5 Lessons This Vet Learned From Loving and Living With Purebred Dogs
Purebreds are awesome! All five of my dogs, including my current foster girl, are purebreds who hail from five different breeds. And I worship them implicitly — not least because of the distinctive brand of dog-ness each offers as a direct result of their diverse genetic origins.
It’s nonetheless true that purebreds are inextricably linked to the many physical traits that make them so singular. And since so many of these qualities have health-related consequences, we veterinarians are in a unique position to observe them — more so when we let them wriggle their way into our lives, as so many of us are wont to do.
But here’s where things get a bit hairy. All of my dogs were attained as a direct result of their unwelcome inherited traits and the subsequent inability of their owners to keep them. Which is why I’m always careful to let my clients know what they’re potentially up against when they take on a purebred.
Lessons Learned the Hard Way
With this purebred-addled past as backdrop, here are the top five lessons I’ve learned from loving and living with them:
1. Each breed may be prone to specific health and behavior problems. Don’t assume all breeds are the same. It’s not just about their looks, their ability to challenge your allergies, their grooming needs or their size. Their health risks and behavior are every bit as important; in fact, far more so for most breeds.
Knowing what to expect — regardless of what breeders will tell you about their dogs — is crucial. So do your due diligence by researching your breed and asking to see the official test results for each of your puppy’s parents (in a purchase situation this should be readily available to any prospective buyer). Ideally, you’ll do this well in advance of your adoption or purchase.
Here’s a tip: Some pet insurance websites offer a list of the most common genetic diseases for each breed and the tests their breeds require before they can qualify as breeding dogs. You can also check out the Canine Health Information Center for a list of tests recommended for each breed. For example, hip, heart and eye disease testing is routine for some breeds.
2. Purebreds can be expensive. At the outset, let me first assert that purebreds make wonderful pets and deserve to remain an integral part of the animal world (something you might be surprised to hear and something that some animal welfare advocates don’t always agree on). Let me also point out that purebreds aren't alone in their propensity for costly health problems — mixed breed dogs can have their share of issues, too. Nonetheless, these problems can prove expensive. Really expensive.
Not only do many purebreds require expensive genetic screenings in advance of breeding, some are poorly designed (indeed, diseased) as a result of the physical characteristics they’re bred for. After all, you don’t get Bulldogs or Dachshunds with exaggerated traits like short heads, long backs and dwarfed legs without “breaking a few eggs.”
Here are some health problems my purebreds have suffered over the years:
Ectropion (everted eyelids), severe angular/rotational limb deformity, noise phobia (some herding breeds seem predisposed), one spinal subarachnoid cyst, intervertebral disc disease (in two of my Frenchies), one cleft palate, brachycephalic syndrome in all my snub-nosed breeds (including hypoplastic or underdeveloped tracheas, everted laryngeal saccules and overlong soft palates), and early-age cancers (in both of my Boxers).
3. Some purebred-related problems are less manageable than even veterinarians realize. Veterinarians are often just as frustrated as their clients when their patients don’t respond as they think they should to our recommended treatment regimens. Some of us (myself included, I’ll admit) even go so far as to assume our clients are being resistant to our recommendations and failing to adhere to their treatment regimens.
For example, until my foster Bulldog suffered a particularly intractable type of dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), I’d been prone to suppose that some of my difficult dry-eye patients were attached to less-than-compliant clients. Not necessarily true, I quickly realized.
Turns out that dry eye, among other especially frustrating conditions some purebreds suffer, needs more than just a simple schedule of medications. For example, numerous daily applications of eye lubricants are also required for some of these complex dry-eye customers (five times a day for my foster girl!).
4. Specialists can be a veterinarian’s BFF. As the above example clearly illustrates, we veterinarians don’t always know as much as we think we do. Living with genetically underprivileged purebreds sheds some especially unflattering light on this reality. Which is why I’m a big fan of keeping really close ties with my local (and even not-so-local) specialists.
Veterinary neurologists, surgeons, dermatologists, behaviorists, oncologists, internists, ophthalmologists and cardiologists are more responsive to my calls, emails and questions because of the close relationships I’ve fostered over the years. A friendship on Facebook goes a long way to getting any complex problems addressed quickly (including my clients’ issues, of course).
5. Pet insurance pays — even for veterinarians! You might assume a veterinarian wouldn't need pet insurance. After all, you’d think we’d get a financial break on our pets’ health care services. But you’d be wrong.
Not only are the above-mentioned specialists expensive (I don’t expect them to offer me their services for free!), the expenses associated with the tests and treatments my many purebreds have required over the years have been astronomical by most pet owners’ standards. CT scans, MRIs, spinal surgery and radiation therapy are incredibly costly!
And now that plenty of pet insurance companies cover genetic diseases purebreds are prone to, there’s no excuse for exposing any pets to what we veterinarians somewhat euphemistically refer to as “economic euthanasia.” Or what’s almost worse in some cases: having to let dogs live with uncomfortable conditions their owners can’t afford to treat.
All of which explains why more veterinarians are securing coverage for their own pets. Some of us will even go so far as to offer pet insurance as an employment benefit for our staff members.
To summarize: Feel confident in adoring your purebred pets, but whatever you do, don’t even think about keeping one unless you've done your homework about the potential health and behavior problems and you’re absolutely sure you can manage what might prove an inevitable breed-related problem.
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