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In Great Britain the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier is essentially a healthy and robust dog. In an effort to maintain this situation, the committee of the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain encourages health testing of adults and puppies in the following testing schemes in order to achieve this aim. 

Eye Testing

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

Testing of Wheatens for a condition known as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) was started in 1978 as this problem had been reported in a number of countries. PRA is a term used to describe the inherited degenerations seen in a number of breeds.

There are two forms and both affect the sight to varying degrees. We have been able to establish, through testing, that PRA is not a problem affecting Wheatens in Great Britain at the present time. We know of only one suspected case, and that in an elderly dog many years ago.

PRA is a term used to describe the inherited degeneration which afflicts a number of breeds. Broadly the two forms are central PRA (or retinal pigment epithelium dystrophy - RPED) and generalised PRA. Breeds are usually affected by one or the other form of the condition, with a few breeds being affected by both.

• With generalised PRA, night blindness develops initially, eventually progressing to total blindness. Cataract is often a secondary feature of this condition.

• In central PRA, although the sight is severely affected the dog may not become totally blind and neither night blindness nor cataract formations are features of this condition.

Testing of Wheatens for this condition was started in 1978 and testing sessions are held occasionally at various Club events. It is important for as many Wheatens as possible to be tested, those who are kept as pets as well as those to be used in breeding programmes. We have been able to establish, through testing, that PRA is not a problem affecting Wheatens in Great Britain. We know of only one suspected case in the U.K. and that was in an elderly dog in 1985. We understand that PRA has been found in Wheatens in other countries.

The condition can develop at any age and so regular testing of the dog throughout its life is important: at least every few years if possible. Regular testing of a wide population of Wheatens will ensure that should this condition arise in the breed we will be in a strong position to take action to eradicate it.

The test is completely painless and will not affect the dog in any way. Drops are put into the eyes and, after allowing sufficient time for dilation of the pupil (approximately 20 minutes), the eyes are examined with an ophthalmoscope (similar to a torch beamed into the eye).

The Kennel Club registration certificate of the tested dog is then stamped and signed by an acknowledged eye specialist - the owner also receives a results certificate at the time of the examination.

By testing at organised sessions, the cost is at a reduced rate. Private tests are available and the Club holds a list of vets qualified to carry out the tests on behalf of the BVA scheme. This list is included in the Club’s Breeder’s Pack or is available on application. Private testing inevitably costs a little more. Recent BVA regulations require any dog tested by one of their panel to have been micro chipped or tattooed. Regular testing as a pup, at age 5 and again at 8+ is recommended by the BVA eye panel. 

Retinal dysplasia (retinal folds)
This is a condition first identified in the breed in 1994. Professor Peter Bedford recommended that the Club is aware of, and monitors, the situation. We are advised that the minute folds which have been identified will not impair the sight of the dog. In some breeds, (e.g. Golden Retrievers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) continued breeding from affected stock has led to further problems including detached retinas, etc. In some other breeds, breeding from stock with folds present, has apparently not developed into additional problems.

The only way for breeders to be certain that the folds are not present in their stock is for them to test puppies around the age of 6-8 weeks. If the puppies are clear at this stage they will not go on to develop folds. Where puppies are affected by folds, these may have disappeared by the age of 4 months if a second testing were done at that time. So if a pup is tested for the first time at, or after, this age, whilst it may test clear, it is not necessarily the case that the pup had always been so. Once the folds have disappeared, they do not recur.

It is clear, through discussion with the experts, that the retinal dysplasia anomalies currently manifesting in Wheatens have not led to blindness.  However as a precaution, it is advisable that a puppy found to have folds should not be bred from. Breeders should ensure that such puppies are sold to pet homes and the registration with the Kennel Club endorsed.

Eye examinations occasionally show hyaloid tags or persistent pupillary membranes (PPMs). These are remnants of tissue present in the eye during the development of the embryo. These do not affect the dog’s eyesight and appear to be insignificant. 

Why is blood testing recommended?

Renal dysplasia (RD)
Renal dysplasia is a breed specific kidney disease which manifests as a congenital abnormality of the kidney resulting in degenerative changes and kidney failure. There is evidence that RD has existed in the breed for many years. It was noted, particularly in the ‘60s, that a number of dogs, ranging in age from very young puppies up to approximately 8+ years, were dying from kidney failure.

