Category Archives: Health


OFA X-Rays Are Not Difficult!

To our amazement, and disappointment, the biggest obstacle to our hip program has been, and continues to be, veterinarians. Although a majority of vets have been supportive and helpful,  our puppy buyers regularly encounter resistance when they ask for the hip x-rays we require, especially regarding the use of anesthesia which we recommend against.

Most people don’t have any idea what the process of getting an OFA hip x-ray is actually like, so they don’t know when the information they are given is false. Let’s go over some of what our buyers face, and then we’ll take a look at the x-ray procedure.

Here are some of the most common roadblocks our customers run into with their veterinarian:

  • The BIG one: “You can’t take an OFA x-ray without anesthesia.” Yes you can. The only exception is a very strong dog that fights the positioning, in which case they can be given a little sedation. We haven’t sedated one since 1996.
  • “The OFA requires anesthesia.” Not true. Here is the veterinarian info from the bottom of an OFA application. If anesthesia was required there wouldn’t be an option to check “Physical restraint only”.

  • “You can’t get good positioning unless the dog is anesthetized.” Again, this may be true for dogs that are big and very strong but otherwise it is not the case, especially if the dog has a prominent spine as English setters have. If the dog is awake the muscle resistance actually helps keep the body lined up.
  • “I won’t do it without anesthesia because I don’t want to expose my employees to more radiation.” The process is identical whether the dog is awake or under anesthesia.
  • “The dog might bite someone.” If that’s a concern the dog can be muzzled.
  • “It’s painful.” Unless the dog is dysplastic this excuse is hogwash! See video below.
  • “OFA evaluations can’t be done before 2 years of age.” From the OFA website:
    “The OFA accepts preliminary consultation radiographs on puppies as young as 4 months of age for evaluation of hip conformation.”
  • “Dogs have to be registered in order to do an OFA”, or “They have to be registered with the AKC”. Not true. If a dog is not registered it will be assigned a study number that includes “NOREG” (we have over 300 reports on file that were done like this).

There are more, but these are the most common.

Here is what it’s really like.

It’s understandably hard to know what to think when your vet is using these arguments. Yesterday we took three dogs in for hip x-rays and shot a video of the process so everyone can see what’s involved.

  • The first dog is a 6 month old puppy. In our experience puppies of this age are virtually always calm and easy to deal with.
  • Second dog is an adult that is strong and fought the positioning more.
  • Third is another adult. She’s not dead at the end, just relaxed and being obedient:-)

The vet has to be able to see the positioning for the hip films, so experience makes a big difference. Our vet got acceptable x-rays first try on all three of these dogs, but to be fair he sometimes takes more than one before he’s satisfied with the positioning.

Two people are all that’s necessary, but a third one in the middle can make it easier to line things up well.

The X-Rays

Here are the 3 hip x-rays from yesterday in the same order as the films were taken.

English Setters, Taurine, and Dilated Cardiomyopathy

I’ve been receiving a lot of inquiries regarding the news about reports of possible diet related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The reports are pretty scary and people are justifiably wondering what they should do. So, I’ve spent some time reading up on it.

Useful Info

First, here is a veterinarian oriented paper on the subject that I found to be informative. It mentions a number a variables that complicate determining what, if anything, is wrong.

These are recent releases from the FDA. If you just want a quick read that tells you a lot, go through the questions and answers.
FDA June Update
Vet-LIRN Investigation
FDA Questions and Answers

Download all of the reports:

This article covers a number of things pretty well.  1472_001-1
Thanks to Sue for sending this.

I consider Monica Segal to be an especially knowledgeable and rational person in regards to dog nutrition and diet formulation.
Don’t Panic – Thoughts on the FDA Report re DCM

Whole Dog Journal has some good tips about reading dog food labels and picking a formula. The commentary near the end regarding the way the news has been presented is worth pointing out.
Please Don’t Panic About the Grain-Free Thing

My Reactions

I think the sentiment that there is no need to panic just yet is correct. There is “a potential increase in cases of DCM in dogs not genetically predisposed”, and an “apparent” link between certain types of dog food, but nothing is conclusive at this point.

