Health Testing of Dogs Used for Breeding


Arlene Scarbrough

Scarbrough Fair Great Danes


I can always tell when someone has been “researching” Danes on the net.  They want to know which of a long list of  health problems I have the danes tested for before breeding.  Some health problems on the list I had never heard of until I became an avid user of the internet.  Some of these tests are good for a dog’s breeding life.  Some are good for a year or so.  Testing alone does not a good breeder make.


I generally ask the caller (to help them put their question in perspective) if, when they go to their doctor for a physical, they asked to be tested for every health problem common in humans.  Then I proceed to answer their question.


Because of their size, it’s just common sense to x-ray danes for hip dysplasia before breeding.  I am somewhat of a nut about hips (because most of our danes have to be put down in their advanced years because they can no longer lift their mass).  Unlike many folks who breed, I will not breed “fair” hips.  We breed good and excellent hips only.  We also keep an x-ray of each of our danes hips at home for reference.


Some folks simplify the issue and simply ask what most of our danes die from.  We have worked very hard to get and keep an extended life span for our danes.  The breed average is supposed to be 7 to 8 years.  Our danes average 10-13 years.  We have lost a very few prior to 10 and have had a number live longer than 13 years, our oldest reached 16 years, but our average is still 10-13 years.  We are attempting to extend it a couple of years, but we’re not there yet.


The danes we lost prior to ten years:  one at six to pancreatic cancer; one at 9 ˝ years to lympho sarcoma; one at 9 ˝ years that was half our breeding to cancer; one at five to an unknown cause (no illness, excellent weight and attitude).  We were outside and looked up and he was on the ground.  We took him to our vet and stayed to assist the vet.  The heart was normal.  We could find nothing.  I even had him checked for the most common poisons, just in case.  We found nothing.  The lab found nothing.  We lost a dane at 7+ years in the early 80s to renal failure.  That’s about it for danes that we have kept out of our own bloodline.  The list does not include danes that we purchased since 1970.


Most of our danes have to be put down at the point when they can no longer lift their mass.  It is not something you ever get accustomed to…it is so hard to have to put down a dane who is a family member, is healthy and  mentally sound, but when they can no longer get up and down, they let you know that they are ready to go.  


As a breeder, your dogs should be checked like people are checked.  If something runs in your family and a test exists for whatever it is, you should probably have your physician check for it whenever you have a physical.  That makes good sense.  The same logic applies to dogs.  If there is a problem that has appeared in your danes, and there is a test for it, your danes used for breeding should be tested for that particular problem.


I frequently check out dane web sites.  I was reading the info provided on one site where the breeders were patting themselves on the back for being honest with people about the health of their dogs.  After reading all the info on the site, they had identified all problems experienced in every litter.  My biggest problem with this particular breeder is that they kept using the dogs that produced the problems for breeding, thus repeating the same problems over and over with no apparent attempt to eliminate the problems. 


Testing alone does not eliminate health problems!  You have to use the results to help trace back to the cause of the problem and eliminate appropriate dogs from your breeding program.