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When shopping for a purebred dog you should educate your selves about all aspects of the breed in which they are interested. Unlike many breeds, in which health problems exist but aren't talked about, most PWD breeders believe strongly that good health in dogs can only be maintained by the open discussion of health concerns. The information below is presented for that reason. Good breeders should be happy to discuss these issues with you.

General Note: While it may seem as you read through the list of health issues listed here that the PWD is prone to many diseases, As conscientious breeders, we simply feel that education is one of our responsibilities. If you are considering a PWD or any breed a reputable breeder will be able to explain any and all health issues behind the breed and how they are doing their part to one day eliminate these health issues by testing and selective breeding.

The day has not yet come that anybody can always breed 100% healthy dogs. So, puppy buyers must be realistic in their expectations. No one can predict the lifespan of a dog or if it will have a genetic problem, so to ask a breeder to make such a prediction is unrealistic. It is not unrealistic, however, to expect that the breeder has done everything in his or her power, and has used all the means available, to breed a healthy litter.

The vast majority of PWD's are very healthy. Less than 2% of the breed are affected by serious illness. Please put this information into perspective and use it to guide you in the purchase or care of a PWD.

The Portuguese Water Dog is overall a very healthy, robust, family companion. But as in humans, and certainly all breeds of dogs, there are some health problems. Fortunately, the PWD has not had any major incidence of liver, kidney, VWD, cancer or spinal disorders that have afflicted many of the most popular breeds. Medical concerns we do face, as of 2008, are:

EYE PROBLEMS: Rare and infrequently reported eye problems include cataracts, entropian eyelids, keratoconjunctivitis and PPM (persistent pupillary membrane). These and other eye problems can be identified by a CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) exam. The CERF exam is performed by about 150 board-certified Veterinary Ophthalmologists throughout the country. The examination is painless and takes about 10 minutes. Eye drops are used to dilate the pupil and the eye is then examined through an ophthalmoscope on the awake dog. Cost ranges from about $15-$80 per examination. ALL PWDs should have a yearly eye exam, Dogs who have had a CERF will have an official certificate that includes the year of the exam.

PRA: Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a genetically transmitted eye disease found in about 80 breeds of dogs, including Poodles, Akitas, Labrador Retrievers, and the Portuguese Water Dog. PRA affects the dog's retina, which is the "picture screen" at the back of the eye. PRA causes the blood vessels of the retina to atrophy, or waste away. The end result of retinal atrophy is a gradual but progressive blindness. The condition is irreversible, and there is no cure. There is a simple blood test to identify carriers and affected dogs:


A DNA test for PWDs, known as the Optigen test, became available in January 1999. The test is designed to identify those dogs that do not carry the gene for PRA. Tested dogs are given one of three ratings -
"A" or "clear" of the PRA gene
"B" indicating the dog will not be affected by PRA but probably carries the gene
"C" for dogs that may be affected.
For breeding purposes "B" and "C" rated dogs can be bred to "A" rated non-carriers, as the resulting
litters will not produce affected dogs.

HIP DYSPLASIA: Most breeds have some dogs with hips that are called "dysplastic" - that is the hip joint is not formed perfectly. The dysplastic dog may have no pain or problems, or it may experience mild to severe discomfort when moving. Treatment, if necessary, can consist of aspirin, anti-inflammatory medication, or surgery in the most severe cases.

Some "breeders" have been known to say, when being asked about hip certification: "My dogs run plenty and my vet assures me that everything is perfect. My dogs are not yet two years old". It's one thing to breed a dog under two when an xray has been done of the young dog and that x-ray has been sent to the OFA for a PRELIMINARY reading. Preliminary readings can be graded in the same way a 2-year x-ray will be graded. If a "breeder" chooses to breed a dog under two years of age, then they should do x-rays and obtain a Preliminary OFA reading that is a passing grade. A Preliminary OFA gives you an idea of how the hip will be at two years of age. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) evaluates hip X-rays submitted to them to determine if there is any dysplasia present. The X-ray can be performed at any age, but the OFA will only give a "Preliminary" rating on dogs under the age of two. Hip X-rays of dogs two years old or older will receive an "OFA number" and rating. OFA hip ratings for dysplasia- free dogs are: Excellent, Good, or Fair. Dysplasia, if present, will be rated in a range from "Mild" to "Severe". Cost ranges from $50 to $150 for the X-ray, which can be performed by most veterinarians. The dog can be either sedated or anesthetized (cost varies accordingly). While all veterinarians can "read" the X-ray, they do not do so with the experience and background of the OFA, and they cannot give an OFA number or rating. Approximately 13% of all dogs X-rayed and submitted to the OFA are found to be dysplastic. Breeders should make sire and dam OFA numbers available to prospective puppy buyers.

