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Kennel Balihara Ranch´s mission and vision is to breed loving, typical Swiss Mountain Dog puppies according to the FCI Standard which have a good potential of living long lives without handicapping illnesses.
At Balihara Ranch Kennel, we take the health of our Berneses seriously. We screen all our breeding Berneses for hereditary diseases such as HD, ED, OCD, patella luxation. All our dogs are also DNA tested for Degenerative myelopathy - both exons and for van Willebrand disease.
a) a dog is a living creature and not a piece of machinery that can be guaranteed to be free of defects,
b) many of the diseases are genetically recessive and polygenic making predictability of occurrence an educated guess at best, we are no table to guarantee the health of our puppies. Nobody can guarantee it. Only one thing I can can do as breeder, is to make the BEST choice and selection of the healthy parents. And we do that. Our breeding dogs passed SKJ – FCI breeding and character tests – koerung, including all asked health tests. Remember, while breeding phenotypically sound animals will increase the odds for healthy progeny, it is not a foolproof guarantee that every single offspring will be healthy as well. This is due primarily to the recessive mode of inheritance and the polygenic nature of most genetic diseases affecting Berneses
Compared with other pure breeds, the Bernese is still a relatively healthy breed. However, there are some health concerns that prospective Bernese owners should be aware of as they may affect the quality and length of the dog's life. Some of these conditions may also require lengthy, involved and often quite expensive medical treatment.
The realistic life expectancy for a Bernese is about 7 - 8 years. And while there are some healthy seniors above 10 around, Berneses owners should be prepared for the occasional untimely death of a young animal. Potentially lethal conditions such as splenic torsion can strike at any age and also cancer. We do not have any reliable data regarding the causes of death in the breed, but it can be quite safely assumed that cancer, kidney failure and splenic torsion rank at the top of the list of diseases leading to premature death in Berneses.
Some of the diseases are hereditary, i.e. the dog must have the genetic predisposition for a particular affliction to surface. Many are passed on recessively, i.e. a particular condition can lay dormant for several generations until the right genetic combination brings it up again. The mode of inheritance is often quite complicated and cannot be attributed to clearly defined factors.
Following are the most commonly encountered health problems in Berneses. With diseases such as OCD, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, heart defects , heredity is definitely a factor while with conditions such as GDV (bloat and gastric torsion), splenic torsion and panosteitis, inheritance has not been clearly established.
The major health concerns in Swissys are:
OCD in the shoulders
Also called slipping kneecap or popping knee, this condition is mostly inherited but may in rare cases be caused by trauma. Conditions that predispose to dislocation of the patella are a shallow groove, weak ligaments and malalignement of the tendons and muscles that straighten the joint. The patella slips in- or outward. The signs may include difficulty straightening the knee, pain in the stifle (knee joint) and lameness. The diagnosis is confirmed by manipulating the stifle joint and pushing the kneecap in and out of position. Treatment involves surgery to deepen the groove and/or re-align the tendon. Like with other orthopedic conditions presumed to be hereditary, Swissys with non-traumatic patella luxation should not be bred. More
An allergic reaction is an unwanted side effect caused by an inappropriate response of the immune system to various substances such as pollens, mold, dust or insect bites, certain foods, drugs and chemicals. Exposure to them triggers a reaction, usually through itching, sneezing, coughing, tearing, vomiting or diarrhea. The most frequently encountered allergies in Swissys are reaction to certain types of food, flea bites and pollen. Food allergies occurring at a young age sometimes disappear, i.e. the dog outgrows the allergic reaction eventually. Because the cause of an allergy is often difficult and sometimes impossible to determine, allergies can be very frustrating for the owner, and patience is often the only recourse! More
Age is the most important risk factor for the development of cancer in dogs, for it is the aging that permits the long-term events leading to tumor development and progression to occur. For most tumor types, the risk for cancer increases with increased age. There are many types of cancer occurring in dogs such as: various types of skin tumors or carcinomas - tumors of the bone such as osteosarcoma -tumors of the lymphoid tissues such as lymphosarcoma - tumors derived from blood vessel such as hemangiosarcoma. More
What is DM?
DM is an abbreviation for Degenerative Myelopathy. This is a disease of the spinal cord found in many breeds of dog for many many years. The structure of the nerves in the spine gradually breaks down and basically the dog’s brain does not know where the dogs back legs are or what position they are in so slowly becomes unable to tell the dogs legs what to do do next to be able to walk. This typically starts by the dog ‘going over’ on his rear feet, dragging the front of the claws on the ground for example, and develops on over a few months to be an obvious lack of co-ordination at the rear and eventually complete loss of the ability to walk and stand at the rear.
Sadly this paralysis caused by lack of feedback will spread forwards and gradually affect more and more of the dog’s functionality. As well as the practical aspects of life, management of a dog with DM involves an ongoing consideration of the quality of life of the dog as the dog slowly loses more and more capability. Eventually a DM affected dog would starve or suffocate to death as it will be unable to swallow or breathe. Clearly responsible owners will not let things get anywhere near this stage although the exact ‘decision point’ may be a little different for each of us and our dog.
An important point is that DM itself is painless for the affected animal. The disease is about loss of nerve function so there is a simple loss of sensation to the rear quarters which causes the initial problems. However, there may be secondary issues causing pain, such as falling over or bashing into things causing injuries or straining muscles and ligaments in other areas compensating for the loss of function in the DM affected area. Generally speaking, the affected dogs, in the earlier stages at least, do not seem to exhibit pain due to DM but as the disease progresses this may become part of the judgement call for owners to make for individual dogs.
