Ariel By Heather Taylor
This is about Ariel, our young Mastiff bitch. We bought her almost a year and a half ago. My husband and I have friends that have two Mastiffs that impressed us with their beauty and wonderful temperaments, and we were interested in getting a puppy from the same breeder. We knew that one of our friend's Mastiffs had slight dysplasia of one hip, and the other is occasionally lame in one knee, possibly caused by OCD, which is not hereditary. When I asked the breeder about hip dysplasia and OFA, I let her reassure me, even though she doesn't OFA her dogs. Her brood bitch has been x-rayed, though not OFA'd. Her stud is absolutely gorgeous, and he moves very well, even though he weighs over two hundred pounds. The breeder gave me a written guarantee for hips, and we chose a beautiful seven week old puppy. I was especially pleased that the pups had been raised in the house, with careful atten- tion to socialization, and with lots of love.
Naturally, as soon as we got home with the pup, we took her to our vet, who pointed out she had an umbilical hernia, which eventually did need surgical repair. By the time she was five months old she needed surgery on both her eyes to remove a little flap of cartilage that popped out. One of her eyes also wandered, and my vet reassured me, saying it would settle down as the pup matured. About the same time, she became very lame in her back legs, especially the left side, and when I asked my vet about it, he said he thought it was Panosteitis, and she should outgrow it. Panosteitis is not hereditary.
When our young bitch came in heat, she developed hyperplasia of the vagina, and prolapsed. It was a very abnormal heat, and our vet gave her a shot of Testosterone to bring her out of heat. Her chances of having the same problem every time she came in heat were pretty good, and since she had so many other problems, we decided it was best to have her spayed, and not even think of breeding her.
By the time our puppy was a year old, she was still very lame, and was walking with her back roached. She was obviously in pain, and we had her hips and her left knee x-rayed. When my vet showed me the x-rays I couldn't help myself. I burst into tears. Her hips are bad, and her knee was dreadful. She had OCD so bad that part of the bone was actually eaten away, and arthritic changes were already apparent. I thought it was a death sentence. Even if the knee could be repaired, she is still dysplastic in both hips. No wonder she walked funny!
I got on the phone long distance, and talked to Mastiff breeders around the country, trying to educate myself about how to prevent a similar occurrence in the future, when I buy another puppy. The OCD (Osteochondrosis) is not hereditary. It can be caused by improper feeding. Knowing this, we had been very careful not to encourage rapid growth by feeding a rich food, or letting our pup get overweight. Nor did we supplement her diet with vitamins or minerals. Even though I had a warrantee on the hips, and can get the purchase money back, there is nothing that can make up for the heartbreak.
I have become convinced that it is very important to find a breeder who tests as much as possible, even though some of our bitch's problems are not directly inherited, or could not be tested for.
My husband and I decided not to have our puppy put down without trying to save her. She has a wonderful temperament, and despite the pain she has endured she remains sweet, affectionate, eager to please, and playful. We began a series of shots of Adequan, which promotes healing of cartilage and joints, and made an appointment at the CSU vet school to have her knees repaired. Luckily the surgeon there was able to repair both knees at one time with arthroscopic surgery, and our bitch should be able to lead a fairly normal life, hopefully for years.
If we ever do have another bitch, one to show and breed, we will make sure she comes from a breeder who tests for genetic defects, and we will have our breeding stock tested also. Even though we cannot prevent every problem, we can do our best to make the breed as sound as possible.
(Thank you Heather, for sharing Ariel's story with us. We understand the difficulty you had in writing about it. Unfortunately, Ariel's story is by no means an uncommon one. Hopefully with stories like this, we can point out the need for better methods of selection of our breed- ing stock. We will gratefully accept any other experiences the readers have had with their Mastiffs.
The following notations are added relative to the differing opinions on heritability of the various disorders mentioned in this story:
OCD - While Ariel's OCD expressed itself in the knee, OCD can occur in a variety of locations. From Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Disorders, by Fred Lanting, the section discussing OCD is taken directly from a paper by Sten-Erik Olsson, VMD, PhD, MD. "Nutrition seems to be a factor of importance for the occurrence of osteochondrosis. .... demonstrated experimentally in dogs that overfeeding leads to skeletal changes very similar to those seen in spontaneous osteochondrosis. ... High caloric intake was found to be the main nutritional factor in etiology of osteochondrosis in the pig." Willis' Genetics of the Dog indicates "whether there are genetic overtones is uncertain", but his Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders (more recent publication 1992 as opposed to 1989) indicates the condition is "polygenic with nutritional involvement showing a high heritability of 45-77% or 25-45%. Linda Arndt's Bone Survey Update (Great Danes) featured in the 1994 #2 MCOA Journal, indicates a nutritional cause during the fast growth rate of giant puppies -- too much caloric intake for the exercise expended.
PANO - From Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems, by Fred Lanting - - Panosteitis is a self-limiting disease which follows a progressive pattern from which the animal recovers with or without treatment to a normal state or one so close you could not tell without removing the bones and slicing them up for the microscope. Experiments to discover possible genetic, infectious or contagious modes of transmittal were inconclusive. Nutrition possibly has nothing to do with the lesion, though it occurs mostly in large, fast-growing breeds. The one case of pano experienced by the author, however, occurred after a dog began receiving considerably "richer" food at its new home than that which is was raised on. From Malcolm Willis' Genetics of the Dog and Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders, a 1986 Swedish study on 1,458 GSD gave an incidence of 4.5% which translated to a heritability of 13%, a fairly low rate. From Linda Arndt's article on the Great Dane Bone Survey Update which appeared in the 1994 #2 MCOA Journal, all cases received (422) had been fed on one of two commercial puppy foods. Linda feels strongly that this is a nutritionally caused problem.
Eversion of Eye Cartilage of the Third Eyelid - Definition from 1992 printing of Ocular Disorders Proven or Suspected to be Hereditary, published by CERF. "A scroll-like curling of the cartilage of the third eyelid usually everting the margin. The condition may occur in one or both eyes and may cause mild ocular irritation." The condition is noted as "breeder-option" under a number of breeds indicating a suspected but not proven hereditary aspect.
Vaginal Hyperplasia - No mention of the condition in either of Willis' books. Dr.St- ockner's article in the August, 1993 issue of The Mastiff Reporter indicates she feels there is a genetic aspect to the condition.
Hip Dysplasia - From Willis' Genetics of the Dog and more recently his Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders, "it is now well established that HD is an inherited trait and that it is polygenic in being controlled by several genes. Estimates of heritability vary with the breed and country in which the study is being made. Most USA data suggest a heritability of around 25%..." Fred Lanting's Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems indicates in his summary that "Canine hip dysplasia is a hereditary, developmental condition ... We have seen that it is possibly true that 'over supplementation and/or rapid growth have been proposed but not proven experimentally in the etiology of hip dysplasia,' and certainly true that such does have great influence on dogs geneticallypre-disposed to the disorder." Umbilical Hernia - Willis' Genetics of the Dog and his Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders indicates that "A genetic explanation seemed likely and again a polygenic threshold situation may be involved."