Dog Breed Health Surveys Capture A Snapshot Of Canine Health

image of Bernese Mountain dog


As sentinels of breed health, parent clubs turn to dog breeders and owners to gather information. Their ability to understand the changing demographics of disease incidence is pivotal to breed improvement and sometimes even breed survival. Here, we share how three parent clubs, working with their breed health foundations, use breed health surveys to compile meaningful data on the status of their breed’s health.  

Their focus is to help not only their breed but all dogs live long, healthy lives.

Improving Quality of Life for Berners
The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) has focused on promoting breed health since its founding in 1968. The club’s efforts to improve the health and quality of life for Berners is supported by conducting health surveys. Armed with information, the club is then prepared to determine relevant research to fund.

As BMDCA began developing its 2016-2017 breed health survey, the health committee set out to gather follow-up information from two previous surveys. Both were retrospective surveys. Health issues flagged in these surveys along with a concerning average life span of 7 to 8 years of age helped to shape the 2016-2017 survey questions. Early findings from the 2016-2017 survey show a slight boost in longevity over the past 12 years, with dogs living on average 8.4 years compared to the earlier reports of dogs living 7 to 8 years. Cancer continues to be the No. 1 cause of death, though dogs with lymphoma are often living up to a year post-diagnosis.

Identifying Research to Fund in Golden Retrievers
Founded in 1938, the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) works to advance and protect the interests of the breed through education, research and breed rescue endeavors. GRCA established the nonprofit Golden Retriever Foundation (GRF) in 1997, with a mission, in part, to advance understanding of diseases and genetic defects in dogs in general and Golden Retrievers in particular.

The idea of conducting a breed health survey was appealing because it would allow the club to learn about current health concerns and also to use as a benchmark to measure future progress. The 1998-1999 GRCA National Health Survey, deemed the largest health survey ever done for a single breed at that time, found that the mean age of death for Golden Retrievers diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma was 10.3 years and for those diagnosed with lymphoma was 8.5 years. Cancer was the cause of death for 61.4 percent of Goldens that died between 1993 and 1998.

Collie Health Survey Promotes DNA Collection
Staying on top of health conditions affecting the breed and promoting breed education were the goals when the Collie Club of America established the nonprofit Collie Health Foundation (CHF) in 1986. The oldest breed-specific health foundation in the U.S., CHF has provided more than $1.2 million in research funding to support Collie and canine health-related grants.

To assess the health of the breed, CHF launched a breed-specific health survey in 2016 that combines the general health survey offered to parent clubs through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) with breed-specific questions developed by CHF. CHF introduced the CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) DNA Banking Project using the breed health survey as a way to encourage Collie owners and breeders to submit their dogs’ DNA for research. As an incentive, CHF covers the $20 fee to store the blood sample at CHIC, an all-breed DNA repository created and maintained by OFA, and reimburses owners up to $125 for the collection and shipping of the blood sample.