The practicalities of the developing stages of DM are covered on the handout sheets available at the end of this article which are from Fara Bushell who has lived with four DM dogs in the USA and presented her experiences giving comprehensive insight and a mass of useful tips at the Berner U sessions at the 2016 USA Berner Speciality where the handouts were collected by myself and are used with her permission. As well as being invaluable for anyone looking to manage DM in a dog they give an insight for anyone into the effect DM has on the dog and it’s life. It should not be dismissed as ‘painless going off the back legs until it is time to put the dog to sleep‘ as it is by some people, there are lots of little, maybe not so obvious, issues to consider that loving owners have to deal with. Reading these sheets should make some people realise that whilst DM is a very small numerical consideration for the breed it should not be disregarded as unimportant for the breed because of this.
Dealing With DM
There is no cure or treatment for DM, it is a progressive degenerative disease which will only get worse and lead to death of your dog. There is no pleasant way to report this so it is only fair to report the truth. Having said that many owners find ways to make life as bearable as possible for as long as possible for their dogs. Some use small two wheel devices, simply referred to usually as carts, to support the rear end and these can have a fantastic effect for a short while enabling the dog to take part in walks and other activities. All too soon though the dog will move on past the stage when these are helpful and again this time frame will vary from dog to dog. Whilst some will consider this is only delaying the inevitable, it should be remembered that there is no primary pain with DM so the dog may well feel that they are having a decent quality of life for a while longer.
There are other issues to consider in coping with a dog with DM such as hygiene and infection avoidance and again these are comprehensively covered in the Berner U sheets available below which, especially if you are reading this because your dog has been diagnosed with DM, I would urge you to print off and read. Bear in mind some of the references given are American and not applicable to the UK but the overall advice is essential reading for anyone encountering or interested in DM.
There is a genetic mutation involved in the incidence of DM that has been found in all affected breeds. As it is present in all dogs and is the only one identified in most cases it is sometimes just known as the DM mutation but for Bernese it is referred to as SOD1A or sometimes Exon2. In Bernese, and only Bernese so far, there is also a second mutation at the same location, logically referred to as SOD1B or Exon1. There are other breeds with separate mutations linked to DM occurrence so we are not unique in this.
Fortunately there are genetic tests available for both of these mutations so breeders should not be taking a step into the dark. To be strictly correct the only 100% validated diagnosis of clinical DM is by means of cross sectional microscopic examination of the spinal cord but this can obviously only be done after death. Practically speaking, the best diagnosis of a symptomatic dog is partly by assessing the symptoms and using the DNA test to give strong supportive evidence. Many conditions will cause similar symptoms so it is about accumulating as much information as you can.
Just to be clear, these are separate tests which means two tests per dog. In line with many other DNA situations each test gives three possible results, Clear, Carrier or Affected. The mode of inheritance of these mutations in breeding combinations is the straightforward autosomal recessive type known to all responsible breeders namely…….
Clear to Clear can only result in clear puppies and no chance of developing the disease or any of the puppies helping to pass it on in the future. This would obviously be the ideal world option but would immediately take out around 60% of the gene pool which we can ill afford to do. We have to operate in the real world so in reality we have to work with other options as exampled below.
Clear to Carrier will result (on average) in an even mix of carriers and clears but crucially no affected or at risk dogs.
Carrier to Carrier will result (on average) in 25% clear, 50% carrier but crucially 25% affected or at risk puppies.
Carrier to Affected will result (on average) in 50% carriers and 50% affected or at risk puppies.
Affected to Affected will result in 100% of affected/at risk puppies.
Affected to Clear will result in 100% of genetic carriers but crucially no affected or at risk dogs.
Affected equals At Risk?
In the attached Bernese perspective articles by the well known American BMD enthusiast and BMD health researcher Pat Long it is worth noting that in the three categories she uses the term “At Risk” for the ‘worst’ grading. This category is often quoted as “affected” which is not quite the same thing. There may be other risk factors which cause the DM symptoms to develop and affect a dog and we do not know them all yet. Fortunately a very low percentage of Bernese tested as ‘At Risk’ actually become symptomatic. An “At Risk” DNA test result would definitely indicate a much higher risk of developing the disease as an issue but it is not a certainty as the figures in Pat’s data explain. In some ways, whilst it is ‘near enough’ to treat it as such this may not in reality be a simple “Yes/No” recessive gene situation. Whilst some believe all ‘At Risk’ dogs would become affected if they lived long enough there is also another school of thought that there may yet be another gene involved in DM actually occurring or not. Whilst research continues we have to work with SOD1A and SOD1B and accept the fact that whilst not all ‘At Risk’ dogs develop symptoms they are much more likely to.
SOD1A and SOD1B Clarification
To avoid any confusion the relationship between these two mutations and their causative effect should be made clear. A carrier of SOD1A who is clear of SOD1B mated to a clear of SOD1A and a carrier of SOD1B is a CARRIER TO CARRIER mating and will produce ‘At Risk’ dogs. As Pat Long puts it “They are two different mutations in the same gene, at different loci on that gene. Each mutation originally occurred on a normal copy of that gene, which is why we don’t see both mutations present on the same gene.
Practically, it doesn’t matter which mutation is present, if there is one mutated gene then the dog is a carrier. If both genes have mutations then the dog is at-risk. If you breed an SOD1-A carrier to an SOD1-B carrier, it is a carrier to carrier breeding and each puppy has a 25% chance of being clear, a 50% chance of being a carrier, and a 25% chance of being at-risk”