To put this in perspective, out of the estimated 77 million pet dogs in the US there are currently 515 suspected cases of diet related DCM reported, or 0.0006688%. Roughly one case per 150,000 dogs. Not all of these cases have been proven to be diet related, so the real number is likely less than 515.

Worst case this could be the tip of an iceberg, but at this point there isn’t enough data to determine if that’s the case, and there are too many variables in what they do have to draw any definitive conclusions. Hopefully the FDA will find some answers before too long. In the mean time the safe approach is to assume the increase is real, and that it has something to do with kibble formulas.

I think it’s the Legumes

There are good reasons to suspect that legumes could be causing problems. 93% of the reported foods contain them. Legumes have not been used in significant quantities for very long, they have high levels of anti-nutrients that aren’t neutralized in the kibble making process, and the protein is deficient in multiple amino acids. Plus the amount used has increased recently in order to address a high ash problem in meat meals- meals were reduced and legumes increased. Our dog food supplier has been warning me about the use of legumes for the last several years, and he is not at all surprised to see a rise in DCM.

I could be wrong, but I am skeptical that potatoes and some of the other so-called “exotic” ingredients are a problem. Some may be, but potatoes and tapioca for instance have been used for 20+ years with no issues, including no problems with the earlier grain-free foods that relied heavily on them.

Whole potatoes don’t provide much protein, so companies can’t substitute them for animal ingredients and still claim high protein levels like they’re doing with legumes. Legumes also happen to be far less expensive, especially compared to sweet potatoes, which cost more than meat meals.

Out of curiosity I searched through the FDA reported cases for “potato” and then looked at the ingredients for each food mentioned. This search only reinforced my doubts. With very few exceptions all of the foods that contain potatoes have legumes as a primary ingredient, usually more than the potatoes, and many of those are also low in animal protein. I only found 2 straight up formulas that use potatoes as the main starch. There are also 2 reported that have only tiny amounts of potato in them, and 4 that have extremely low or zero animal protein (2 are vegetarian). I question why they are even looking at potatoes.

Diet Recommendations

I am not a nutritionist, so keep that in mind. I am a breeder who is interested in nutrition and cares about it’s effects on the dogs. In a nutshell here is what I am going to do, and recommend, until the FDA figures out what is going on.

  • Don’t feed foods that are heavy in legumes.
  • Do feed formulas that have plenty of animal protein in them.
  • I doubt potatoes or grains matter at all, but if it makes you more comfortable limit potatoes and don’t feed grain-free.

One option is to simply use a food that doesn’t have any legumes in it, and no potatoes if you prefer. However, if you are currently using a food you like that does have some legumes, or are considering changing to a different food, here are details on how I read the labels and judge foods. Labels are not perfect or even trustworthy, but they will give you a general idea of what’s in a food.

First, do not rely on the name or the claims on the bag- very often these have little to do with what’s actually in the food.

A rough guide for determining whether an ingredient constitutes a large portion of a food is whether it is listed before or after the added fat, and whether there are multiple ingredients of the same type. The primary ingredients are listed before the first major fat source. Ingredients listed after the added fat are generally minor portions of a formula, as long as there aren’t multiples. Pea starch is used as a binder and is less of a concern than whole legumes, protein powders, or flours.

The FDA highlighted the cases of two Dobermans living in the same house that were diagnosed with diet responsive DCM. Both were eating a formula from the most commonly reported brand. Here are the main ingredients.

  • Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, chicken meal, whole green peas, whole red lentils, whole pinto beans, chicken liver, chicken fat, catfish meal, chickpeas, whole green lentils, whole yellow peas, lentil fiber, eggs, pollock oil…

Ingredients in pet foods are listed by weight before cooking. I crossed out the wet ingredients because once the water is cooked out of them it’s unlikely there will be enough dry weight left to qualify as primary ingredients.

