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Health testing for dogs before breeding (the need to knows)

by | Nov 16, 2023

Health testing for dogs isn’t a nice to have or an afterthought. It’s a fundamental step that should underpin whether you even decide to breed from a sire or dam…. Or not!

As reputable, responsible dog breeders, health testing is essential. 

We want to be certain that the dogs we choose to breed from are clear of health conditions that could affect their future pups. And certain that we’re choosing dog’s of sound temperament for the roles their puppies will grow into. 

Health testing takes care of the first piece of that puzzle. 

So let’s get under the hood of WHY it’s so important and HOW it can inform your breeding plans – so you can futureproof and make excellent decisions that improve the health of your breed. 

Why is health testing for dogs so important? 

Health screening dogs BEFORE you breed, gives you clear data on the kind of genes they may pass on to their puppies. It gives you the information you need to make informed choices that reduce the risk of producing dogs that are affected by health issues. 

Every dog gets two sets of genes, one from its mum and one from its dad. These genes are duplicated by each parent when they make eggs or sperm, passing them on to their pups.

It’s therefore crucial that BOTH parents are health tested PRIOR to making a decision to mate.  

golden retriever dog with puppy sitting on grass

Health testing for dogs before breeding

As a responsible dog breeder, your breeding decisions should be informed by research to promote the healthiest litters and the best health outcomes for your pups.

An intimate understanding of a breeding dog’s qualities and faults and how a potential sire or dam of a litter can best contribute to the improvement of a breed is a time-honoured and worthy goal. 

Health testing unlocks a breadth of genetic information that empowers you with the data you need to decide whether to breed and who from – as opposed to taking risks that can have a monumental impact on dogs and their families for years to come. 

We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to produce healthy, robust puppies that will live happy lives once they leave our care. 

Knowing more about the genetics of potential breeding pairs enables you to reduce the risk of passing on inherited conditions. Understanding whether your dog carries or is affected by a particular disease-causing gene can help you know what to look for in a similarly DNA-tested mate.

Health testing also contributes to a broader understanding of prevalent health issues within specific breeds, promoting community awareness and collaborative efforts that fosters breed health improvement.

What health checks should a dog have before breeding? 

The health checks recommended for your dog will vary by breed, as different breeds have a higher predisposition to specific inherited conditions. For example, Poodles and Cocker Spaniels should be PRA checked and Dachshunds screened for IVDD, among other conditions. 

The genetic markers for some of these conditions show in the blood, so you can use a DNA test to see whether they’re affected by the condition, are carriers of it, or are clear.  Read on for more on what these terms mean. 

6 yellow labrador puppies on a pink sofa

For some health conditions, you will need to go beyond DNA testing to acquire more specialist screening. For example you may have follow up tests to further your understanding of your dog’s health and future proofing for your litters. 

DNA tests can give you strong insights to pair together with these extra tests. 

The health tests you undertake will give you targeted data on health conditions that affect your breed(s), so you can make educated choices to improve health in your breeding programmes. 

You can find a full list of health checks by breed here. 

7 Benefits of DNA Testing for Dog Health:

By addressing and exploring health issues early, dogs are more likely to lead longer, healthier, happier lives. This is fundamental for reputable breeders who seek to improve the lineage and wellbeing of the breeds whose lives they influence. 

1. Early Detection of Health Issues

Health testing allows for the identification of potential genetic or hereditary health issues before they manifest, enabling early intervention.

2. Informed Breeding Decisions

Breeders can make informed decisions about breeding pairs, minimising the risk of passing on genetic conditions to offspring. Health testing demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of the individual dog and the overall breed.

3. Preventive Measures

Knowing a dog’s genetic predispositions empowers breeders to implement preventive measures, such as electing not to breed or pairing with a dog who will improve the health outcomes for future offspring.    

4. Proactive Healthcare

Health testing results enable vets to tailor healthcare plans based on a dog’s specific genetic makeup. This allows for early intervention and personalised care plans to address potential health concerns.

5. Improved Breeding Practices

Breeders can enhance the overall health of a breed by selectively breeding dogs with favourable genetic traits, reducing the incidence of hereditary diseases.

6. Educated Ownership

Health testing results educate dog owners about their dog’s unique health profile, fostering a better understanding of potential risks and needs.

7. Quality of Life Improvements

Owners can make lifestyle adaptations and provide targeted care to enhance their dog’s quality of life based on health test results.

How Does DNA Testing for Dogs Work?

There really is no excuse for not health testing. With modern advances, it’s insanely easy to do and takes just minutes. 

MyDogDNA tests are super easy – all it takes is a simple swab of the dog’s mouth and you’ll get access to a wealth of information that’ll inform your breeding decisions. 

How to health test with MyDogDNA tests:

Step 1 – Collect DNA: Take a sample of skin cells from your dog’s cheek using the (2) swabs provided (both are for one dog). Dry the swabs and place them back in original packaging.

Step 2 – Activate Your Kit: Activate your kit online and receive your activation code to write on your sample ID sticker.

Step 3 – Mail Your Test: Secure your sample in the pre-paid box/envelope and mail it to their lab.

Step 4 – Receive Your Results: You will receive a comprehensive report with results for the disease, trait and diversity testing and much more!

Understanding your dog’s DNA test results 

MyDogDNA tests deliver you easy to understand results that are recognised by all canine health registries. 

You receive an interactive online report, a pdf formatted “Technical Report” identifying the specific “copy number” of the gene variant as well as its interpretation, and any disorders that are significant to your dog’s breed are highlighted at the top of your report. 

This makes it really simple to see whether your dog is a carrier/affected by a genetic disorder. 

If your dog is a carrier/affected, it will be clearly displayed in your results and you will be provided with a full description of what the results mean for your dog and through information on the subject.

Dog DNA test terminology explained

 “Clear” =  This means the dog doesn’t have any copies of a particular condition in its DNA. It’s like saying the dog is free from that specific genetic issue.

“Notable” = The dog has one copy of a recessive condition in its DNA. Think of it as having a “noticeable” presence of a certain genetic trait, but it’s not causing a problem on its own.

“At Risk” = The dog has two copies of a recessive condition or one to two copies of a dominant condition in its DNA. This suggests a higher risk because the dog either has a double dose of a recessive issue or is carrying a potentially problematic dominant trait. 

“Affected” = The dog is showing signs or experiencing problems related to a particular genetic condition. It means the dog is impacted by the genetic issue, and it’s affecting its health or well-being.

“Carrier” = The dog has one copy of a recessive condition but doesn’t show any signs or symptoms because it’s a recessive trait. It’s like being a genetic carrier without being affected; the dog can pass on the trait to its offspring without being personally affected by it.

Genetic Predispositions and Preventative Measures:

Beyond identifying active conditions or genetic markers, developing a deep understanding of the conditions that can affect our breeds allows us to be proactive. 

We can make lifestyle adjustments, nutritional choices, and adapt exercise plans to safeguard our dogs and their puppies from suffering. 

Simple things like being aware of slippery floors or not over exercising when pups are still developing can make a big impact on their future wellbeing and health.

Being informed and educated also allows us to better prepare our puppy’s new owners, assisting them in taking the very best care of their new arrival. From health supplements to how we exercise our growing puppies – DNA gives us the insights to take the very best care of our dogs.   


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Rebecca Walters

I’m Rebecca Walters, founder of Pupstarts Breeders. I’m a 5-star licensed dog breeder, an ex-licensing officer, and a woman committed to changing the industry for good.

I want to deliver all the dog breeding information, advice and education you need to be an ethical and reputable dog breeder who makes a difference in the world.

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