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Health and Wellness |
"All breeds of dogs encounter health issues. Please be careful not to assume that finding and discussing health issues in any breed means that the breed is not a healthy one. Rather, know that breeders and owners openly discussing health issues can only bring about an improvement in the breed's overall health. Working together as partners, we can make a difference"
Our friends at the Keoni Project.
Some have asked just why it is that we feel a need to have a page devoted to the health of the AWS, let us take a moment to tell you. We absolutely adore this breed and want to see it perpetuate for generations to come. For that to happen ALL breeders, from the smallest to the largest, the newest to the oldest, need to make sure that their breeding stock are healthy and of sound body.
As one AWS community member has said, health clearances are not the only thing a breeder needs to consider when deciding to breed an AWS for "Clearly...you must include temperament, conformation, coat, hunting ability, patches of white, etc." She is absolutely correct but what she fails to acknowledge or believe or at least share with others is that there must be a basis or starting point for every AWS breeder which is universal. We believe that basis is health and that there are some common health clearances and issues every breeder must conduct and consider.
The hunter with an AWS that can't keep up in the field because it has a heart problem could care less about his dog's white patch and everything about his dog's health. The agility competitor whose AWS suffers from hip dysplasia is not going to be one bit concerned about how much coat her dog has if the dog can't run an agility course because of its bad hips. The companion dog owner is not going to worry about how good his dog's conformation is if the dog is blind. Yes, there are many things to consider when breeding a dog but to set health issues on par with things like patches of white, hunting ability or conformation seems to be a matter of not seeing the forest for the trees.
After all, we all pretty much acknowledge that without good health, the rest of our lives, no matter how they are otherwise blessed, can be pretty miserable. The same holds true for our canine friends. Living with a canine companion that suffers from health problems can also be rather depressing and frustrating. Having to do that because health clearances were not obtained before a breeding took place or known health and genetic issues were ignored because a dog has certain titles or supposed hunting ability, calls into question the ethics of the breeding. Even the American Water Spaniel Club, the AWS parent club for the AKC, acknowledges this in its Constitution, Code of Ethics and through one of its newsletter columns titled Ccing with AWS's. In that column the AWSC lists dogs that have been bred, the health clearances obtained or not obtained, and whether or not a dog had the clearances before it was bred. We share in the AWSC's concern about making sure that health clearances are obtained and that they are done before the breeding and not after.
Former President Jimmy Carter once said, "The awareness that health is dependent upon habits that we control makes us the first generation in history that to a large extent determines its own destiny" We feel that a similar statement can be made about the health of our pure bred dogs. Never before have we had the tools to prevent problems from occurring or being as prevalent as they have been in the past. Through good breeding habits like the use of health clearances and other tools we can determine a better destiny for our AWS.
From the time of our entry into the AWS world we have seen breeders who did not do all that they could or should to reduce the number of AWSs free of disorders like hip dysplasia, eye abnormalities, hypothyroidism or cardiac illness. Back 20+ years ago this was partly due to the fact that there were breeders who had been breeding for 30 or more years, had never done health clearances, and simply were not of the mindset to change their ways. The newer breeders were adapting to the new health clearances and realizing that there was a benefit to the breed if they were used. The future looked good.
In the early 2000s we bought a dog from a well known breeder in northern Wisconsin. This dog was intended to be used in our breeding program provided that he passed all of his health clearances. When he was 16 months old we began what was then our normal round of health clearances that included Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) Preliminary Hip, OFA Cardiac and CERF (now replaced by OFA - ECR). He passed all clearances. Later that year, the dog he was to be bred to came in season a little shy of six weeks prior to the stud dog turning two years of age. Since he had passed all his clearances including his preliminary hip we decided to breed him and set up his final hip clearance for two months later.
So, shortly after the age of two this dog was at Michigan State University to undergo his final OFA hip x-ray and we were asked if we would like to have the then new OFA Thyroid test run. We readily agreed, interested in seeing what the test was all about but expecting that everything would be fine. Two weeks later we found out that he had tested positive for autoimmune hypothyroidits, a condition that in most cases leads to hypothyroidism and is genetic in nature. We held a conversation about the test results with the researcher that had developed the test and were informed that for this test to show up as positive one of the parents had to be affected and the other a carrier. That dog was immediately pulled from our breeding program and placed in a loving home.
We quickly tested all of our dogs - even our old ones that were well beyond breeding age - and all of them passed their OFA Thyroid tests becoming the first AWS to do so. Further investigation found that there was some evidence of what the researcher had indicated, hypothyroidism was a factor in the new dog's ancestors. When we contacted the breeder about this there was much denial and even a wish to get him back so that the breeder could use him for breeding. We were dumbfounded and extremely disappointed in such an attitude but it was an eye opener to what other breeders might be doing... or not doing.