Chicken meal is the heaviest dry ingredient, but to be listed first all it has to be is slightly heavier than the next ingredient. 3 out of the 4 heaviest ingredients are legumes, and there are also 4 more legumes after the chicken fat that if added together might constitute another primary ingredient. This food should be presumed to be predominantly legumes, not poultry. A very large percentage of the foods reported to the FDA were like this or worse.

Here are the primary ingredients of formulas from the next four brands with the highest number of reports:

  • Kangaroo, Kangaroo Meal, Peas, Chickpeas, Pea Flour, Sunflower Oil…
  • Beef, lentils, tomato pomace, sunflower oil…
  • Turkey, turkey meal, garbanzo beans, lentils, peas, potatoes, pea flour, chicken fat…
  • Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Peas, Dried Egg, Pea Starch, Chicken Fat…

Another thing you could do is refer to the the Vet-LIRN study mentioned in the FDA’s press releases as a guide. They are comparing grain-free dogs diagnosed with DCM to healthy grain-fed dogs. The requirement for the grain-fed group is that the foods must contain no more than 2 legume, pulse, or potato (including sweet potato) ingredients that must appear after the animal and grain ingredients.

Grain-free Choices

You’re not going to find a grain-free kibble that doesn’t contain potatoes or other “exotic” starch sources (anything other than certain grains has been labeled exotic). There are however a small number of them out there that eliminate or minimize either legumes or potatoes, sometimes both. A few use tapioca (cassava) or coconut for the main starch.


When considering foods that contain grain (in addition to determining the level of legumes) here are some of the things I consider. I’m not telling you to avoid the ones I avoid, just giving you some ideas to think about.

  • Whole corn (not corn gluten meal) is OK as a starch source if processed correctly so dogs can digest it. It has a bad reputation compared to other grains that isn’t really deserved. There are concerns about glyphosate and other chemicals due to GMO varieties.
  • Rice has arsenic.
  • Millet has some good points, but it is one of the few foods that has goitrogens that aren’t neutralized by cooking (fava beans are worse). Since ES have the highest rate of hypothyroid disease of any breed I avoid this.
  • Gluten grains are anecdotally associated with Hashimoto’s disease, the human equivalent of autoimmune thyroiditis in dogs. Cause and effect is not proven, and extrapolating to dogs is not proper, but I’m doing it anyway. Seems prudent to avoid.
  • Oats avoid the above problems but whole oats don’t seem to work very well in kibbles because of the husk. Rolled oats in a home prepared diet work fine.
  • The kibble we’re using right now has sorghum as the main plant ingredient. Brown rice is in there too, but as a minor ingredient so hopefully not too much arsenic: Chicken Meal, Pork Meal, Grain Sorghum, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Brown Rice…

Conventional Kibbles

Many of the Golden Retriever people seem to be jumping to the old style of corn gluten meal, brewer’s rice, or soy based formulas that are endorsed by vet schools. These are highly refined foods made mainly from cheap by-product types of ingredients. They rely more heavily on added vitamins, minerals and amino acids to meet AAFCO guidelines. Here is one that claims to be designed specifically for setters.

  • Brewers rice, chicken by-product meal, chicken fat, soy protein isolate, corn, natural flavors, dried plain beet pulp, fish oil, pea fiber, rice hulls, vegetable oil…

When we switched away from foods with similar ingredients our vet bills went down and we saw improvements in performance and stamina, so I can’t comfortably recommend them for long term use.  However, if you feel safer going that route until any problems with kibble formulations get worked out, these foods are not going to kill your dog or anything.

Home Prepared Foods

I think this can be the healthiest choice, and is undoubtedly the best way to provide dietary taurine. However, I highly recommend against it unless you are willing to spend many hours of research learning how to do it correctly so you don’t cause harm. Or better yet hire someone who does know how to design a diet that meets the individual dog’s nutrient needs.

English Setters and Taurine

So now to what is probably the most important thing I found in all of this. The first paper in the links above mentions English setters as one of the breeds that might be predisposed to taurine deficiency related DCM (the same author has also written this elsewhere). There is no reference to the original source of that information so I can’t comment on how much data there is, but to be cautious it’s probably best to assume there is something to it. And there is no downside to making sure a dog gets enough dietary taurine.

