Health testing: a guide for Norwich puppy buyers

Many breeders say that they health test their breeding stock. As a puppy buyer, you should feel free to ask about health tests performed on both parents, plus ask to see verification that the tests were performed.

Here we list the health tests routinely performed on breeding stock in (and used by) the Shaksper Norwich kennel. Other tests are also performed for research purposes.

1. CHIC number

The Norwich Terrier Club of America (NTCA) - the AKC parent club with responsibility for all things related to Norwich terriers - recommends several health tests (hips, eye exam, patellas) for Norwich used for breeding. Norwich that have had all these tests done are assigned a Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) number. The easiest way to see if a dog has a CHIC number is to go to the web site of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), look up the dog, and see if the initials "CHIC" appears next to the dog's name.

Even if the puppy comes from a big show-winning kennel, make sure that both parents have a CHIC number. At the 2018 Norwich national specialty, only 49 percent of the Norwich entered had parents both of whom had a CHIC number (or the dog itself had a CHIC number).

Some breeders claim that they test for hips, eyes, and patellas, but do not send in the results to be recorded. Verification that the tests were actually done on both parents becomes even more important in such situations. It is unfortunate that some breeders do not care enough about the breed to share and record such test results.

The latest statistics (as of Dec 2018) from OFA are:

2. PLL DNA test

PLL stands for "primary lens luxation" - a hereditary eye disease for which there exists a simple (cheek swab), inexpensive DNA test. PLL can cause a dog to go blind; more information is available here. Responsible breeders perform genetic tests on their breeding stock. Currently the NTCA health committee lists PLL testing as an "optional" recommended test.

You can verify the PLL status of a dog by going to the web site of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and looking up the dog. Alternately (especially if the dog is "PPL-clear by descent") you can verify PLL-status by going to this Norwich Pedigree Database and clicking on "Show PLL status". (To be "PLL-clear by descent" means that both parents are PLL-clear, and so the puppy is PLL-clear.)

At the 2018 Norwich national specialty, the PLL status was known for only 33 percent of the Norwich entered.

3. DM DNA test

DM stands for "degenerative myelopathy" - a genetic disease causing paralysis in older dogs beginning in the hind legs and progressing to the inability to walk. A simple, inexpensive DNA test exists for DM. Responsible breeders perform genetic tests on their breeding stock. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) recommends DNA testing for DM for all breeds. More information about degenerative myelopathy is available here.

4. ALT DNA test

The ALT (alanine aminotransferase) value is one of the values reported as part of a blood chemistry panel. The blood testing lab reports the value and a reference range of what the lab considers "normal". High ALT values are an indication of liver disease, and will often cause a vet to investigate further.

Some dogs have low normal ALT values. This is not a disease, just a clinical finding. However it does mean that if the ALT value rises that it can still be in the blood lab's reference range, and thus the rise might be missed by a vet. There is a DNA test for a mutation that has been correlated with low normal ALT values in dogs.

5. Brucellosis blood test

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that is transmissible to humans. It should be tested for prior to every breeding.

6. von Willebrands blood test

Von Willebrand disease (vWD) is an inherited bleeding (coagulation) disorder that exists in the Norwich terrier genome. Unfortunately none of the currently available DNA tests for vWD identify the mutation that causes vWD in Norwich.

7. Bile acid test

Liver shunt is a known problem in Norwich terriers (actually in all terriers). A bile acid test is the initial way to diagnose a liver shunt. While most liver shunt dogs are identified as puppies, some grow up and are bred. Performing the bile acid test on breeding stock eliminates the possibility that a parent has a liver shunt, thus reducing the probability that puppies will have a liver shunt.

Last updated 20190228.