From the May 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe. Above photo from the article “Selecting The Correct Portuguese Water Dog – A Judges Challenge” (ShowSight May 2018 Issue) by Maryanne B. Murray, Chairman Breed Standard Committee, PWDCA.
The PWDCA has been committed for many years to extensive health testing by breeders to ensure that we produce the healthiest dogs possible. For responsible breeders, the additional cost of health testing is part of the cost of their commitment to the breed. The PWDCA “strongly” recommends that any dog used for breeding should be at least two years old, be evaluated for hip dysplasia, tested for GM-1 status, Optigen screened for PRA and have an annual CERF test for overall eye health.
The PWD Health Registry is the best source of up-to-date and accurate information about the health of a particular dog, kennel or breeding program. As a new owner, you should always ask breeder if they participate in the Health Registry. If they don’t you might ask why not.
The Registry requires breeders to report test results for GM-1, Storage Disease. This is a rare disease and can affect both humans and dogs. It is a genetically transmitted fatal metabolic disease. Fortunately, there are DNA tests that will indicate whether your dog has the disease or is a carrier of the disease. The NYU Department of Neurology issues certificates after testing designating “N”, or non-carrier, “C” for carrier with an “L” or “A” showing that the dog’s rating is even more accurate because it comes from parents with good ratings. All dogs who will be bred must have this test.
Orthopedics (Hips and Elbows), OFA and Penn Hip exams. These exams diagnose hip dysplasia if it exists. Dysplasia indicates that a dog’s hips have not formed perfectly and may be slight or severe. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia should not be bred although the dog may be physically fine with little pain or problems. OFA will not certify hips until a dog is at least two years old. PENNHIP can be done at four months.
Eves-Cerf Testing is for PRA and other eye abnormalities. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is an eye disease that will ultimately cause blindness as the dog ages. Optigen has developed a DNA test to determine if a dog is clear, a carrier or is affected. This test is used by breeders to avoid matching up dogs who might produce affected puppies. For more information go to www.optigen.com. CERF exams are recommended annually to assess dogs for other forms of eye abnormalities.
Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy, (JDCM is an inherited fatal disease in young PWDs caused by a rare recessive gene, carried by both parents. Puppies from age six weeks to seven months can show this disease and die suddenly. There is no known cure or treatment for this condition. In 2007, the University of Penn Veterinary Medicine Research program developed a JCDM Linked Marker DNA test. PWDCA has required that at least one dog in a breeding pair be tested clear for JDCM. More information about this test is available at from PennGen and at the PWDCA website
Addison’s Disease: This disease is found in both animals and humans and indicates that the adrenal gland has stopped producing essential hormones. Once diagnosed, the disease is treatable. It is likely hereditary and can also be triggered by stress. Symptoms includes weight loss, vomiting, depression, lethargy, general weakness and shedding of hair. Understanding the potential for this disease will save a PWD’s life.
Hair loss Follicular Dysplasia: Some dogs will exhibit patterned hair loss between two to four years of age and it is thought to be hereditary. Hair may fall out in a spot on the body and may or not grow back. Most dogs who exhibit this condition are the product of breeding of curly to curly parents, although curly dogs have no greater incidence of this condition. Many breeders typically breed curly to wavy for optimum hair coats. There is no test available for this condition.
Other conditions: The PWDCA web site describes other conditions but most of these are relatively rare. Because of the commitment by breeders, Portuguese Water Dogs remain one of the healthiest breeds and most live to be 14 15 years of age. For a new owner, their best bet is to find a responsible, experienced breeder who has a demonstrated track record of healthy dogs. If they are an AKC Breeder of Merit they have already met breeding and health testing requirements. The next step is to find an experienced veterinarian who understands PWDs and has treated them before. Finally, any good breeder will be an invaluable source of information about your dog’s-health and what to look for as your dog ages.