Health Screening for Labrador diseases

by Pippa on April 27, 2015

pups2Within the Labrador gene pool, lurks a range of unpleasant inherited diseases.

Understanding these diseases and learning to detect and prevent them,  is an important part of improving Labrador health on a national basis.

A good deal of research has gone into these Labrador diseases.

Much of it funded by the Kennel Club and the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

As a result there are now a number of screening tests available to Labrador Breeders.

In most cases these screening tests are applied to the parents that are about to be bred from, rather than the puppies that are being sold.

The most commonly applied screening tests offered by the BVA are ‘hip scores’ and ‘eye tests’.

All responsible breeders now test their breeding stock for these two conditions.

There are also a range of further tests now available to breeders, and many responsible breeders are testing for these additional Labrador diseases too.

Are all pedigree dogs tested for Labrador diseases?

Sadly, there are still many Labrador puppies available for sale in the UK whose parents do not have even the most basic health clearances.

Puppies bred from unscreened parents, or from parents that have been screened and fall short of the appropriate standard,  can at the time of writing, still be legitimately registered with the Kennel Club.

A genuine pedigree does not offer you any health guarantees.

Have my puppy’s parents have been screened?

It is up to you, the buyer, to determine whether or not the parents of your puppy have been screened.

But this isn’t enough. You also need to know that the results of the screening meet your requirements. Being informed that your potential puppy’s parents have been hip scored is not sufficient. You must check that this score was better than the average result.

You should only view a litter of Labrador puppies if both the parents have good hip scores and clear eye tests.

You should ask in advance for hip and eye test certificates of both dog and bitch to be available for your scrutiny when you visit the puppies.   Or better still, for copies to be emailed to you in advance of your journey.

If certificates are not forthcoming, you should walk away.

Remember, it’s easier and less embarassing to decide against a puppy from a certain litter before you meet in person.

What do the eye certificates mean?

Labradors are susceptible to a serious eye disease that causes blindness,  sometimes at a young age.

A ‘clear’ BVA eye test certificate means that the dog has been examined by a vet specialising in this field, and pronounced free from disease at the time of the examination.

It does NOT mean that the dog does not have the inherited condition,  just that he or she displays no sign  of it at this time.   These basic eye tests should be carried out on an annual basis.  You should check that both parents have a ‘clear’ eye certificate, and that the eye examination took place within the last twelve months.

What does the hip score certificate mean?

Hip dysplasia is a crippling disease of the hip joints.  The BVA hip certificate means that the dog’s hips have been x rayed and that the xrays have been examined and assessed by vets who specialise in this field.

After examination, each hip is allocated a score.  The lower the score, the better the hips.  A perfect hip has a score of zero.   But this is fairly unusual.

The score is expressed by two numbers – one for each hip.

You will often  see these written like this    5/7   or this   5-7  or this   5:7     The final hip score is the total of the two figures added together.  In this example, 12.

What we are looking for in good Labrador breeding stock is a hip score that is better than average.  This greatly reduces the chances of the puppies inheriting severe hip problems. However, it does not guarantee your puppy will have good hips.

This is because the disease is not caused by single gene, and there are other factors influencing the development of your puppy’s hips.

What is the average hip score?

This is expressed as the ‘breed mean’ and varies from breed to breed and from year to year.  You can find the latest data on the BVA website.

In Labradors,  the current five year mean is 12.

Most Labrador breeders should be aiming to breed from stock with a hip score that is lower than average and balanced. This should result in gradual improvement in the breed over time.

 What about tests for  other Labrador diseases?

There are some additional tests now available to Labrador breeders,  and these have been developed by independent organisations. These tests are for:

  • Prcd form of GPRA run by Optigen in America and under license at some other laboratories
  • CNM (Autosomal Recessive Centronuclear Myopathy) done by the Animal Health Trust
  • EIC Exercise Induced Collapse that is run by the University of Minnesota in America
  • Macular Corneal Dystrophy (MCD) a progressive hereditary visual disease

Visit our section on eye disease for more information about PRA blindness in Labradors

 The Optigen test is becoming popular, and many breeders are now testing their stock. This test is a ‘once only’ test and tells us whether the dog carries the gene which causes this type of blindness.

This means that if you purchase a puppy from two parents that are Optigen ‘Clear’, he can never develop or pass to his progeny, this type of inherited progressive blindness.

You can find out more about CNM on the Animal Health Trust website, and about EIC on the University of Minnesota website.

These tests are relatively recent developments and the more breeders that support them,  the better our chances of eradicating these unpleasant diseases.

What if the test result says ‘Carrier’

Sometimes, one parent of a litter of puppies, will be a ‘carrier’ for a particular disease, rather than ‘clear’.  This is not normally a problem provided that the other parent is ‘clear’ for the disease in question.

To read more about carriers and their role in a responsible breeding programme,  check out this article: What if your puppy is a carrier?

Why don’t all breeders test?

Genetic testing is not cheap.

As long as there is no obligation on breeders to test their stock, there will be breeders who do not bother.  It is therefore up to the public to put pressure on breeders to carry out these tests by refusing to purchase puppies from untested parents.

You can help encourage breeders to carry out these tests by enquiring about them whenever  you contact those offering puppies for sale, and by choosing puppies whose parents have been tested.

More Help and Information

You can find out more about Labrador health screening in the following articles:

This article was first published in 2011, and has been revised and updated for 2015.


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