Health issues

For the latest health information please see the Health sections on the Portuguese Water Dog Club of Great Britain website:https://www.portuguesewaterdogs.org.uk/health-conditions 

or the PWD Club of America site:  https://www.pwdca.org/health

We believe it is essential that all PWD breeders should fully health test their breeding dogs. We do this and we will gladly and openly share the results with prospective owners and explain what they mean.

 

Whilst the PWD is a relatively hardy and healthy breed, as with all breeds, there are certain known health conditions that can affect breeding. Different health issues can appear at any age so look for a breeder who undertakes all relevant tests before mating and doesn't breed their dogs until they are at least two years old. 

Many health problems can affect any breed and the use of available health tests will assist the good breeder to make informed breeding decisions and add valuable information to build the breeds genetic profile for the future. The more breeders who undertake the tests the more accurate the data we will have to ensure a healthy breed going forward. If a breeder has done no health tests - then walk away.

 

Whilst these issues don’t affect all PWDs it is important to be aware of the following if you are considering the breed:

X-ray tests

  • Hip Dysplasia 

  • Elbow Dysplasia

DNA  / gene testing

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)  & Early Onset PRA (EOPRA)

  • JCDM Junior Dilated CardioMyopathy

  • GM1-Gangliosidosis

Others tests & health issues

  • Improper coat 

  • Addison's Disease

Currently, there are no mandatory veterinary screening schemes or DNA tests relevant to this breed under the Assured Breeder Scheme, however, we test our dogs for all currently available tests at the time and we believe that all reputable breeders should and would want to do this too.  If they don’t test or won’t disclose the results, I would have to ask why and I certainly wouldn’t have a puppy. Most of the results from breeders who test are freely available on the Kennel Club ( KC) Website. Some labs automatically put the results on the KC website but if they didn't have a licence to do this it may say “results with breeder”. The breed tests have just changed again to “My dog DNA “,  a new laboratory, and its not clear whether they will be automatically submitting uploaded results to the KC for each dog.  All reputable breeders test and share the results for their breeding PWD.

​X-Ray tests

Hip Dysplasia  

Hip Dysplasia is a heritable and complex condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. As the dog gets older, the joint undergoes wear and tear and the joint deteriorates, leading to a loss of function. This can cause varying degrees of pain, discomfort, stiffness and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. Hip dysplasia can be hereditary, but it can be made worse by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or nutritionally depleted diet,  injuries incurred from over-exercise when too young, climbing stairs under a year old, jumping or falling on slippery floors. Scoring for Hip Dysplasia is done by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) / Kennel Club (KC) scheme - a dog’s hips are X rayed and the plates are evaluated by a team of appointed specialists to determine anatomical and pathological changes indicative of hip dysplasia. The scores shown are one for each hip and then the combined total. The range is from 0 to 106 (0 being the best score and 106 being the worst).

 

A score would look like:            left: 6 / 53      right: 7 / 53          total hip score: 13/106

The current BVC/KC screening (2018)  PWD  5 year mean score is 13.8. 

 

A good breeder will 

  • always do the tests before they breed. If a breeder says it isn’t worth doing then walk away. Some also don’t test saying the results aren’t reflective because there are too few tested. If only they bothered to test then the numbers would increase and the research and understanding of hip dysplasia in the breed would increase. Some simply don’t bother because it costs.

  • know the test results for both the breeding bitch and dog.

  • only breed if each dog’s total score is near or below the average. 

  • know the hip score of the tested dog’s parents and grandparents and the scores should be declining over time. 

 

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is similar to hip dysplasia - a condition where the elbow joint does not develop correctly. As the dog matures, the joint undergoes wear and tear and the joint deteriorates, leading to a loss of function. This can cause varying degrees of pain, discomfort, stiffness and lameness. The x-ray tests in the UK are only starting to be done by breeders. A good breeder will be doing this test because the more they are done the more information the breed will have to see if there are any issues in the breed. Currently, a good breeder would expect to breed PWD with an elbow score of 0. 

DNA Gene tests

Basic background genetic understanding to help you understand test results. 

All genetic / DNA tests look for a specific gene or marker for a disorder or disease and it separates dogs into three groups according to their genetic status:

  • Normal/Clear: the dog does not carry the gene; will never develop the disorder or disease and won't pass it on to the puppies.

  • Carrier: the dog is a probable carrier of the gene but they do not have and will not develop the disorder or disease. However, they will pass on their carrier genes to the next generation. 

  • Affected:  the dog carries the gene and will be affected and suffer from the disorder. They will pass on the disorder to the puppies.

 

A good breeder can ensure, through selective breeding, that none of the puppies will be affected. They will always

  • do the tests well before even breeding.

  • know the results from both parents before breeding.

  • will always ensure at least one parent is clear

  • they will use a table like the one below to make sure that no puppies have the risk of being affected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see that you need to have at least one parent to be normal/clear to ensure that there is no risk of having puppies affected with the disorder. These are the yellow boxes on the table.

