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Health Testing

blue merle MIni Aussie Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan Faithwalk

I wanted to go in a bit more detail about the health testing we do, and any good breeder should do.   I have spent over three decades learning all I can about all aspects of dog care, including mentoring under some top breeders in various breeds (mine and others.) It's not something I take lightly.   If you are going to pay good money for your next companion, you may as well do all you can to ensure the parents of your future puppy are as healthy as can be, and that your pup has the best chance possible of being the same.


     We start with trying to learn all we can about the pedigree of a dog. We are not just looking so much for the number of titled dogs (conformation show champions, working trial champions, obedience, agility and other performance titles and so on) although those things are important.  Titles tell us if the dogs in the pedigree were capable of performing well in various venues.  We are also looking for dogs we know have either produced health problems (to avoid the dogs) or haven't (in hopes of keeping that good record in our lines.)  We look at structure (how a dog is built) and breed type (how well a dog adheres to the written standard of perfection for AKC and ASCA.)  Dogs with correct  structure will remain sound into old age, as opposed to dogs with poor structure who  may break down while they are young.   And we put a LOT of weight on what kind of temperaments the dog has produced, since that is what will affect their ability to fit in with a life with humans.

These are some of the most important DNA tests available for Aussies and Mini American Shepherds. I get my panels done with Animal Genetics, a lab I trust. Here is the page for the canine diseases.


Paw Print Genetics is the other most trustworthy lab for DNA testing in our breed, though Purdue University has a VERY important one one for Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (NAD) in Mini American Shepherds. I have tested all my dogs in Sept 2023.


The disease traits we need to do include HSF4 hereditary cataracts, which account for about 70% of cataract cases. There are quite a few other forms of cataracts these breeds can develop, which is why an annual eye exam with a canine opthalmologist is important. We can test for a few other eye diseases too, but not all.


The next test I do is MDR1. Multi-Drug Resistance Gene (MDR) codes for a protein that is responsible for protecting the brain by transporting potentially harmful chemicals away. In certain breeds, a mutation occurs in the MDR1 gene that causes sensitivity to Ivermectin, Loperamide, and a number of other common drugs. Dogs with this mutation have a defect in the P-glycoprotein that is normally responsible for transporting certain drugs out of the brain. The defective protein inhibits the dog's ability to remove certain drugs from the brain, leading to a buildup of these toxins. As a result of the accumulation of toxins, the dog can show neurological symptoms, such as seizures, ataxia, or even death.


Both HSF4 and MDR1 are dominant incomplete penetrance genes, meaning it only takes one copy to be affected. I will not breed a dog with HSF4, but will MDR1 because it’s too common to remove all one or two copy dogs from the gene pool. Knowing the dog’s MDR1 status allows us to choose safe drugs and medications.


I also test for CEA, prcd-PRA, CMR1 and CD. All are eye diseases, Collie Eye Anomaly, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (the form these breeds can have), Canine Multifocal Retinopathy, and Cone Degeneration. These are all simple recessive traits so a dog with one copy is a carrier, not affected, and may be safely bred to a mate that is clear.


The last tests I do include HUU which is Hyperuricosuria. Dogs with this genetic mutation metabolize waste products as uric acid in their urine. The uric acid forms into hard stones in the bladder, causing pain and inflammation as the stone moves through the urinary tract.


Another test is Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). This is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord of dogs. Dogs that have inherited two defective copies can experience a breakdown of the cells responsible for sending and receiving signals from the brain, resulting in neurological symptoms.

The most recent test I've add is for Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (NAD.)  It's a serious, progressive neurological disease that eventually requires humane euthanasia. It's autosomal recessive (meaning one gene recessive, so dogs with one copy are carriers not affected.)  

You can read more about it here:


Some breeders only want “clear panel” dogs but that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You further restrict or even choke the gene pool by doing that. These tests should be used as tools to plan breedings in such a way to avoid affected dogs. And DNA tests are just a part of the puzzle, we still have to consider the other health aspects for which there is no DNA test, such as hip and elbow dysplasia (which we can at least look at via x-rays and submit those to OFA for evaluation), and things like epilepsy, auto immune disorders and such.