In the early 1980s a group of concerned breeders, with the support of the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain, began to monitor the problem and to look to the veterinary profession for guidance and help with research. In 1984 a litter monitoring scheme was set up at Glasgow University Veterinary School by Professor Andrew Nash with the help of funds from the Clinical Studies Trust and the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain. Dr. Joanna Dukes McEwan, now based at University of Liverpool Small Animal Hospital, now advises the club on this and other problems. 

Symptoms: Dogs of both sexes can be affected from a few weeks of age up to middle age. Clinical features include poor growth (in young puppies), weight loss (in older dogs), variable appetite, excessive thirst and urine production, more than usual vomiting and diarrhoea, dullness and reduced ability to exercise. In the later stages of the disease, anaemia (characterised by pale mouth and eyelid membranes) and uraemia (characterised by foul smelling breath, mouth ulcers, frequent vomiting and sometimes central nervous fits) develop. There can also be a temperament change.

Dogs rarely display all of these symptoms. In some cases the disease seems to appear suddenly and the course is short (a matter of a few days) while in others, progression of the disease takes many months, even years. A dog can develop renal failure for a number of reasons and it is important not to jump to conclusions. The symptoms of all types of kidney disease are similar to those listed above. Any concerns relating to kidney function should always be directed to Dr. Joanna Dukes McEwan if problems are suspected. 

The tests involve collecting samples of blood and possibly urine. Your vet will collect the blood, but you will probably have to collect the urine. In testing the blood, the values of creatinine, urea and phosphates are checked against the ‘normal’ ranges. The specific gravity of the urine is tested and it is also tested for protein content. There is a Club booklet on RD available which explains the testing procedure further.

Testing for kidney function can be done by your own veterinarian. Most now have a Vet Test machine for testing blood and for a basic urine test. More complete urine testing requires a testing laboratory such as Animal Health Trust. Should the results be abnormal, Dr. Dukes McEwan should then be consulted in conjunction with your vet. There is currently no test to detect carriers of the defective gene and as carrier dogs are not themselves affected by this disease, they will appear perfectly healthy. They cannot be identified unless mated to another carrier and RD is subsequently diagnosed in their progeny. Should a carrier be mated to a non-carrier the progeny will be healthy, but on average 50% will themselves be carriers and so pass on the problem to future generations. 

Renal dysplasia can be suspected from the symptoms, but it can only be proven as a result of post mortem examination. Details for a post mortem and the testing laboratory (Animal Health Trust) can be found by clicking here

In addition to the monitoring scheme set up with Professor Nash in 1984, the Club was able to secure the assistance of a geneticist, Dr. Bruce Cattanach. Through research it has been possible for them to advise that we should currently treat the mode of inheritance as being via a recessive gene. We should assume that if affected progeny are produced, BOTH parents must be carriers and as such should be withdrawn from breeding. It is also recommended that the progeny of proven carriers of RD as well as litter mates of dogs proven to have died of RD be withdrawn from breeding since these dogs have an unacceptably high risk of being carriers of the RD gene. 

All breeders are currently aware of the problem and the majority have cooperated with the monitoring schemes. The result of this is that very few affected puppies have been born in recent years. We should remain aware of the problem however as the defective gene will still be present in the background of many pedigrees or it could be reintroduced through an imported dog.

The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain recommends continued testing of all dogs and bitches prior to breeding. As renal dysplasia is a malformation of the kidney from birth, the Club also recommends the testing of puppies before they go to their new homes, especially those from high risk lines or a puppy that has always been small and unusually quiet (known as a ‘poor doer’). This should identify a suspect puppy. 

Protein Losing Enteropathy and Protein Losing Nephropathy

Protein losing nephropathy (PLN) and protein losing enteropathy (PLE) are serious health problems that have been identified in Wheatens in North American and Europe. PLE affects the gut and PLN the kidneys. The symptoms of these illnesses can mimic RD and Addison's (which Wheatens are also predisposed to getting), with the additional problem (often seen in PLE) of enteritis and an apparent intolerance of particular foods.

A small number of Wheatens have now been diagnosed with, or suspected of having, PLE and PLN in the UK. If you are concerned about your Wheaten’s health, particularly if the dog is lethargic or has chronic gastrointestinal problems or repeated bouts of diarrhoea (unrelated to something he’s eaten!), you can ask your vet to do blood and urine tests.

This can help to identify what, if anything, is wrong.

