Everyone, dogs included, has a health history, a health present, and a health future. In a perfect world, we would all have a healthy history, a healthy present, and a healthy future, but of course this can never be completely achieved.
When we complete health testing on a dog, we’re evaluating both their health present and making predictions about their health future. This then lets us make predictions about the likely health future of their hypothetical puppies. If we know from evaluating the parents that the hypothetical puppies don’t have a healthy future, we must alter our breeding pair or, in some cases, not breed those parents at all.
The term “health testing” includes both physical and genetic tests. Exactly which tests your dog needs prior to breeding depends on their breed, since each breed is predisposed to its own set of diseases. For example, if you have a Golden Retriever, you would have xrays done to check them for evidence of hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, whereas if you have a Papillon, they should be tested for luxating patellas. To figure out exactly which tests your dog would need, check the lists at www.ofa.org or www.gooddog.com.
As a responsible breeder, you have to do the best you can to critically evaluate your dogs and to determine if they would be likely to give their puppies a healthy future. The diseases we test for are often devastating for both the dog and the new owner. Additionally, some diseases are fatal, and knowing if your dog is carrying the gene for one of these diseases can enable you to pick an appropriate match for them genetically.
For example, my own Border Collie, Cora, is a carrier for trapped neutrophil syndrome. If I bred Cora to a dog who is also a carrier for trapped neutrophil syndrome, ¼ of her puppies would die. If I hadn’t tested her and I didn’t know she was a carrier, I would have no way of knowing what was causing her to lose puppies.
When you choose to breed your dog, you are bringing new life into the world, and because this was your decision, you are responsible for those lives. You might be producing someone’s best friend in the entire world. One of those puppies might be the way a child learns responsibility or the reason someone gets up in the morning. This is a huge responsibility! We all want our dogs to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible, and giving them a solid start by breeding the healthiest animals is incredibly important to accomplishing that goal.