I also do merle testing - M locus, with Paw Print Genetics.   This is important as many dogs that look like they are non merle are in fact, merle. 

Here is the link

For other health tests, let’s start with eye exams.  It used to be called CERF but that organization closed, so now  it’s CAER and submitted through OFA.   Since various eye problems are common in all breeds and mixes of breeds of dogs, including Aussies and MAS, each year we get all our dogs' eyes examined by a board certified canine opthamologist.   Most of the time we are able to get our pups' eyes checked before they leave for new homes, which is ideal.   The puppy exams can depend on weather and timing, since our eye doctor only holds clinics once, and sometimes twice a month, 100 miles from here.  It isn't the most convenient thing to load up all the dogs for a long trip, but I feel it is part of what we need to do. Experts feel very strongly all breeding dogs should have the annual CAER exam.  If possible Aussie and MAS pups should have their first one before 8 weeks of age.  The opthamologist can sometimes see things in puppies at 7 to 8 weeks of age that they will not see again for a few years. However, with the advent of CEA testing, the early exams are not quite as critical.  The reason the test is done annually is that like in people, eyes can change over time.   It's not a guarantee a dog will never pass on inherited eye problems, but will lower the chance since the dog itself is not affected.  At the time of the exam a form will be provided and signed by the doctor, showing the dogs have normal eyes or if there is a problem, what it is and where it is located in the eye.  Copies can be provided to puppy buyers or a breeder can send that into CAER for an official certificate.

coloboma Australian Shepherd

The photo to the left shows one of the eye conditions for which there is no DNA test - an iris coloboma in the pup's left eye.  While it's not as impatactful as some of the blinding eye diseases, it's still something breeders need to be mindful, and not breed affected dogs.

Hips, Elbows and Patellas

OFA hip x-ray Miniature American Shepherd Faithwalk Aussies

  The next area we consider for health testing is orthopedic health.  To get an OFA (Orthopedic Foundation For Animals) rating, an x-ray is taken of the  hips and elbows by a qualified veterinarian, and sent to the board at OFA.   There it is evaluated and given a grade of excellent, good, fair (all passing) or the non passing mild, dysplastic or severely dysplastic.   While this doesn't show if a dog may carry the genes to produce hip problems, it shows the dog itself has normal hip structure.   By doing this test with all breeding dogs, we do all we can to lower the chances a pup may inherit hip or elbow defects.  

For smaller minis and any toy size dogs, we also do patella evaluation and send that to OFA.

I have heard breeders say they don't bother testing because even dogs from OFA good or CAER clear parents can still produce affected offspring. To me that is a cop out as if you are breeding dogs that are not tested, you don't know if they themselves are affected and have a much higher chance of passing on defects.   You can't tell by looking if your dog has many of these defects.    Also, a good breeder will keep in close contact with all puppy buyers to assess how the pups from a various breedings will turn out, and use that information to make better future breeding plans, which may include retiring a dog who produces serious health defects even though the dog itself passed health testing.   I know health screening costs money and time, but not nearly so much as what it will take to deal with a pup who inherits serious conditions. To me doing the health testing is just one important part of the responsibility of a truly dedicated, good breeder.  By doing the recommended health testing, a breeder is doing all she can to reduce the incidence of hereditary health problems in the breed she works with.  It is not a totally "guarantee" nothing will ever crop up, due to the complex ways genes may work together, but it is far better than doing no testing at all.


      There are other tests a breeder can do, and more being developed all the time.  The ones I have listed above are the core tests, especially for hips and eyes.  They are the minimum tests that should be done on all breeding dogs. At the bottom of the next list of links, is one that lists the recommended health test protocol on the ASHGI site.


MDR1 testing website:


OFA website:


The Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Institute ,  a wonderful site dedicated to all kinds of health and genetics information in Australian Shepherds:  


   Here is a link to page with great info, including a link to a chart showing all the health testing that should be done with dogs of this breed:


"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

   Romans 8:28


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