by Denise Mellor, Denmel Dobermans Reg’d
It is an expensive and difficult path at present breeding my beloved Doberman Pinschers, but improving on Doberman Health is a passion of mine. I keep seeing posts from Doberman breeders who say to prospective puppy buyers “Dobermans are not a long-living breed”. This comment seems to insinuate that the dogs perhaps all die at 8 or 9 like some in a giant breed might. This is untrue. A normal lifespan for a Doberman is still considered to be 10 years with some living to 15 years. We also have dogs (and even whole litters) who succumb to one of our breed’s health issues at a much younger age. The worst offender seems to be Cardiac disease with dogs dying as young as 3. I do not believe this is an acceptable situation and breeders should be doing their best to improve the longevity with improved Doberman health.
While it is true we have some serious health issues deeply ingrained in the breed, we also have several new tests . With testing, the resulting knowledge, combined with pedigree research, we should all be doing our “Due Dilligence to help the Doberman breed flourish and live to old age.
As a prospective puppy buyer, I believe you should be “educated” on the inherent issues as well as available health testing. Perhaps newbies will be scared off and decide on another breed. That is okay, since they need to go in with eyes open, prepared for whatever their new puppy might encounter. Those who love Dobermans love them in spite of these issues. Without a doubt there is no other breed that will take a piece of your heart like a Doberman will. Dobermans are one of the most intelligent canine breeds, and are capable of excelling at many “jobs”.
So what are some of the common health issues in Dobermans? The most devastating is Cardiac disease. In Dobermans this is usually DCM (Dilated Cardio Myopathy) an enlargement of the heart , and Arrhythmia , a problem with rhythm of the heart. Both of these can cause sudden death. Onset can be at a very young age.
CAH (Chronic Active Hepatitis) is ongoing liver disease. In Dobermans this is usually Copper Storage and years ago was called “Copper Toxicosis”.
Wobblers is a structural disorder of the spinal neck. Affected dogs may become suddenly weak in the rear, or suddenly paralyzed. Its’ severity varies and onset age is usually 6 or more. It seems to be more prevalent in some lines.
VWD (von Willebrand’s Disease) is a blood disorder. Some VWD Affected dogs may have very little VW Factor in their blood which can creat a problem clotting.
Hypothyroidism is quite common in Dobermans, and can be idiopathic or genetic due to an auto-immune response which gradually erodes the Thyroid gland.
Dings/Deafness is a genetic issue. Some litters include puppies born with Vestibular Disorder and in extreme cases they cannot manoeuver or find their way to the dam for food. Some of these puppies are not viable, some manage to adjust as they grow, and yet others seem normal but are deaf or partially deaf.
This is by no means a complete list, but if breeders do pedigree research, test and share information with other breeders (particularly those looking to use their stud dog ) some of these issues can be totally eliminated and others perhaps reduced in incidence.
So what tests are available that you might inquire with the breeder for results?
For DCM we do have 1 genetic marker identified by Dr. Kate Meurs. It is a Dominant gene which means dogs might become diseased with either 1 or 2 positive genes but due to incomplete penetrance, some even with 2 copies may live a long life. Our gene pool is small and it will take some time and diligence with our breeding decisions to work this out. Many are expressing doubts about this test since there are negative dogs still dying of DCM. This does not mean the test is flawed. It means we need to use the DNA of those dogs who are negative yet succumb to the disease for researchers to identify another genetic marker. It is expected there will be a number of causes. Another test is Cardiac Ultrasound (Echo) which monitors for the onset of DCM usually performed by a Veterinary Cardiologist annually after 2 years.
For Arrhythmia, there are Holter monitors available to purchase. Many Doberman Clubs rent or lend them to members. Arrhythmia can be a disease itself, or can be a precursor to DCM. It is normally recommended to Holter annually after 2 years of age.
CAH affects more bitches than dogs, and can be first shown in a Liver panel. If there are elevated liver enzymes, next would be a bile acid test, and then perhaps a liver biopsy which will confirm copper storage. CAH seems to have a genetic component but there is no DNA test. It pops up periodically with skipped generations, making it difficult to determine if it will cause a problem in specific pairings.
Wobblers has no genetic test so only pedigree research will help reduce the incidence of this disease.
There is a DNA test for VWD, which is a recessive (2 positive genes, 1 from each parent to create an Affected Dog). If parents are tested, you will know if it is a possible-Affected litter. In some litters there may be various possible outcomes and the puppies can be tested. Dobermans have a mild form of this disease so most Affected dogs do not experience a bleeding episode.
Hypothyroidism can be identified by blood tests. For breeding, a full panel plus TGAA (ThyroGlobulin Auto-Immune Antibody) should be done. The symptoms of Hypothyroidism are pattern hair loss, brittle hair, weight gain, and changes in temperament. However, only some symptoms may appear so it is best to test a dog to be sure.
Dings/Deafness in Dobermans is a new DNA marker. It is a recessive (Clears or Carriers will have no medical consequences). Affected Dogs may be deaf, or partially deaf, or have balance issues. Affected dogs should not be bred, but knowing the status now enables us to ensure we do not produce litters with Dings or deaf puppies.
Breeding stock should be OFA or PennHip certified for Hips but generally due to breeder diligence we do not see many problems with Hip Displasia. Breeding animals are also often tested and registered at CERF – Canine Eye Registry Foundation) but we do not often see eye problems.
As you can see, it is very costly to properly test all our breeding stock if we hope to improve the longevity by eliminating and reducing some of these diseases. As a Breeder I have shed countless tears and shared owners’ heartache at the loss of their beloved animal. This is a big reason Breeders should embrace newly-discovered information and testing, and do pedigree research to increase the chances of creating Dobermans who will live into their teens. It is said that you should only breed if there is the potential to improve the breed. As breeders, we not only juggle health issues, but also proper conformation as well as correct temperament. Not an easy task.