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  • Writer's pictureLeilani Nichols

Our Current Philosophy On Health Testing

An ever evolving topic, and a touchy one for many breeders, health testing!

OFA for years has been considered the "Gold Standard" for health testing. We used to have to bring every dog to a specialist vet, have blood drawn etc. and each test itself was individually booked/paid for.

In my early years of breeding I would put all of my dogs in the back seat of my car once a year and make the pilgrimage to our nearest major city where vets offered these tests to which commentary I would receive "We don't see many Cairn Terriers" and "You want me to check for what?" In which I would present my OFA paperwork, explain the importance of the test, and how it needed to be filled out and mailed.

With the advancement of my knowledge and technology it's safe to say the pilgrimage for OFA testing is no longer necessary (For my breed unless under special circumstances) here's why:

-My major concerns are recessive genetic disorders (If dogs are not crossed correctly). A dog can carry a genetic disorder, but not present with it. To break this down as simple as possible, if a dog carries one copy of the disorder they can pass on one copy, but it will not effect their health. If a dog has TWO copies (So one from each parent) of a disorder, then they are at risk of presenting it. Things I'm looking out for: CMO, Blood/Platelet Disorders such as GCL, Congenital Macrothrombocytopenia etc. I DO NOT EVER EVER EVER breed two dogs that are recessive carriers of the same disorder, because then those puppies would be at risk of having health issues.

-Whenever dogs get smaller you have more potential risk. It's a trade off of having a tiny cute dog. If you have a 10lb Cairn Terrier you are a higher likelihood of Patellar Luxation, Kidney/Liver Challenges etc. The more I have researched this the more the plain text reads: All breeds of all small dogs are at a higher likelihood of these issues. If you are going to get a tiny adorable dog, do not try to make them an agility or hiking athlete. Small dogs are great companions. I love the small Cairns we've had, and cross them carefully. Patellar Luxation can also be OFA certified, though a breeder with years of experience can spot a dog with the problem. This can be bred out of a line if crossed correctly.

-Why would you breed a dog that carries ANY genetic "problem"? Good question! If we are making good choices for breeding crosses the puppies may have one copy of the gene, but will not present it themselves. The only time it could be harmful is if someone bred that puppy to another dog that carries the same issue. This is why it is important to ALWAYS tell the breeder if you intend to breed, or at least have your dog and their mate tested. So circling back to the, but why breed them at all? Simple! Genetic Diversity. If we only bred the dogs with completely beautiful and clean Genetic tests than we would bottle neck the bloodlines to a tiny group of dogs (likely all even more closely related since Cairn Terriers already average 25% relation to each other) We have a few dogs that are as low as 15% COI which makes us feel very proud of our efforts in genetic diversity! Both of these numbers are MUCH lower than several other purebred breeds which is part of why Cairn are known for their hardiness in the health department. By crossing a carrier of a recessive gene with a dog that is not a carrier we could keep a puppy from the next generation to breed that has genetics of the carrier but is not a carrier themselves. Creating what I like to call a "Clean Line" I love the clean lines because breeding decisions are very very simple, they can be crossed with just about anyone.

Another thought on this matter. You could have a "clean line" but the dog could be aggressive, or a line that carries a single copy of an undesirable gene, but they could be the best companion on planet earth. What is your preference?

-So how do you know genetically what your dog is and isn't a carrier for as a breeder? We use Embark! It gives us in depth analysis of how closely related our dogs are and what genes they do or do not carry in the health department.

Final thoughts. As a breeder it is my job to make the best breeding decisions possible and to raise healthy happy puppies that are well socialized and enrich their owners lives. I should communicate clearly and fairly to my puppy homes and do my best to make it a fond experience for them. As a puppy home it is their job to provide adequate nutrition to a growing puppy, train and house that puppy, and raise them to be a good companion. It takes trust from both breeder and puppy owner that each will do justice to the animal.

I'm confident in my philosophy and raise healthy dogs that enrich people's lives for years to come. My best advice to puppy homes or breeders that do not agree is, find another breeder. Just as we expect our hair stylist, or auto mechanic to be a professional and knowledgeable about their craft, this is my craft, and I have spent years making the best decisions for my "pack".

Life Is Merrier With A Cairn Terrier-


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