Taurine is not considered essential for dogs because they synthesize it from other amino acids. If setters really are prone to taurine deficient DCM it is because at least some of them don’t synthesize taurine very well.

Poor taurine synthesis has been proposed as one reason why Golden Retrievers are over-represented in the recent reports of DCM. There are reasons to suspect the numbers could just be due to reporting bias for that breed, but it’s also possible Goldens are more sensitive to taurine deficiency in the diet or anything in the food that interferes with taurine. 

Even normal dogs can’t make enough taurine when they are under stress. Traveling, working in the field, hunting, pregnancy and nursing, etc. are all stressful enough to cause this to happen. So, with our hunting setters we may have a double whammy going on here.

The best way to ensure enough dietary taurine is to feed some extra foods that are good sources. It doesn’t seem like the amount of taurine in various foods is very well established, but a couple of sources consistently mentioned are seafood and raw meat. I’ve seen suggestions like giving a can of sardines once a week.

Using a taurine supplement may be worth considering (and possibly L-carnitine, although I have read mixed information on how useful it is). Taurine is available in bulk powders that are affordable. It would not be a big deal to put a little on top of the food on a hunting trip for instance, and it may be beneficial full time with English setters. That’s something I will be considering for our own dogs. A little canned mackerel or sardines every few days wouldn’t be all that difficult either, and you would get the added benefit of some omega 3 fatty acids.

Giving the dogs a reasonable amount of taurine, either through foods or supplements, can’t do any harm and may help prevent DCM. Maybe learning about doing this for our setters will be a side benefit of the grain-free scare.



October Setters Offers to Fund OFA Evaluations for DeCoverly Kennels

Bridget Bodine, of DeCoverly Kennels, recently posted this on her Facebook page:

I just had a 20 month old English setter bitch come back with the worst Pennhips we have seen here in a LONG time! There…

Posted by Bridget Bodine on Friday, January 19, 2018

Confusion about the PennHIP method, the reports, and how to interpret them has been rampant since it’s inception. Much of the confusion stems from two sources. First is PennHIP’s use of the term “DJD” (degenerative joint disease) instead of it’s alternative and more common name: osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia and DJD/arthritis are not the same thing. One is abnormal formation of the hip joint, the other is arthritis. Arthritis in the hip is usually caused by hip dysplasia, but it can also be caused by injury or infection.

The second source of confusion is that people instinctively try to translate PennHIP results into a diagnostic/OFA context, which is impossible. PennHIP is the only hip dysplasia control scheme in the world that does not diagnose hip dysplasia.

We think Bridget’s plan to OFA the .8 dog is a great idea, but results from one dog don’t give you much to go on so we have made the following proposal. We hope they see the value in taking us up on our offer, especially the potential for educational benefits regarding PennHIP for all concerned.


We read your post regarding PennHIP results. It is clear that you don’t understand the difference between dysplasia and DJD. DJD is not dysplasia. DJD is arthritis. The terms DJD and dysplasia are not interchangeable, so when you say “no dysplasia” you are literally saying the dog has normal hips and would pass an OFA. PennHIP does not assess the hip for the presence of dysplasia. All other dysplasia control methods in the world, OFA, FCI, BVA, etc., diagnosis the presence or absence of dysplasia.

In the interest of furthering knowledge about PennHIP we make the following offer. We will pay the OFA fee for diagnosis of dysplasia for all 30 of the recent dogs on your list. You already have the x-rays required for the OFAs as part of your PennHIP submissions. Have your vet submit them to OFA along with the applications, have them entered into the OFA’s open database, and we’ll pay the $450 OFA fee. With passing OFAs you can accurately state the dogs have no dysplasia.

This knowledge can only serve to help all of us make more informed breeding decisions that contribute to a better future for the dogs.

Cliff and Lisa

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 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.



  • 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


  • 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



  • 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


  • 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.
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