Health

Health Testing – Entlebucher Mountain Dogs

Every dog breed has its own particular health issues – responsible breeders will always look to reduce the risk of unhealthy puppies by ensuring their breeding dogs have had the recommended health checks. If you are planning to buy a puppy of any breed, it is vitally important that you check that your puppy’s mum and dad have both had ALL the health tests recommended by the breed’s officially recognised club – that way you have the best possible chance of ensuring your puppy grows into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog.

Here in the EMDCGB, we take health testing very seriously and insist our breeders’ dogs have passed all of the following tests which are required by the Swiss Breed Club, being the club which has overall responsibility for the breed. Any breeder approved by the EMDCGB will be happy to share the results of the tests for their puppies’ parents with you on request. 

If you are buying a puppy and the breeder is unable or unwilling to show the results of all of these tests for both parents then we would ask you to think carefully before proceeding or perhaps speak to us for advice.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a range of conditions, associated with the eyes, in which the retina degenerates leading to blindness. It is not present in all breeds of dog and thankfully, where it is known, there is a simple DNA test which can be undertaken to find if a dog is a carrier of the relevant gene. Only one type of PRA is known within Entlebuchers and that is Progressive Rod-Cone Degeneration (prcd). It is an autosomal recessive gene, which means that for the condition to be expressed, the dog must inherit defective genes from both parents. This is good news for breeding as it means that as long as one of the parents is clear of the condition then there is no risk of any of their puppies developing the condition.

When dogs are tested they are referred to as ‘A’ ‘B’ or ‘C’. An ‘A’ is a dog who has two perfectly healthy copies of the gene and cannot pass the condition on to any pups. A dog classified as ‘B’ is a carrier of the condition, meaning that one copy of the gene is affected and thus gives a 50% chance of passing the damaged gene on to puppies. A dog classified as ‘C’ has copies of the gene which are both defective and will at some point in his life develop the condition. Usually, sight deteriorates from the age of three onwards, but in some dogs it can be much earlier than this and may even be before the dog leaves puppyhood.

In all responsible breeding programmes a dog which is classified as ‘B’, and is therefore a carrier, should only ever be mated with a dog which is completely clear of the condition.

Cataracts

There are a number of types of cataract as well as different reasons for their occurrence. Not enough is known to be able to be completely certain which types may be hereditary and which are unlikely to be. However, from the pattern of occurrence in the Entlebucher breed it is reasonable to conclude that at least some forms of cataract are of a hereditary nature. That being the case, the safest option would be not to breed from any dogs with cataracts, however in a very limited gene pool to rule out every last condition would lead to poor breeding choices and greater risk of other problems developing. Some countries do choose to exclude all Entlebuchers with cataracts from the breeding programme, whilst others permit breeding from a dog with a single small cataract in one eye, but only when bred to a dog who is clear. The UK Club takes the latter approach.

Although it is a matter of debate, cataracts do not often present a massive problem to the dog and in many cases where the cataracts are small they are barely noticeable to either dog or owner.

Glaucoma

In simple terms, glaucoma is the build-up of fluid in the eye due to problems of drainage. High pressure in the eye can cause both headaches for the dog as well as pressure on the optic nerve leading to loss of vision and ultimately blindness. It can be a very painful condition and normally leads to the loss of the eye. Primary glaucoma can be hereditary. There is no definitive test which can show if a dog carries the gene(s) for the condition, partly because it is not a single condition. Progress is being made in this area with other breeds, but it may be some time before there is an easy test for all breeds. The best option is a gonioscopy, which is a painless eye test looking at the area at the front of the eye where fluid drains from the eye. A gonioscopy provides information that can be a strong indicator of the risk of developing the condition.

It is best not to breed from dogs which do have the primary form of glaucoma, but as it may not develop until after a dog begins breeding this is not always possible. It is another situation where having as much information regarding the background of parents and other family members is a valuable resource in evaluating the risk. This when combined with the information from the gonioscopy eye examination enables some level of prediction of the risk of any particular mating combination giving rise to puppies which might be affected. The UK Club works with other European Clubs to assess this for our breeding dogs.

Heart

In Switzerland and in the UK a simple heart test is undertaken and dogs which show a heart murmur do not go on to breed. There can be reasons of the health and welfare of the breeding dog herself, not to use a bitch with a heart murmur for breeding, but the primary reason is to prevent genetic heart conditions from being passed on.

Hips

In common with many breeds, the Entlebucher can suffer from Hip Dysplasia. In general, in later life, many animals have hip problems and the factors which affect this are four-fold. In testing breeding dogs, nothing can be done about problems caused by injury, over-exercise or inappropriate exercise at a young age, or diet. However, the element of hip problems which is genetic is something which can be reduced with good breeding.

Across the world, good breeders will have their breeding dogs x-rayed for hip dysplasia. This is normally done when the dog is around fifteen months of age. Before this, development of the joints is still taking place and it is therefore too early to identify issues. Testing at around fifteen months helps to ensure that the element that is recorded is less likely to be through injury or other problems.

The opinions on which dogs should then breed do vary, as does the scoring system in place in different parts of the world. In the UK each hip is scored on a points system, with the different parts of the hip joint being given a score separately for each of the left and right hip. A score of zero would be perfect in each hip. A score of 106 would be the very worst it could be, with a maximum of 53 for each hip.

The main FCI European grading matches to the UK scoring as follows:
A-1 – a total score of no more than 4 with a maximum of 3 on an individual hip.
A-2 – a score of 5 to 10 in total with no more than 6 on either hip.
B-1 – a score of 11 to 18 in total.
B-2 – a score of 19 to 25 in total.
C – a score of 26 to 35 in total.
D – a score of 36 to 50 in total.
E – a score of 51 – 106 in total.

Breeding from a dog whose hips are graded D or E would not be acceptable under the regulations of most countries. At the time of writing, no Entlebucher scored in the UK Club has received any worse than a B2 rating.

Ectopic Ureter

In very simple terms, ectopic ureter (EU) is a condition where the line (ureter) from each kidney to the bladder enters the bladder in the wrong place. There may also be times where the ureter runs some distance through the bladder wall giving rise to pressure preventing the normal passage of fluid.

Pressure on the ureters can lead to urine backing up into the kidneys, ultimately causing death. One or both ureters entering the bladder below the sphincter muscles leads to incontinence. Not only is this inconvenient and very unpleasant but also gives rise to frequent bladder infections which can ultimately move on to the kidneys. In the Entlebucher breed, female puppies born with this condition are unlikely to survive early puppyhood, whilst male puppies are more able to find ways to compensate and it may not show itself until later in life.

Dogs are assessed through an ultrasound examination to identify the position in the bladder that the ureters enter. Those whose ureters correctly enter at the top of the bladder are graded ‘A’, an ideal situation. Those whose ureters enter further down the bladder are graded ‘B’, with a measurement of the distance from the bladder opening being recorded. Those whose ureters are positioned below the first valve of the bladder are graded ‘C’ and are regarded as affected whether or not they show any outward symptoms of the condition.

Around three-quarters of the Entlebucher population who have been tested are ‘B’.

The incidence of the condition has been reduced since restricting breeding to unaffected dogs. The UK Club does not breed from affected dogs.