This portion of the site will be updated as frequently as needed, with any new development or discoveries in the diseases, treatments, screenings, or how they affect Dutch Shepherds.
There ARE genetic health problems in the Dutch Shepherd Dog, just as in any other breed. This may seem like common sense, but I have seen with my own eyes the claim that they have “no health problems”. Genetic diseases include confirmed: hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia (estimated rate AT LEAST 6.4%), elbow dysplasia (estimted rate AT LEAST 1.3%) , and their sequele Degenerative Joint Disease. Unconfirmed but highly suspected: Malignant Hyperthermia, Atopy (allergies), and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. All these conditions are incurable and genetically passed.
1. Malignant Hyperthermia is an abnormality in muscle fibers, in which a dog has the tendency to become dangerously overheated. It is variably expressed in carriers, and can appear as no symptoms, intolerance for hard work, increased post-work muscle soreness or gastrointenstinal signs, or even sudden death. There is no direct test for this disease or the gene (in Dutch Shepherds) at present.
2. Atopy, more commonly called allergies, can be a frustrating and debilitating disease and varies greatly in severity. Typical signs are red skin with itching, chronic ear infections and recurrent skin infections. Allergies can be to many common environmental things (pollens, insects and their bites, wool, jute, feathers, etc.) or food components. Allergies are a manifestation of an abnormal immune system and involve many complex factors. Thus there is no direct gene test for carriers or susceptibility. Confirmation of allergy is done by blood or skin testing of a symptomatic individual.
3. Inflammatory Bowel disease is similar in many ways to Atopy – you could think of it as an allergic intestine. The
root of the problem is an abnormal immune system reaction to food components, causing white blood cells to
invade the wall of the intestine. The white blood cells create inflammation and an abnormal environment for
normal intestine function. Signs vary greatly, including recurrent diarrhea, vomiting of food or bile, and failure to
gain weight normally. In any dog (or cat) with a “sensitive stomach” that is otherwise healthy and parasite-free,
IBD should be considered a possibility. There is no gene test for carriers or susceptibility. Confirmation is done by
intestinal biopsy and histopathology in a symptomatic individual.
4. Hypothyroidism (1 case confirmed). In dogs 99% of hypothyroidism is attributable to a previous autoimmune reaction of the body against proteins in the thyroid gland. The abnormal immune system “attack” is rarely noticed – symptoms start once the gland is destroyed and the hormone falls to below normal levels. At that time symptoms can range, often weight gain, poor coat, hair loss, lethargy, and subnormal fertility are seen. The disease is considered a genetic predisposition, but often needing environmental factors to initiate (very similar to theories on type 1 Diabetes Mellitus in humans). No direct genetic test is available. Blood testing for immune factors against the thyroid is a screening that can catch early or subclinical problems, and that is the basis for the OFA thyroid certification. In order to be truly reliable, it must be repeated yearly because the disease can begin any time in adulthood.
The aforementioned are problems that can occur sporadically and can also be insidious. They often show up in adult dogs and can mimic other conditions. Testing on any dog with symptoms BEFORE breeding and elimination of any animal with confirmed disease is necessary to at least prevent the rampant spread of the problem. Another key to prevent spread of these diseases is monitoring offspring for problems.
5. Joint Disease…. Ah, a huge topic. This is the one not-so-uncommon problem that CAN be screened for reliably. Yet, disturbingly, many people do not bother. I have actually been told, “his xrays looked fine, it doesn’t make sense for me financially to send them in”. OFA costs $35. That is, assuming Xrays were taken in the first place, which would be the larger expense. I have also found more than once, so-called breeders lying about hip screenings! So buyer beware – it is easy enough to ask for a copy of the certificate if there is indeed a claim of hip or elbow certifications.There are many systems for “official hip certifications”, defined here as: a group of individuals experienced in reading canine joint radiographs (usually orthopedic surgeons or radiologists) who give a rating based on some standardized system, without bias (most often the xrays are read without any owner information attached). There are several organizations that offer the service and more than one way of evaluating hip xrays. I am just going to address the more common ones:
A. OFA, Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. This long-standing organization uses a single hip-extended view to look at depth and fit of the hip joint socket, and also look for any sign of bone remodeling that would indicate arthritis (Degnerative Joint Disease). All passing evaluations are PUBLIC online, so it is easy enough to check for a particular dog via their database. There are two main downfalls of the OFA screening. First, it is a subjective evaluation that can vary depending on the particular evaluators. Three evaluators separately give their rating, and the consensus is what the official rating is. With the consensus method and experienced readers, there is less variation but it can still occur. Second, it is not a good predictor of risk of arthritis. Development of arthritis is multi factorial, with hip laxity, environment, nutrition, and other elements affecting expression. I personally know dogs that have been rated OFA good at 2 Years old, but developed severe arthritis by 5 years old. It is primarily for this reason that I rely more on the PennHip system.
B. European rating systems are multiple, but they all use letters or numbers to indicate hip conformation by the same hip-exended view and the same basic parameters as OFA. Another consideration with (most) European systems is they can be done as early as 1 year of age, at which time joint disease is less likely to be visible. Thus there is the same risk as with OFA, that it does not always predict degenerative joint disease well. It is an extension of the kennelclub, but unpedigreed DS that include most KNPV-line dogs are still eligible to have “official certifications”.
C. PennHip – Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program. This system was developed by those looking for a more objective system for evaluating hip joints, especially since statistics showed cessation of progress in reducing arthritis. In otherwords, the OFA system allowed identification and removal of obviously dysplastic animals, but those other factors causing arthritis were still being passed on and causing dysplasia in successive generations. The main factor identified as creating arthritis in dogs with initially normal-appearing hip joints is passive laxity. That is, the amount of movement allowed between ball and socket of the joint – obviously bones banging around more makes arthritis more likely. Simply put, the lower the PennHip number the better the joint (lower the risk of ever getting arthritis). Breed averages are kept and updated quarterly. Theoretically, breeding animals should be in the better 50% of the breed (a number that does change over time) to continually improve this trait. So, you may say, 50% that eliminates many good dogs! Yes, I have personally removed three otherwise excellent bitches from my breeding program (including an amazing PH1 titled female). I see it as a responsibility and the right thing to do, no matter how difficult the decision is.
Finally, elbow dysplasia. It does happen. There are several causes, not all genetic. They should be checked.