn’t walk any more. That was by far the most common call we got. It was AWFUL. There were hardly any Rymans with passing OFA’s and the majority that did pass had so many dysplastic relatives that, from a breeding standpoint, they might as well have been dysplastic themselves. You could literally count on one hand the number of stud dogs worth breeding to in the entire country.

Since then a number of breeders have worked to eliminate the more problematic lines and improve the better ones, with good success. Currently within certain lines of Ryman-types the hips are more likely to be good than they are with any other type of English setter, and the cases that do occur in those lines are usually milder. This improvement was originally spearheaded by a small group of breeders. The most influential was the late Joan Mizer, who almost single handedly sent out the alarm on how bad the hips were, and pushed everyone hard to do better. Errol Gooding (Goodgoing), Warren Sheckells (Pinecoble), and Fran and Frank Thompson (Classic) were some of the others who had a major influence early on, and for quite a while most Ryman-type breeders made hips a priority.

Now the breeders who made those gains are gradually retiring. At the same time, the majority, and some of the most prolific, of the newer breeders are inconsistent about getting OFA’s, or aren’t checking hips at all. Some started with dogs from lines with decent backgrounds but aren’t keeping up with the OFAs. Some are using lines with no OFAs in the background at all. Others are even trying to resurrect the affected lines conscientious breeders purposely discarded years ago.

The gene pool is already too small, and it is at risk of being overwhelmed by the number of dogs coming out of these kennels. There is a very real possibility that the progress made over the last 30 years is in the middle of evaporating.

The Solution?

  • If you are a breeder who doesn’t at least get an OFA on every one of your dogs it’s time you step up to the plate and do what’s right. Breeders cannot honestly claim to be ethical or have integrity otherwise. Hip OFAs are a bare minimum of what breeders should be doing for health clearances if they really do care whether they produce dogs that suffer.
  • If you believe any of the myriad of lame excuses as to why screening for hip dysplasia isn’t necessary, or OFAs are not effective, you need to do your homework. The progress that has been made when people put the work in proves those excuses wrong. To believe them in this day and age implies ignorance. Please also see the footnote below.
  • There are still enough good dogs with solid health backgrounds to make it unnecessary to breed dysplastic dogs in order to obtain the field performance and other traits you desire. No dysplastic dog (or line) is special enough to justify using it.
  • Because of the limited gene pool we need more Ryman-type breeders. There is plenty of demand and we all benefit in the end if there is a larger pool of healthy dogs from which to choose our breeding stock.
  • Breeders need to get back to communicating and pushing each other on this. That was a key to the progress made.

Notes To Buyers

Buyers have the power to force unethical breeders to do the right thing. The breeder who forged OFA certificates commits blatant fraud because customers don’t check to see if the dogs really have OFAs. Five minutes searching the OFA’s database would make it obvious this breeder is unethical. Buying a puppy from a breeder like this encourages and supports that unethical behavior.

Another breeder was recently asked why he would use a dog that had a dysplastic grand sire. His answer was: “Nobody asks so why should I care”.

Don’t let breeders get away with this any more. We believe they should be doing the right thing on their own, but they aren’t. Breeders like the above don’t care about their dogs and never will. They aren’t going to bother with health clearances unless forced to do so.

So what can you do?

  • Don’t buy a puppy from a breeder who doesn’t care about the dogs or what he does to you!
  • Buy only from breeders who OFA ALL their breeding stock.
  • Check the OFA database to make sure the OFAs are real.
  • Tell breeders you aren’t going to buy their pups because they don’t do OFAs. If they can’t sell their dogs they will either come around or go out of business.
  • If you have a dysplastic dog submit your x-ray to the OFA and make sure you initial the line that allows making abnormal results available to the public. When a breeder has several dysplastic dogs in the public database he can no longer deny he has any problems in his kennel, something that happens all the time. This is one of the most important things you can do.

A final thought for buyers- It’s scary for breeders to take the step of being open and honest about health problems they produce. Part of the problem is how buyers react. It’s not possible to breed perfect dogs- any breeder producing 10% or less HD is doing fantastically well. You need to put the pressure on breeders, but please be realistic. As an example of what happens, and why even honest breeders are sometimes reluctant to be open, one buyer was looking at a litter sired by a dog that had over 20 offspring evaluated with only one failure. This is a very fine record few dogs can compete with. When he heard about the one failure this person decided to buy a puppy from a litter with no OFAs behind it at all! He was so worried about that one dysplastic pup he couldn’t recognize a great record and ended up buying a puppy with a completely unknown background. He also supported and encouraged a breeder who doesn’t care.

