| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Feb 12 Cathy West fell for Chewy the
minute she saw him. A friend had bought the pedigreed Yorkshire
Terrier days earlier from a local breeder but entrusted the
puppy to West when she had difficulty caring for him.
Within a day, West, who lives in Orange County, California,
realized something was wrong. Chewy wouldn't eat. Then he had a
It turned out the dog had a litany of health problems, the
worst a congenital liver defect that lead to more side effects
and a final seizure. After a year of coping, West with no choice
but to put Chewy down. "It just broke my heart."
West says the blame lies largely with his breeder. She
learned later that purebred Yorkies are at high risk of being
born with the same liver anomaly.
This week all dog fanciers were focused on the parade of
purebreds at the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show,
held at Madison Square Garden in New York. What was less obvious
than the telltale spots on Dalmatians and snub noses on bulldogs
were the distinctive ailments that can go along with each
Even costly purebred dogs can often be at greater risk for
certain hereditary diseases than mixed breeds. In addition to
liver abnormalities, Yorkshire Terriers are at a higher risk for
eye problems and collapsing tracheas. Basset Hounds can suffer
blood disorders; pugs, a fatal brain disease; Dalmatians are
subject to deafness and urinary stones.
But buying a purebred doesn't have to mean assuming more
health risks. Savvy dog owners who understand possible causes of
defects and learn how to navigate the world of breeders can do a
lot to ensure their pets are healthy.
Start by finding the right breeder, experts say, and don't
buy from a pet store. Because so many health problems faced by
purebreds are hereditary, much of the risk can be eliminated
simply by making sure that a dog's parents have good
temperaments, healthy physiques and are disease-free. Pet stores
rarely screen puppies or their parents for health problems, and
their stock is more likely to be inbred, compounding genetic
issues, these experts say.
Instead, go through the American Kennel Club and its
breed-based subsidiaries to find recommended breeders. National
and local pedigree clubs will list ethical breeders in good
"Your breeder should be able to show you copies of tests
they've done on the puppy and the parents," says Merrilee
D'Antonio, a Samoyed expert who will show her purebred at
Westminster next week.
You can do your own homework, too. Among the best resources
for prospective purebred owners is the Orthopedic Foundation for
Animals (www.offa.org) and the Canine Health Information Center
(www.caninehealthinfo.org/). Their websites include a list of
genetic tests that should be done on each dog breed, as well as
a database of tests that have been performed on American Kennel
A search of a dog's parents can show whether they've had a
history of common problems like hip dysplasia or congenital
Many purebreds are big financial investments. So in addition
to health tests, breeders should also offer comprehensive
agreements to those adopting their puppies.
"A good breeder will take a dog back for any reason," says
Caroline Coile, the author of Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog
Breeds. Many will also offer to compensate for unforeseen health
problems in their dogs. "They should always be there for you, in
any situation," Coile says.
D'Antonio emphasizes that when it comes to a dog's health, "a
good breeder forms a lifetime relationship." They should want to
know about any health issues that arise and, in turn, should
keep owners updated if they learn of any problems in their dogs'
Nancy Aaron, of Morrow Bay, California, is a former breeder
of Scottish Terriers. When she found out that several of the
dogs she had bred had bladder cancer, a problem common to
Scotties for which there is no genetic test, she immediately
notified those who had adopted her puppies. She says she is
coaching several through their dogs' illnesses and makes sure to
keep in touch so owners know what symptoms to look for.
Cathy West, Chewy's owner, has since adopted four more
purebreds, including two King Charles Spaniels and another
Yorkie, all adopted from breeders West researched carefully. For
her Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Coco, West went to a
"passionate, responsible" breeder, and said the experience was
revelatory after her ordeal with Chewy.
The breeder made sure West knew about the parents' histories
and offered her guarantees that his dogs were free of certain
genetic problems. When she felt an odd growth on Coco's pelvis,
the breeder pointed her to a veterinarian and stayed in touch to
make sure the dog was all right.
"He had an enormous amount of integrity, and I was very
grateful," West says. Coco was healthy. She says all the credit
belongs to her breeder.
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Editing by Lauren Young and Prudence Crowther)