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Healthy puppy: is my gundog puppy from good stock?

Jeremy Hunt advises on finding a healthy puppy

black Labrador puppy

Healthy puppy?

Q: Can you advise please on what I should be looking out for in a healthy puppy? I have ordered a labrador puppy from one of our shoot’s pickers-up. What health checks should I be aware of? He owns both the sire and the dam. Although both gun dogs are registered with the Kennel Club, neither have been hip scored or eye tested.

The parents of this litter seem to be sound and healthy dogs but I have started to think that I may be taking a risk buying one of these pups.  I’ve read some alarming things about the kinds of health problems labradors are being tested for. (Read which gundog puppy will be pick of the litter?)

A: Many novice puppy buyers are now realising that just because pups are from Kennel Club registered parents doesn’t automatically mean the sire and dam have passed all the important health tests which are now being used by responsible breeders. (Read health checks that must be carried out before breeding labradors.)

My advice would be to look for a puppy from Kennel Club registered parents, but bred from a sire and dam that have also at least achieved acceptable hip scores and have current eye test certificates (breed average for the two-combined scores of each hip per gun dog is 15). (Read more on labrador hip scores.)

Eyes, elbows

Hips are scored once in a gun dog’s lifetime but eyes should be tested annually to check for any deterioration.

Don’t believe that elbow problems are restricted to show lines; working labradors can just as easily succumb to osteochondritis (OCD), which is lameness in the elbow joint, so puppy’s from parents that have had their elbows X-rayed and scored are enabling you to buy with more confidence (elbows are scored up to 3 per elbow; a 0.0 score indicates perfect elbows). (More on elbow dysplasia in gundogs.)

The Optigen test, a DNA test indicating a gun dog’s genetic status concerning Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is also now being undertaken by many breeders in addition to annual eye testing.If the sire and dam of the litter have achieved clear Optigen tests, all the pups in the litter will be genetically clear of PRA. If the bitch is untested you cannot guarantee the genetic status of the puppies regarding PRA even though the sire has a clear Optigen test.

Then there is testing for  Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM). Many breeders of working labradors are now testing their gun dogs for this problem. This heritable, disabling disease causes muscle weakness, intolerance to exercise and imparts a difficulty to natural movement.

This article was originally published in 2009 and has been updated.