If we sound angry it’s because we are.

Forging OFA certificates is a shocking new level of dishonesty, but this deterioration in breeder ethics has been going on for while. The forgery just demonstrates that something needs to be done. If not now when? If not us, then who?

Cliff and Lisa

If you agree this is important, please link to this post anywhere you think will be helpful or start a conversation. The dogs are too wonderful to let this happen to them again!

Footnote: Yes, Hip Dysplasia Really is Bad

We know some people who are reading this post don’t believe hip dysplasia is a big deal, or think they can judge hips without x-rays. They’re wrong. We’ve owned dysplastic dogs and have seen and dealt with the consequences of the disease as it progresses. If you are one of the people who think it’s unimportant, here are a few things we’ve learned over the years that we hope you will consider. This has been reviewed by veterinarians before posting, including by a leading researcher on hip dysplasia.

  • Young dysplastic dogs often show no visible signs of the disease. Rarely, dysplastic dogs never show obvious symptoms, and young dogs are occasionally crippled by hip dysplasia. But by far the typical presentation of HD is middle or old age arthritis.
  • Old age arthritis is not normal. Early on we used to tell people that dysplastic dogs typically get arthritic a few years early- maybe age 8 or 10 rather than at age 12. This was conventional wisdom at the time, but was not true! With more experience we can now emphatically say that painful hip arthritis is NOT a normal consequence of aging. While lots of things can happen to a dog (injuries, spinal problems, infections, etc), pain isolated to the hips is usually caused by HD.
  • Dogs adapt to pain, making it difficult to judge how much pain they are in. Studies on this in the 1990s showed veterinarians they needed to be more proactive with pain medications. With most dogs, if you can see they are having pain it’s really bad, and if it comes from a progressive disease like HD it has most likely been building up for a long time. We know from our own experience that once pain meds are started it is common to see a big change in a dog’s happiness/activity, and only then realize in retrospect that the pain has been building over time.
  • Don’t be fooled by the 2006-2010 breed incidence of 9.6% for English Setters on the OFA web site. When x-rays show obvious dysplasia people tend to not send them in, so the actual incidence is always higher than the OFA’s data shows. Also, the majority of English setters submitted to the OFA are from show lines, which have been running around 10% for a while- field lines are poorly represented. Anyone who has x-rayed a pile of field ES knows the rate is far higher.
  • A favorite excuse for not doing OFA’s- Our dogs have never shown any signs of hip dysplasia. We run them hard and they are fine, so the hips are good. This one is particularly popular among the field trial people, but we also hear it from Ryman-type breeders. How many of those dogs that ran well when they were 3 years old became arthritic when they were 10? We would challenge any breeder who has fallen for this one to x-ray all of their dogs and see what they’ve got. As an example of what they may find, a breeder we work with has x-rayed more than a dozen setters from a top field trial kennel and about half have bad hips. If they’re not OFA’d, you have no idea. Neither do they.

Forged OFA Certificates

A more serious post than usual today unfortunately. Recently we were given information concerning a Ryman-type breeder who possesses forged OFA certificates. We feel we need to put out a warning that goes beyond our usual advice of making sure the parents of a litter have OFAs before buying one of the pups.

This breeder’s web site says all the parents of their puppies are OFA certified, but none of their current breeding dogs are in the OFA database. They presented OFA certificates for them to potential puppy buyers that the OFA has identified as forgeries.

It is now necessary to verify that OFA’s are actually in the OFA database- even if you have seen certificates for them in person. If a breeder claims an OFA certification for ANY dog you need to find it in a search of the OFA’s online database. If you have never searched the OFA database go to this page www.offa.org/search.html and try searching for the dog by it’s name, it’s registration number, the kennel’s name, or the ES-XXXX part of the OFA number on the certificate. If there are no results for the dog call the OFA and ask them to look it up for you, (573) 442-0418.

Any breeder with a long list of supposedly OFA certified dogs that can’t be verified in a search of the database is lying. No matter how nice or credible the breeder seems, there is ZERO chance those OFAs exist. Typos and other mistakes very occasionally make it so a dog doesn’t show up in a search, but nobody has 10 OFA certified dogs that somehow aren’t in the database. That does not happen, period. It is really hard to believe anyone would stoop to this, but they did.

