Health Testing Overview

Photo by Amy Opoka.

Health testing plays an increasingly bigger role in breeding decisions in our breed. Below are descriptions of the kinds of health tests available to Deerhound breeders and owners today. More information on all of these conditions can be found in the Health Issues menu of this web site.

Genetic Tests

Currently, we have two genetic health tests, one for Factor VII Deficiency and the other for Delayed Post-operative Hemorrhage (DEPOH). The SDCA recommends that breeders

  • know the Factor VII and DEPOH status of their breeding stock,
  • know whether or not their puppies could be affected by Factor VII and/or DEPOH, and
  • inform puppy buyers of their puppy’s Factor VII and DEPOH status.

For more information, the SDCA has published Health Testing Guidelines for breeders.

If the Factor VII  and/or DEPOH status of a dog isn’t known, genetic testing is recommended.

Genetic tests look at the dog’s DNA to see if the dog is at risk for that genetic disease and, in some cases, estimate the amount of risk. Genetic tests are good for the life of the dog, so you only need to test once.

Here is more information on Factor VII Deficiency and DEPOH, including where to order the genetic tests.

Although it is not a health issue, there is a genetic test for the mutation that causes hairlessness in our breed. Breeders who want to make sure they do not produce any hairless puppies can test their dogs at any age using Mars Optimal Selection.

Health Screening Tests

Health screening tests look for physical signs of disease before there are symptoms. Breeders use health screening tests on breeding animals to 1) make sure they are healthy enough to withstand the rigors of breeding and 2) to try to determine whether they have a presumed genetic condition for which we don’t yet have a genetic test.

Many Deerhound owners do health screening tests to find diseases early, when they can be easier to treat.

Currently there are several health screening tests that make sense for Deerhound owners to do:

For puppies, the SDCA recommends both a bile-acid test to screen for congenital liver shunts and a heart auscultation to check for heart defects. A regular veterinarian can do both of these tests, and the SDCA recommends that breeders do both tests before puppies go to their homes and inform buyers of the results.

If the bile-acid test is normal, then the puppy does not have a congenital liver shunt and the dog does not need to be tested again for this condition. Although a heart auscultation will detect most heart defects, it is still possible that a mild defect exists but is not picked up by the stethoscope; the only way to confirm that no defect exists is to do a cardiac ultrasound. However, heart defects are rare in Deerhounds, so an ultrasound is not necessary for puppies whose hearts sound normal on their auscultation.

For adult dogs, the SDCA recommends a cardiac ultrasound be done by a veterinary cardiologist to breeding adults before breeding to make sure there are no heart defects or signs of dilated cardiolomyopathy (DCM).

As there is some evidence that DCM can be more successfully treated, extending both the quantity and quality of life for affected dogs, if diagnosed early, many Deerhound owners have their dogs ultrasounded by a veterinary cardiologist every year or two to screen for this disease. As DCM can occur in Deerhounds from as early as two years of age all the way into old age, and an echocardiogram can only detect disease that is apparent at the time of the test, this testing should be done from about the age of two until the dog’s death.

For healthy dogs, a cardiac clinic is a relatively inexpensive way to have your dog’s heart checked. The SDCA runs a cardiac clinic annually at its national specialty. If you can’t make the specialty, the Cavalier Health Fund has a comprehensive list of health clinics on its web site.

If a Deerhound was not given a bile acid test as a puppy, it is recommended for adult dogs, as not all dogs with liver shunts are noticeably symptomatic, especially when young.

Although it is not on the list of recommended health tests for breeding animals yet, another screening test that can be worthwhile for intact male Deerhounds is the nitro-prusside (NP) test for cystinuria. This urine test, which is only run by the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S., tests for amino acids, including cystine, in the urine. High levels of cystine in the urine can mean a higher risk of the dog forming cystine bladder stones, which can cause infection and discomfort and even become a life-or-death emergency for the dog if he becomes blocked and can’t urinate.

The NP test is not yet a recommended health test for breeding stock because, although it is very reliable in other breeds, for reasons we don’t yet understand, it is not as reliable a predictor of cystinuria in Deerhounds. As there have been both false positives and false negatives reported, it should not be the sole criterion to make breeding decisions. However, the test is very worthwhile to help the club’s cystinuria research, and a positive result can put you on your guard that your dog may have a problem down the road. This test is usually offered—and 100% subsidized—at the national specialty, and the club does the shipping, so that’s a great time to get your intact male dog tested annually, and you can bring samples from dogs not attending the show. However, this test is only worth doing on intact (or recently neutered) males, as they are the only Deerhounds who get this disease.

Our blog also has more information: see the Recommended Health Test and Genetic Testing Information categories.