ELBOW DYSPLASIA: An OFA Registry is now available. Approximate X-ray cost is $50 - $150. The X-ray can be done by most veterinarians. About 1.4% of the PWDs X-rayed to date have been found to have elbow dysplasia. OFAs are extremely important even for a dog that a non breeding dog, because hip dysplasia is believed to be caused by a combination of multiple genes, rather than by a simple recessive genetic trait, and as such, there is no direct genetic screening that can be done at this time. Hip dysplasia can surface in any given litter even after breeding generations of only dogs with OFA-certified hips. It is only by the on-going tracking of all hips that responsible breeders can continue their efforts to reduce the chances of producing dysplastic dogs.

additional Information can be found at OFA Website

ADDISON'S DISEASE: Addison's is a rare disorder found in animals and in people - John F. Kennedy and Jane Austen, among others, lived with the disease. Out of a living population of approximately 9,000 PWD's there have been about 130 reported cases. Addison's disease is caused by adrenocortical insufficiency - that is, the adrenal glands stop producing certain hormones that control sugar metabolism and maintain the salt and water balances in the body. Diagnosing the disorder can be extremely difficult. The symptoms are usually, but not always, a combination of depression, lethargy, weakness, vomiting, weight loss, and some hair-shedding. Stress is thought to induce these symptoms. Stress can arise from infection, breeding, kenneling, etc. Addison's is a long-term but treatable disease. A minimum amount of medication (usually a monthly shot) is used to maintain the salt/water balances. The cause of Addison's is unknown at this time. Some researchers believe Addison's has a hereditary link, while others believe that it is either environmental or of no known cause. Major research is continuing at both medical and veterinary institutions, especially through The Georgie Project.

PUPPY HEART DISEASE: Juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy (JDC) did not acquire its name in our breed until about 1997. Prior to that a specific disease was not recognized and deaths were attributed to sudden puppy death or unexplained puppy death. It wasn't until about 25 affected puppies were autopsied on a more regular basis that a pattern began to appear. The words "enlarged heart", "failed left ventricle", "pulmonary edema", and "hepatic congestion" began appearing on pathology reports. The presenting symptoms also had a pattern: somewhere between 6 and 27 weeks, after completely normal growth and development, puppies would present with a sudden onset of anorexia, lethargy, rapid breathing and pulse, and sometimes vomiting. Sometimes, with no warning at all, an otherwise normal pup was simply found dead. There is now a test offered by the University of Pennsylvania for all PWDS. This test will determine whether they believe a dog is a carrier or not. At the present time it is recommended that at least ONE parent be tested for JDCM (Juvenile Dilated Cardio Myopathy), this will assure you that at least you will not get an affected puppy.

HAIR LOSS: Some PWD's, tight, curly-coated dogs have been found to lose their hair in a pattern-like formation when they are about 2 or 3 years old. About 25 cases of hair-loss have been reported. It has been reported that most hair-loss dogs have follicular dysplasia - in other words, improperly formed hair follicles. There is a simple skin biopsy test for follicular dysplasia, which can be run any time after the puppy is 8 weeks old. Several breeders report the elimination of hair loss by only breeding curly-coated dogs to wavy-coated dogs. It appears that the curly to curly breeding produces the greatest potential for hair loss.

GM-1 STORAGE DISEASE: GM-1 Storage disease is a rare disease which is only found in humans and the Portuguese Water Dog. It is a genetically transmitted fatal neurological disorder that is apparent at around 5 months of age. The Neurogenetics Program of NYC School of Medicine offers a swab test which determines the genetic status of the dog for GM-1. The test is performed on puppies as young as one week of age and on older dogs at any time. The test results rate the dogs as Non-Carriers or Carriers of the GM-1 gene. The ONLY way Affected puppies can be produced is by breeding a Carrier to a Carrier and NO responsible breeder does this. A Carrier bred to a Non-Carrier produces some Carrier puppies and some Non-Carrier puppies, but NO Affected puppies. Carrier and Non-Carrier PWD's are all equally healthy dogs.



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Tami Rook | 503-679-6915 | Milwaukie, Oregon | email: tami@dagua-pwd.com