If a breeder is capable of taking the step of forging OFA certificates what else will they do? These people are cranking out litter after litter, with who knows what in the background, and the lines are being disseminated into other breeders’ programs. With this type of thing going on, plus the new crop of breeders who simply aren’t doing any health clearances, we are extremely concerned about the future of the Ryman-types.

Cliff and Lisa

Spay/Neuter Good For Health?…..Maybe Not

Many of our puppy buyers contact us with questions about spaying or neutering- should they do it, and if so, at what age, etc? The answers are not entirely clear, but contrary to what has been considered common knowledge for ages, spay/neuter may not be as healthy for dogs as we have all been told, especially if done at the early ages so often recommended.

Spay/neuter is almost always presented as an entirely beneficial procedure with no adverse consequences. This is simply not true. Here are some references on the subject that we recommend to anyone considering a spay/neuter.

Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs
Canine ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy increases the prevalence of ACL injury
Spay, Neuter, and Cancer: Revisiting an Old Trinity

Summary of the Benefits and Risks.

Males

Benefits:

  • Eliminates the risk of testicular cancer (fatalities are rare, almost always cured with surgery)
  • Reduces the risk of non-cancerous prostate problems (common)
  • Reduces the risk of parianal fistulas

Risks:

  • Significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma, especially if done before the age of one year (common cancer in some medium/large breeds, almost always fatal)
  • Increases the risk of hemangiosarcoma (fairly common in older setters, always fatal)
  • Triples the risk of hypothyroidism (English Setters have the highest rate of all breeds)
  • Increases the risk of geriatric cognitive impairment
  • Triples the risk of obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of ruptured cruciate ligament, hypothyroidism, diabetes, pancreatitis, cancer, etc.
  • Quadruples the risk of prostate cancer (uncommon)
  • Doubles the risk of urinary tract cancer (uncommon)
  • Increases the risk of orthopedic problems
  • Increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

Females

Benefits:

  • If done before 2.5 years of age, greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors (very common, can be fatal)
  • Eliminates the risk of pyometra if the surgery is done properly (fairly common in older females, can be fatal)
  • Reduces the risk of parianal fistulas
  • Eliminates the risk of uterine, cervical, and ovarian cancers (rare)
  • Eliminates the risks to the female from being pregnant/whelping

Risks:

  • Significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma, especially if done before the age of one year (common in some medium/large breeds, almost always fatal)
  • More than doubles the risk of hemangiosarcoma (fairly common in older setters, always fatal)
  • Triples the risk of hypothyroidism (English Setter has the highest rate of all breeds)
  • Doubles the risk of obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of ruptured cruciate ligament, hypothyroidism, diabetes, pancreatitis, cancer, etc.
  • Causes urinary incontinence in up to 20% of females
  • Increases the risk of recurring/chronic urinary tract infections, and several other genitourinary disorders
  • Doubles the risk of urinary tract tumors (uncommon)
  • Increases the risk of orthopedic problems
  • Increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

Complications from the surgery and anesthesia should also be considered. Studies show a rate of around 20%, with up to 4 % of females having serious complications. Serious complications are less common in males, but do occur.

For males it’s fairly obvious that it’s better from a health perspective to leave them intact. Prostate problems and testicular cancer, both of which are most likely to occur in old age, can be dealt with by neutering when/if they do develop.

Because mammary tumors are so common, the choice for females is less clear. Mammary cancer can often be cured with surgery, but not reliably, so the risk needs to be taken seriously. The chance of developing tumors increases with each of the first few heat cycles, and the best prevention is a spay before any heats occur. Taking into account all of the potential benefits and risks, if you choose to spay it is probably better to wait until after females are physically mature. Please read the first reference above, which compares the relative risks for mammary tumors when the spay is done at various ages and heat stages before making this decision. Whether the benefits from spaying outweigh the associated risks is a judgement call, and one we are glad we don’t have to make with our own dogs.

Other Considerations

Early spay/neuter will cause a dog to grow longer and taller than it would if left intact until physical maturity.

