Health situation in Irish Terriers

surprisingly many

Not long ago, the following text was published in the Irish Terrier Club of America Newsletter:

Is is time for regular eye screening in our breed?

For decades, the Irish Terrier has been considered a healthy breed. We haven´t had any major health problems in our breed but the breed is not by any means covered from the genetical illnesses that many of the other breeds suffer from. Quite the opposite: the laws of genetics work excactly the same way as in the rest of dog breeds.

During the last few years more and more Irish Terriers have been eye screened in Finland.  The awareness of illnesses has risen and the dog owners are willing to take part in gathering more information.

There are only about 30 new puppies registered each year in Finland. The number has been higher at times but now it has been approximately the same for a few years. In 2011, a total of 20 dogs were eye screened by an ophthalmologist (a vet with special education). Unfortunately, 4 of them showed diffrerent kinds of Cataracts plus one Distiachis, i.e. 10 % of all dogs screened showed symptoms of hereditary eye problems.

This year (2012) 22 dogs have been eye screened (one dog twice) thanks to a special event arranged by the club – resulting 1 PHTVL/PHPV grade 1, 2 PRA, 2 Cataracts, 1 ”unidentified changes in eyes” and 1 Distiachis – total of 15,4 % of showed hereditary problems in eyes. We may see even more alarming numbers as we expect many more Irish to be screened in the following years.

What does this have to do with us (the members of ITCA), you might ask. The dog world is very international these days. Our population has, roughly speaking, been produced by your dogs, and also the effect of our neighboring country, Sweden, is clear. During the last 10 years (2003-2012)  a total of 48 dogs and 45 bitches were bred from in Finland. All purebred Irish Terriers are registered i.e. the statistics are available straight from Finnish Kennel Club´s breeding database. Of all the sires, 23 came from abroad – 4 from the U.S., 7 from Sweden, 7 from Germany, 1 from France, 2 from Australia, 1 from the Netherlands, 1 from Estonia. The rest of sires, 25, came from Finland – but of all the Finnish-born dogs 5 had a Swedish sire, 5 American, 1 German etc. About the same numbers apply to bitches.

As little attention has been paid to eye problems in the past, the carriers as well as the defected dogs are still in the breeders´ breeding programs. As some disorders are late-onset (often not until a few years into adulthood), the dog may have been used for breeding and thus more puppies with potential eye disorders inadvertently produced. Some dogs may have symptoms that the owners never notice.

The main purpose of the eye ecreening scheme is to ensure that there is no evidence of hereditary eye disease in dogs used for breeding. Breeders are nowadays advised to submit dogs for regular eye tests. Nowadays it is recommended to run the tests at 2, 4 and 7 years of age.

The most common hereditary eye problems in Irish Terrier

PRA in dogs is actually a group of hereditary eye diseases which usually result in blindness. It has been documented in over 100 breeds, and mixed breeds as well. PRA causes the retina to deteriorate over time, until a dog goes completely blind. It always affects both eyes, but isn’t painful. PRA in dogs begins with night blindness, followed by gradual loss of day vision and, eventually, total sightlessness. The deterioriting may be, in some cases, extremely rapid.

Cataracts are one of the most common problems affecting the eyes of the dog. There are many different forms and causes of cataract formation. They affect all breeds and ages of dogs, but certain types show up more commonly in certain breeds. If a dog is diagnosed with inherited cataracts, the dog should obviously not be used for breeding because of the likelihood of perpetuating the disease in the offspring. In later stage of the illness, cataract acts as a foreign object in the eye and causes inflammation and pain.

PHTVL/PHPV is a hereditary eye disease affecting the lens of the eye. Early in the foetal stage, there is a system of blood vessels coating the lens. These blood vessels normally regress before the puppy is born. But in a dog with PHTVL/PHPV this has not occurred the way it is supposed to, and also the vitreous body of the eye, has not developed normally. In its mildest form PHTVL/PHPV causes small pigmented dots in the posterior lens capsule. In more severe cases the dog has got fully developed blood vessels in the rear face of the lens and maybe a deformed lens. Then there is a high risk of cataracts (clouding of the lens) and even young puppies can go blind.  PHTVL/PHPV is sometimes graded on a scale from 1 to 6. The mildest form does not affect the eyesight. In grade 2 to 5 there is increasingly poor vision, and grade 6, the most severe form, means total cataract, i.e. the eye is completely blind.  Any grade above grade 1 is unsuitabe for breeding.

A distichia is an eyelash that arises from an abnormal spot on the eyelid of a dog. Distichiae usually exit from the duct of the meibomian gland at the eyelid margin. They are usually multiple and sometimes more than one arises from a duct. They can irritate the eye and cause tearing, squinting, inflammation, even ulcers and scarring. Treatment options include manual removal, electrolysis, electrocautery, cryotherapy, and surgery.  A dog with distiachis is suitable for breeding only with a healthy partner.

Traditionally, Irish Terriers have not been health checked at all even though it has been a routine in many other breeds. However, now it is the time to forget the old ways and stop sweeping problems unde rthe carpet. New puppy-buyers are more aware than ever and it is in everybody´s best interest to increase the percentage of breeders that are caring, ethical and responsible.

Consider being a part of the movement, help to rise the awareness within the breed and act responsibly by having your dogs screened.

We have proposed the following conditions for having a litter on the puppy list of the Irish Terrier Association of Finland:

  1. The dam must be at least 2 years of age but not over 7  years of age by the birth of the litter. The age limit for first timers is 5 years.  The sire must be at least 15 months old by the time of breeding.
  2. Both parents of the litter must have had at least quality grading ”very good” in a show at the minimum age of 15 months. If there is no show result a passed breeding examination is also valid.
  3. Both parents have been officially eye screened  (ECVO) with no hereditary eye illnesses. The result is valid for 2 years when the dog is 2 years old at the time of screening, whereas the result is valid for only 1 year if the dog is 1 year old. A dog diagnosed with distichiasis can be bred only to a healthy partner in that aspect.
  4. Both parents have been checked with a COLA test* at the time of breeding, and both must have been over 1 year of age at the time of the test. The values must stay withing reference values in all the amino acids and their total must be under 500.
  5. If the dog has been disqualified in a show because of his/her temperament or he/she has got  ”not recommended for breeding” the offspring will not be good for the club’s puppy list.

* COLA test: Cystinuria is a hereditary renal tubular reabsorption defect of cystine, ornithine, lysine and arginine (collectively, COLA).  Non-type I cystinuria in Irish Terriers (and several other breeds like Mastiffs and Scottish Deerhounds) is a unique form characterized by increased aminoaciduria only in males, with lower cystine and COLA excretion and fewer and later urolith formation compared to type I cystinuria. Urine sample is screened to determine the values.