  • Normal with normal will produce clear puppies    IDEAL

  • Normal with Carrier will produce clear and carrier puppies ACCEPTABLE

  • Carrier with Carrier will produce 25% affected puppies  BAD

  • Affected with Carrier will produce 50% affected puppies   BAD

  • Affected with Affected will mean 100% - all puppies will be affected.  BAD

Some breeders do not test their breeding dogs saying that they are clear by hereditary, meaning that the parents or grandparents were clear.  This is only true if the line has actually been recently tested and they can prove the results were clear. The Kennel Club advises to always retest every 3rd generation to make sure. The American PWD Club says that it should be no more than 1 generation gap. Make a breeder prove they have done this. 

It is vital that if a breeder doesn't do the tests, won't share them with you or says they aren't worth doing then walk away. They should always want to know if their breeding bitch and dog are possible carriers. Why would a breeder not do the tests and risk the certainty all or some of the puppies being affected and contracting the disorder or disease.

DNA / Genetic tests

prcd-PRA rogressive rod cone degeneration - Progressive Retinal Atrophy (prcd -PRA)

This is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. All reputable breeders have their dogs tested.

Breeders take the Optigen DNA gene mutation test for prcd-PRA rather than the older  'marker' test previously offered.. The test provides a means to eliminate prcd-PRA from the Portuguese Water Dog and it  identifies the gene responsible for the Progressive Rod Cone Degenerative (prcd) form of PRA common to the PWD. Like all DNA testing, it separates dogs into three groups of normal (clear), carrier and affected. 

Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy (JDCM)

This is an inherited heart disease that causes sudden death in puppies between the ages of five weeks and seven months. It is a recessive gene and if both parents carry the gene then the puppy will be affected. 

 

Puppies affected with JDCM die suddenly or with very little warning usually between the ages of six weeks to seven months old. There have, however, been cases reported younger than six weeks as well as older than seven months. The signs and symptoms of JDCM include a 12 to 48-hour loss of appetite, decreased energy level, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Some pups have no physical signs or symptoms at all, may just collapse and die, or are found dead by the breeder or new owner. 

 

At this time, there is no known cure or treatment but there is a way to prevent producing JDCM affected puppies. The only way is for breeders to prevent producing affected puppies by knowing the test outcomes of their breeding dogs and avoiding breeding carriers of the gene. 
 

GM1-Gangliosidosis  (GM1) 

This is an inherited neurological / storage disorder that causes a fatal disease in puppies who rarely live beyond 6 months. Storage Disease (GM1) is a recessive genetic disorder caused by a lack of an enzyme and allows the buildup of toxic substances in the nerve cells. It is fatal to puppies produced by two carriers. PWD puppies affected with GM1-Gangliosidosis develop nervous system manifestations including ataxia, seizures and changes in temperament. A DNA test has been developed to determine whether dogs are normal or carriers. This is currently tested by OptiGen and has dramatically reduced the incidence of both carriers and affected puppies. 

If breeders don’t do these tests for both parents or one of them is affected - then walk away. You have to ask yourself why the breeder won’t do the tests. If they don’t do the test then they don’t know if their puppies are affected. Why would you give a puppy to a new family not knowing if there is a chance it they will be affected by the disoredr later in life or could die at 6 months?

Other health issues:

Improper Coat test

Improper coat (IC) is a genetic mutation found in purebred Portuguese Water Dogs, probably originating with the inclusion of some other breed at some point in our history. It is not a health issue. It is a coat issue with the dogs having a coat that does not grow long and stays short to the skin and will shed. An IC Portuguese Water Dog is healthy and in every other way and can be as correct to the Breed Standard, structurally and mentally, as any of its properly coated littermates. The test just allows breeders to breed out this mutation and have dogs with structurally correct curly or wavy coats. 

Addisons Disease

Addison’s disease is a dysfunction of the adrenal glands and is also known as hypoadrenocorticism or adrenal insufficiency.  Many vets often believe an ill dog is suffering from Kidney failure. It means that Addison's should always be a considered diagnosis when a dog is suddenly ill with vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or dehydration and there is no apparent reason. In short, testing for Addison's disease should be part of the vet's diagnostic process with any really sick dog when the cause of the illness is not clear.

Eye issues:

Distichiasis is a painful eye disorder where too many eyelashes grow around the eyelid. This is typically where two hairs grow out of one single follicle. The condition needs to be treated as soon as possible otherwise a dog's corneas many become ulcerated which might cause permanent damage to their eyes.

Entropion is an abnormality of the eyelids in which the eyelid rolls inward. This inward rolling often causes the hair on the surface of the eyelid to rub against the cornea resulting in pain, corneal ulcers, perforations, or pigment developing on the cornea which can interfere with vision.

OldeEly PWD

Haddenham, Ely, Cambridgeshire

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