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Unfortunately we have seen this attitude perpetuate into another generation of breeders and not just with regard to hypothyroidism. There is a breeder that admits to having a stud dog that is cryptorchid and not only does he admit to it but he promotes its use. There are "breeders" who are breeding dogs with no health clearances at all or only one health clearance such as OFA hips and not the least bit ashamed of what they may be doing to the breed's future. We see breeders offering no health guarantee or minimal nearly useless health guarantees. Sadly, a lot of these people are so-called leaders within the AWS community. This is not good leadership. We have spoken out on this issue within the community and some of the breeders have listened but others have not and the fact remains that none of this is good for the breed nor is it good for puppy buyers.
It is for puppy buyers - not just our buyers but any buyer - that we include this page devoted to AWS health issues. No breeder and no breeding is perfect. Problems will always rise up and bite us in one way or another. We can have dogs that are clear of any known problems, produce dogs with problems. That is the downside of genetics. HOWEVER, every breeder has a duty to the breed and to the puppy buyer to do all they can to prevent such problems from cropping up. That means doing health clearances - OFA Hip, OFA Cardiac, OFA Thyroid, OFA - ECR (Eye Certification Registry), OFA DM (Degenerative Myelopathy) - and removing cryptorchid dogs from the gene pool.
People should get their dogs from breeders that are constantly using health clearances in their breeding program and not from breeders who breed to titles, to pedigrees, claim their dogs are free of health issues but fail to prove it with clearances or claim that there really are no issues for the AWS and to not listen to people like us. There are good breeders out there but buyers need to dig for them a bit and make certain that their health claims are correct by verifying that with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
We are often asked for referrals to other breeders, after all we don't always have pups available, and when we give those referrals you can rest assured that the breeders or breeder we send you to is one that we believe does the relevant health checks and will stand behind their puppy.
Here are some links to other pages that discuss health issues that specifically relate to the AWS:
Do you wonder what health problems affect the AWS? Well, if so, reading the accumulating results of this survey will certainly help you gain a greater understanding of the problems that can show up in our breed.
This survey could help determine if there are significant health concerns in American Water Spaniels... but only if the AWS Club's leadership and AWS breeders pay attention to it. The results of this survey could assist the club in observing the overall health picture of American Water Spaniels. After years of collecting data through the survey, the AWSC has yet to take any meaningful steps toward improving the breed's health based upon survey results. However it still serves a purpose by giving breeders and enthusiasts a heads-up regarding possible health issues to look for and breed against. If you have or have had an AWS with health and wellness issues, please take some time to respond to the survey, many of us will be thankful that you did.
Despite what you may hear from a couple of breeders, when it comes to breeding dogs one of the things you learn early on is that a male dog that is found to be cryptorchid (has only one or no testicles in the scrotum) is to be removed from the gene pool.
"Castration or removal of both testes is the treatment of choice for cryptorchidism. ... in dogs, crytorchidism is considered hereditary and a dog with this condition should not be used for breeding," International Veterinary Information Service
Why is this so?
Unfortunately, a few years ago we found that there is at least one AWS breeder that is allowing his cryptorchid stud dog to be used with a number of females from other kennels. In such a small gene pool as that of the AWS such practices are probably not serving the breed well. Also, Dr. Vicki Meyers-Wallen of Cornell University is doing some great research into the investigation of DNA markers that may someday provide a genetic test to determine carriers of the disorder. Such identification would help breeders further minimize the incidence of cryptorchidism in dogs. If you click here you can read more about her work... be sure to page down to the section discussing cryptorchidism. Or you can simply click here to read an excerpt. Of course the easiest way to minimize cryptorchidism today is to simply not breed such dogs.
"Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 8 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. The affected dog will wobble when walking, knuckle over or drag the feet. This can first occur in one hind limb and then affect the other. As the disease progresses, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing. The weakness gets progressively worse until the dog is unable to walk. The clinical course can range from 6 months to 1 year before dogs become paraplegic. If signs progress for a longer period of time, loss of urinary and fecal continence may occur and eventually weakness will develop in the front limbs. Another key feature of DM is that it is not a painful disease." from, Canine Genetic Diseases.
We recently changed our position regarding testing for Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) for a couple of reasons; 1) this is a genetic test which, if used properly, could eliminate the disease from the breed entirely, 2) there are now muliple breeders who have tested for the disease, although they have not tested or at least reported on all of their breeding dogs, 3) the AWSC has suggested that breeders test for the disease (more on this later). The statistics for the breed have not changed and, according to the breed's health survey, remain at 2.7% affected (less than 3 dogs in every 100 as shown in the AWS health survey). This continues to seem insignificant enough to warrant wide spread testing but, for the reasons outlined earlier, we have chosen to go forward with the hope of reducing any potential for DM in the future.
As mentioned above, the AWSC suggested that breeders test for DM even though indications from both the OFA and the breed's health survey are that the number of AWS affected by this disease is likely extremely low. The AWSC did the same with regard to testing for cardiac abnormalities where, according to the club's own health survey, the abnormalities reported show only 7.1% affected and the OFA statisics, arguably a more accurate number, show a rate of less than 1% affected. It would be nice to see the organization embrace the OFA Thyroid test with such vigor given that both the health survey and OFA show hypothyroidism to be more of a problem than either cardiac disorders or DM. Perhaps one day it will.
Unfortunately there is no screening that can be done for canine epilepsy but it remains an issue nonetheless. If you suspect or have questions regarding epilepsy in the AWS contact the Keoni Project by clicking on the link above.
In the AWS Health Survey, under the category of Cardiac Disorders, is listed the disorder of heart murmur. This is a deceptive listing as a heart murmur is not a disorder but a symptom of several potential disorders and, therefore, should not be listed. One problem with having heart murmurs listed as a disorder is that it skews the survey in regard to cardiac disorders making such disorders appear to be far more prevalent than they truly are. For more information regarding heart murmurs click on the button above.
In the AWS Health Survey, as of March 2015, 11.9% of AWS in the survey are affected by this primarily genetic disorder. This is why we believe that all AWS used for breeding should undergo the OFA Thyroid health clearance. For a number of years now, we have called upon the AWSC leadership to add this clearance to the Canine Health Information Center's (CHIC) recommended list of health clearances for the breed. They simply refuse to act upon our call with some of its leaders putting up defenseless arguments. Click on the link above to read a thorough counter argument to some of their reasoning.
"Frequently, breeders want early knowledge of the hip status on puppies in a given litter. Preliminary hip evaluations may be as valuable to the owner or breeder as the final OFA evaluation. This allows early selection of dogs for use as show/performance/breeding prospects and dogs best suited for pet homes," reports the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. We believe in the use of preliminary hip clearances as an early screening tool for potential breeding dogs.