Disaster Dog

Good breeding practices are important to produce puppies that will bring joy to their owners for years. . .not heartache.

I recently returned two bags of hypoallergenic kibble because Risa couldn’t tolerate them. One made her itchy and the other upset her gut. 🙁 So I find myself trying to adjust her homecooked diet again to avoid whatever food(s) might be bothering her this time and try and create a balanced diet around that. It’s not easy. I’m not sure it’s possible.

Feeding a dog, in theory, should be one of the easiest parts of dog ownership. Open a bag and pour. Feed a well-researched homecooked diet or raw food diet. The proof should be in the dog and the poop. Shiny coat, good energy, no foul odors, and well-formed poops. However, there are many dogs with food allergies and sensitivities these days. So many that limited-ingredient diets are plentiful on store shelves and there are a variety of hypoallergenic prescription diets available as well.

There are, of course, probably many reasons why this is the case. Environmental changes, changes to our food supply, etc. A living being should be able to adapt to this and continue to thrive. So why are so many dogs plagued with itchies and gastrointestinal problems? Why are their immune systems so poor?

I don’t have a definitive answer for this. And, being that I’m not a scientist, I can only speculate. Being a dog owner with a dog that has food sensitivities and allergies. . .I can’t help but be frustrated. It shouldn’t be this hard to feed my dog. Why is it that my dog is not capable of surviving and thriving on a regular diet? Why is her immune system so messed up?! Every year it gets worse and worse; I’ve been battling food issues with her since she was 3 years old. 🙁

Risa is probably a prime example of what can go wrong with poor breeding practices. Of the three main things responsible breeders strive for (good health, solid temperament, and durability in structure), Risa got short-changed on all of them. Her immune system is a wreck causing GI distress. She’s fearful and her back is a mess of disc disease and arthritis. As one of my friends put it, a “Disaster Dog.” Everything you hope to never get in a dog (hybrid vigor my ass). The sort of dog that, most people, would probably give up on. Trying to do the best you can for a dog who lost the genetic lottery is challenging and frustrating. It can be both an emotional and financial burden. I’d be afraid to total up the money spent on trying to remedy Risa’s gastrointestinal problems over the past 11 years. And I’d have a hard time recalling all the times I’ve cried over the frustration of not being able to just feed my dog. Or not being able to help her cope with the scary world.

When seeking a responsible breeder, most people look for breed-specific health clearances and they meet the sire and dam to check for any temperament faults. You might even look for performance titles to have further proof of the dog’s potential for a solid temperament and trainability. But how common is it to ask if the dog has a history of allergies? Or if he has any siblings that do. What about thyroid issues? Endocrine issues? While the average Joe might consider “health testing” for a breeding dog as simple as whether or not the dog has been to a vet recently, how often do the educated ask about the general health of the dog and those in the line? More importantly, how honest would most breeders be about this?

Genetic diversity is the key to keeping our dogs healthy and happy over the long term. With less frustration for the owners.

I’ve never, EVER understood why breeders would choose to sweep certain things under the carpet. Most people assume that, if their dog has a health issue, that bringing it to the breeder’s attention is the best course. That way, the breeder can make informed decisions about breeding her dogs going forward. If they don’t know there’s a problem in their line, it’s hard to avoid. However, I know of many people who have informed their breeder about a health concern in their dog only to have the breeder throw it in their face and blame them for the defect. Denial is the worst thing you can do. Firstly, you make your puppy buyer feel badly (and probably worse since they’re already dealing with heartache due to their dog’s medical condition). Secondly, you perpetuate the problem by failing to admit to it and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. If you fail to take into account the information your puppy owners give you about your dogs and continue to breed the affected individuals, then you should not be surprised to see the same problem pop up. Even worse, you’re now subjecting more people to the horrors of long-term medical intervention and, potentially, the loss of their canine companion at a young age. 🙁 You claim to love the breed yet your failure to admit there’s an issue (and make it PUBLIC) only adds to more heartache. It’s not fair to the dogs or the people who love them.

There are also breeds out there with congenital defects that cannot be avoided because every single individual in the breed is affected. Yet, due to human’s insistence upon breeding purebred dogs, we continue to breed them anyway. By doing so, you’re selling disappointment and heartache to everyone who buys your puppy. Because you know that they’re going to have to deal with that health issue. That their dog could need long-term medication to survive to its 10th Birthday. . .or that it might spontaneously drop dead before then. How is that fair to the dog to knowingly breed an animal with a trait that will cause an early death? How is fair to sell a dog to someone knowing this? How do you expect to eliminate a genetic trait like this when every dog in the breed has it? I think we need to stop obsessing over whether or not a dog can be traced back to 1 (or several) individuals “establishing” it as a breed and focus on the health and longevity of the breed. Outcrossing is the only option when a breed is so inbred that everyone carries that negative trait. Sure, you may lose type in the first couple generations but it’s easy enough to get back. More importantly, you’ll be breeding healthier dogs.

I think breeders, as a whole, need to step up. They need to be more transparent about their dogs and disclose any health issues they’ve noticed to prospective buyers. Genetics is, of course, a crap shoot and weird things can happen despite the best efforts of any breeder. However, a good breeder should not make you feel badly for bringing it to their attention. They should also reconsider whether to continue breeding those dogs. No one should have to live with a Disaster Dog. No one should have to face that financial and emotional burden if it can be avoided.

Puppy buyers also need to step up and be better informed consumers. You need to start asking the right questions and really probe to find the answers. Especially if the breeder isn’t forthcoming with information. Talk not just to that breeder but other breeders about that breeder. Find owners of pups from their previous litters and discuss their dogs. Research into how long their dogs have lived and, if possible, the cause of death. Buying a dog from a Wal-Mart parking lot or a pet store should be your last option since you’re never going to get that sort of information. And those types of “breeders” aren’t the ones you should be seeking a dog from in the first place.

But what if you want a mixed breed instead? Why should what the purebred dog breeders do matter? If the diseases run in the purebred dogs, they’ll run in the mutts as well. And it can be harder to avoid in a mix if the genetic defect is uncommon in both breeds. If it’s recessive in one purebred and recessive in another, the chances of a dog inheriting both copies within that breed is lower. However, if you combine two breeds that both carry the recessive trait, you’ve just increased the puppies chances of inheriting it. The genetic health of purebreds directly affects the health of mixes, too. The traits in your mixed breed dog have to come from somewhere. 😉

We know so much about breeding and genetics now. So much more than when many of these breeds were established. We owe it to all dogs (and all dog owners and lovers) to be more cognizant of what we breed. To truly seek to breed healthy individuals. It is incredibly challenging to live with a dog with severe health issues and no one should have to go through it if it can be avoided. Just because medical technology has advanced to the point that a dog can live with a condition doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to breed dogs without it. And we definitely shouldn’t be breeding dogs we know are affected by it (or carrying it).

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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