Early diagnosis of either of the problems, means that, in some cases, it may be managed by diet and medication to give a reasonable quality of, and hopefully to prolong, life. The protein losing diseases are not identifiable at the very young puppy stage, but are problems that develop later in a dog’s life. What triggers the onset is not yet understood, though there seem to be several theories. These problems do appear to be hereditary but until the mode of inheritance has been established, it is considered advisable to withdraw those who have produced the problem from any breeding programme. 

As with renal dysplasia a blood test is recommended before breeding, testing for, at a minimum, creatinine, urea, albumin and total protein. A basic urine dipstick test should also be done. If the presence of an abnormal amount of protein is detected a more detailed urine test should be carried out. These two tests, on both dam & sire, are required for any breeder wishing to use the Club’s Puppy List. 

Research is being carried out at several North American Universities. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School has developed a DNA test for predisposing gene for PLN. This research is still in progress and there may still be more to find. This is not a required test, but if the proposed sire has had the test and is carrying one copy of the predisposing gene, a test is highly recommended on the bitch. This is a great step forward and, although not the whole story, will aid breeders in their breeding choices. For further information on this research visit the American Wheaten Club’s website: www.scwtca.org/health/dnatest.htm

The simple-to-use swab test kits are available, with complete instructions for use, from the Club’s Health team. These are then sent to PennVet in the US. There is a fee of US$ 125 to process the DNA test. Our Club recently held a seminar with one of the key researchers from PennVet, Dr. Paula Henthorn. A report on this has been published in the 2013 Yearbook. This also provides a simple Mendelian diagram for breeding with Wheatens with and without copies of the predisposing gene. Click here (coming soon). 

Blood testing for PLN & PLE
Most vets now have in-house equipment suitable for processing blood samples. A complete blood count and blood biochemistry can thus be done ‘in house’. For a comprehensive test at a minimum albumin, globulin, urea (BUN - blood urea nitrogen), total protein and creatinine values should be determined. Cholesterol, sodium, potassium and phosphorus quantitation are also recommended. A basic kidney function test would include urea and creatinine.

Blood samples should be taken from a fasting dog (no food since the night before - 8 hours), although water should be available.

Urine testing
A fresh urine sample is required, collected in a clean container, preferably from the dog’s first urination of the day.

All vets stock a basic urinalysis test. This is a litmus-type strip of paper that is dipped in the urine. The developing colours are then matched with a chart. This shows pH, and the amounts of protein, blood, ketone and glucose present. It is a somewhat rough and ready guide. 

Some local surgeries carry the Heska Early Renal Dysfunction (ERD) test. It is more precise as to protein content than the multi-strip paper. Protein from other sources will also be picked up. Owners of male dogs for instance, need to be certain that the ‘waterworks system’ is clean and free of discharge and infection. In-season bitches may give a high protein reading as well.

If there is a higher than normal protein content detected then this should be followed up with a complete urine analysis and must include a urine protein/creatinine ratio at a laboratory such as Animal Health Trust. 

Interpretation:
High values of protein in the urine not due to a urinary tract infection are suggestive of PLN, as is a high urine protein/creatinine ratio. Eventually blood tests show low serum albumin, high cholesterol, and down the road, high creatinine and BUN values. For PLE, laboratory blood and urine tests will show that the dog has low serum albumin (hypoalbuminaemia) as well as low globulin (hypoglobulinaemia) and often low cholesterol.

The particular faecal test used for PLE in North America is not yet available in this country - this faecal API is deemed an early warning of protein loss from the intestine. Full thickness gut biopsy by surgery, or superficial intestinal mucosal biopsies taken by endoscopy (which is safer), are currently the only way to document that the PLE is not due to GI lymphoma (cancer), but the vast majority of Wheatens with blood test results of PLE have had changes on biopsy which appear as inflammatory bowel disease or lymphangiectasia (not lymphoma). With both PLE and PLN, as with any other disease, history, physical examination, lab tests, etc. must be taken into account for diagnosis.

It must be remembered that any of these tests can show high values for some of the critical components for other reasons than PLE/PLN. Infection, feeding the dog close to the taking of a blood sample, dehydration, other diseases, etc. can all affect results in various ways.

Likewise the various symptoms are common to a number of problems The SCWT Club of GB publishes, in its autumn Bulletin and in the Yearbook, a list of Wheatens which have been proven to have had PLE or PLN by biopsy or post mortem or those who are considered to have had these problems by our veterinary experts, based on the individual dog’s veterinarian’s clinical notes. This list, like the list for RD is useful to breeders when considering their breeding programme. Click here to access this list (coming soon).

