Before purchasing any purebred dog, prospective buyers should educate themselves regarding the health challenges faced by the breed. Good breeders will talk openly and honestly about health issues and how they have managed their breeding program in order to minimize affected offspring. In general, the Portuguese Water Dog is a healthy and robust breed, but do occasionally face some medical concerns. Detailed information regarding health issues is available at www.pwdca.org However, I will outline some of the issues faced by our breed:
GM-1 Storage Disease
This disease is a genetically transmitted fatal neurological disorder that becomes apparent in puppies at around 6 months of age. The disorder is caused by a lack of an enzyme that allows the build up of toxic substances in the nerve cells. However, a good breeding program prevents affected offspring. The only way that affected puppies can be produced is by breeding a carrier to a carrier. Breeders can test to see whether or not their breeding stock carries the GM-1 gene. Ideally, breeding should occur between a bitch and a dog who are not carriers. Although a dog who is a carrier and who is bred to a bitch who is a non-carrier will NOT produce affected puppies. Always ask your breeder for documentation pertaining to GM-1 status of BOTH parents.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a genetically transmitted eye disease found in many breeds of dogs, not just PWD’s. PRA affects the dog’s retina where the blood vessels atrophy causing the retina to waste away. The end result is blindness. However, there is a blood test or cheek swab which identifies whether or not the dog is a carrier of PRA. Carriers can be bred to non-carriers and affected puppies will NOT be produced. Ideally, breeding should occur between a dog and a bitch who are not carriers. Always ask your breeder for documentation pertaining to PRA testing on BOTH PARENTS. This disease is preventable through responsible breeding practices.
All dogs and bitches used for breeding purposes should have a yearly ECR exam by a board certified Opthamologist. (OFA Eye Certification). This exam identifies any other eye problems that the dog or the bitch may have. Always ask your breeder for current documentation on BOTH parents.
Many breeds, especially larger breeds suffer from hip dysplasia. This is when the hip joint is not formed perfectly. Dogs may experience mild to severe discomfort when moving. Treatment can range from anti-inflammatory medicine to surgery in severe cases. Dog and bitches who are to be bred should be x-rayed for dysplasia. Responsible breeders have their dogs x-rayed at the age of two and submits them to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for evaluation. Dogs are rated as either “Excellent, Good or Fair”. These are passing grades. Dogs that do not receive a passing grade are considered to be dysplasic. Ask your breeder for evidence that BOTH parents are free from hip dysplasia. It should be noted that on rare occasions, both parents can be clear from dysplasia, but produce a puppy that has hip dysplasia. We are not sure why this happens, so it is considered “complicated”. Some breeders will provide guarantees for this condition, while others will not. Lifestyle issues such as obesity and over exercising can also contribute to the development of this disorder.
Addison’s disease is relatively rare in Portuguese Water Dogs. It is caused by adrenocortical insufficiency – that is when the adrenal glands stop producing certain hormones that control sugar metabolism and maintain the salt and water balances in the body. Symptoms of the illness can include depression, lethargy, weakness, vomiting, weight loss, hair shedding and diarrhea. Causes of the disease are unknown. Research is being conducted through the Georgie Project, a collaborative project between PWD owners/breeders and the University of Utah. A minimum amount of medication is used to maintain salt/water balances. More information about this illness can be found on the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America site. www.pwdca.org
Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy (Puppy Heart Disease)
This disease causes sudden death in puppies between the ages of 6 and 27 weeks. It is characterized by an enlarged heart and hepatic congestion. Seemingly healthy puppies develop anorexia, lethargy, rapid breathing and sometimes vomiting which results in death. JDCM is genetically transmitted but we now have a genetic test to identify carriers of the disease. Good, responsible breeders can avoid producing affected puppies through genetic testing. At least ONE parent needs to be clear/normal to avoid producing affected puppies. However, most good breeders will test both the sire and the dam for this disease. As for documentation from the breeder on the JDCM status of the breeding partners. Breeding a carrier to a clear/normal will NOT produce the disease in young puppies.
The vast majority of Portuguese Water Dogs are healthy. Health problems often develop when individuals decide to breed an animal without any experience or understanding of basic genetics and pedigree research. However, even the most conscientious and educated breeder can produce an animal with a health issue. Animals are like people…we are not free from health challenges. It is realistic however, to expect that the breeder has done everything in his or her power to breed a healthy litter of PWD’s. According to a fellow breeder, Jane Harding, less than 2% of the breed is affected by serious illness. Please use health information to help you make a decision on who you purchase your PWD from. These dogs are wonderful companion animals who are eager to share their lives with you. Good health is essential to a successful addition to your family. Even if the breeder has been very conscientious about health issues in the pedigree, sometimes health issues surface. We recommend that all puppy buyers purchase pet health insurance. Two companies in Canada offer insurance. Go to: www.petcareinsurance.com or www.petsecure.com for more information.