Spayed/neutered dogs usually will develop a longer, finer, fluffier coat that looks wispy and feels cottony. This coat change seems somehow to be almost unknown in the veterinary community, but we have seen it to at least some degree, sometimes extreme, in all of the dogs we and others have spayed or neutered.

Intact females can be difficult to manage for many owners. Their heats are messy, can occur at inconvenient times (like during a long-planned hunting trip) and the dog must be carefully supervised 100% of the time to avoid an accidental breeding.

Intact males may wander if there is a female in heat within scenting distance. In our opinion this is not a good argument for neutering. Left to their own devices most hunting dogs will end up wandering some if allowed to be outside unsupervised. No dog, intact or not, should ever be outside on its own unless securely fenced. To do otherwise is neglecting their safety.

Probably the main motivation to encourage universal spay/neuter has been an attempt to lower the number of unwanted litters and abandoned puppies (or in the case of some organizations to eliminate pet breeding altogether). Among our puppy buyers there have been a few accidental litters caused by lapses in judgement on the part of the owners, a classic example being one person who thought his dogs wouldn’t breed if he was feeding them steaks. Given the number of animals that end up in the pound or turned over to rescue groups there is a very good argument for spaying females. However, the blanket recommendation to spay/neuter based on health considerations is not supported by the available research.

BAER Test Day

People often ask us how a dog’s hearing is tested or what BAER testing entails. We have in-depth info about Deafness in English Setters on our web site, but since the Camas x Doc pups had their tests done yesterday we thought this would be a good time for a post about what it’s like to get the actual testing done.

We have been BAER testing our breeding dogs’ hearing since 1996. Because there are so few testing centers this has not been very easy to do. We began by flying a neurologist from Washington State’s vet school here to test all of the dogs in the kennel. After that the tests were done at various places around the country when we were on the road, including a number at the University of Minnesota during our Wisconsin grouse hunts. Although with some effort we could screen the breeding dogs, the testing centers were too far away to travel with young litters of pups. This all changed several years ago with the discovery of Dr. Cindy Olsen in Boise- a human audiologist who was also testing dogs! Recently Dr. Spencer Lifferth joined the practice and has made BAER testing dogs something of a specialty. We are thrilled to have Dr. Olsen and Dr. Lifferth available to make testing all of the pups a reality!

So here is what a BAER test looks like. Dr. Lifferth is preparing to run the test on one of Spice’s pups earlier this year. Four electrodes are placed on the puppy- one just in front of each ear, one on the forehead, and one on top of the head. They have tiny needles that go just under the skin. There is also an earpiece in each ear that makes a clicking sound, one ear at a time. This is all hooked up to a computer which displays and records the brain’s response.

BAER TestSometimes it is quite a challenge to get the puppy to hold still for long enough to get everything in place and then run the test in each ear. The puppies rarely notice the needles, but the wires are interesting to try to chew on and they tickle. They think the clicking sound in their ear tickles too, and if they shake their head everything comes out and we start all over. Some puppies do better with various approaches- standing, sitting, hold on tight, rub the belly, blow on them, etc. The Docs are patient, we keep trying, and eventually get through all of them.

Waiting for their turn at the office.
Waiting for their turn at the test. This photo and the above taken by Dr. Olsen

The trip to Boise is a great experience for the pups. It’s a long drive requiring several stops with young puppies and we have out of the way places to safely let them out. Everyone is usually tentative at the first stop, but by the second they almost always come out of the truck ready to play and explore new territory.

A drink of water at a stop near Magic Reservoir.
A good drink of water at a stop near Magic Reservoir.
It's midday at this stop- best to stay cool in the shade.
It’s midday at this stop- best to stay cool in the shade.
shade2
The pups like to play at the stops, but they also instinctively know to hang close to the truck.

The puppies catch on very quickly to the fact that when it’s time to go you need to get back in the truck. By the end of the day they often come in to your feet and wait their turn when you start loading up.

Lots of good things to chew on, like mudflaps.
Lots of good things to chew on, like mudflaps.
Dinner Stop
Dinner stop- a couple more hours and we’ll be home.

All in all it’s an excellent adventure for the puppies- lots of new experiences, new people, exposure to the big world, plus weird things happen and you live! Not quite so excellent for the human- rolled out of the driveway at 3:08 AM, racked up 684 miles, and arrived home just before 9 PM. A very long day, but well worth it.

Audiology and Hearing Aid Center