Hearing Impairment

In response to the condition of deafness, which had been discovered in a small number of Wheatens in the mid ‘90s, the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain has established contact with specialists in the field in an attempt to assess the seriousness of the problem. Those Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers known to be affected by hearing loss as well as many of the Wheatens associated with them have been tested. Dr. Bruce Cattanach, a geneticist who analysed pedigrees for us during the time renal dysplasia was being investigated, again took on the task of looking at the pedigrees of the Wheatens identified as having hearing problems in an attempt to offer some guidance. There is sufficient evidence to support the view that the deafness may be caused by a recessive gene. 

The BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) TEST is considered to be the most reliable method of assessment. The test will detect hearing loss, indicate severity of the loss, determine site of loss, monitor the loss and indicate neurological lesions in the auditory pathway. The test measures the effectiveness of the ear in converting sound into an electrical signal by way of two very fine needles.

Anyone producing a litter of puppies where affected lines are doubled up on both sides of the pedigree (checked to at least six generations) should have the litter screened at 4 to 5 weeks of age. Puppies are not bothered by the fine needles and do not require sedation. (Information on testing centres is included on page 7). 

Hearing loss is divided into two types: conductive - indicating an outer/middle ear problem and sensorineural which indicates a problem within the cochlea with the hair or nerve cells. Conductive problems often indicate an obstruction in the way of the sound reaching the ear drum (‘gunge’ like wax, ear drops, or infection) or a problem with the ear drum itself or the bones of the middle ear. Sensorineural problems can be hereditary in origin or caused by age, over exposure to noise, disease such as infant meningitis, use of ototoxic drugs or interference with the blood supply. 

As it is almost impossible for an owner to determine that their dog has a unilateral (one sided) hearing impairment, the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain is encouraging anyone with a Wheaten related to the affected lines to have their dog’s hearing tested prior to breeding. Parents must be treated as carriers and as such should be withdrawn from breeding. It is also recommended that the progeny of proven carriers of the hearing problem as well as litter mates of dogs diagnosed with hearing impairment be withdrawn from breeding since these dogs have an unacceptably high risk of being carriers of the gene. 

Harwelden Casey No is considered to be the probable source of this problem. Owing to the responsibility of breeders and owners of related dogs, the problem appears to have been contained. There have been no recent cases: however the gene is still present in some lines and care must still be taken when breeding. Again the Club publishes a list of parents producing the problem. Click here (coming soon).

Hip Dysplasia

The British Veterinary Association/Kennel Club hip dysplasia monitoring scheme is open to all breeds and the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of Great Britain has joined the scheme in order to establish whether or not a problem exists in Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers. Results so far show that it is present to a small degree with only a very small number of clinically affected dogs. 

The term dysplasia means abnormal development - in this case of the hip joint - so hip dysplasia is a badly fitting hip joint. It has been defined as “... abnormal development of the hip which is associated with excessive joint laxity”. Hip dysplasia (HD) is recognised to be a multifactorial disease: that is to say, it has more than one contributing cause. Hereditary factors, together with nutrition, trauma and exercise can all have a bearing. The hip joint can be affected by over feeding, over supplementation or too much exercise in puppyhood. A puppy with a genetic predisposition to poor hip joints can be helped by careful rearing methods, but its genes will not be altered. 

Hip dysplasia does not always show in movement nor can anyone tell the status of a Wheaten’s hips from the way it lies. There is a tendency to suppose that those dogs that lie with both hind legs outstretched behind and flat to the floor are sound. This is not necessarily the case. The only way to ascertain to what extent a dog is affected by hip dysplasia is to have it x-rayed and to submit the x-ray plates to the BVA/KC scheme for scoring. 

A dog should not be x-rayed until the hip joint is properly formed. The minimum age at the time of radiography is 12 months. There is no upper age limit, although it is advisable to x-ray a dog while he is still relatively young, as in many older animals wear and tear and rheumatics can prevent an accurate result. Both good and bad scores have their part to play in the overall picture. The term “score” relates to the assessment, or measurement, of nine different features in the canine hip joint and is the sum of the points awarded to each feature. The maximum possible score for each hip is 53: the minimum (ideal) score is 0. The total scores can thus range from 0 to 106: the latter score would indicate a very severely affected dog. 

For the good of the breed, as many Wheatens as possible should be scored, as offspring give an indication of what a sire and dam are producing. It is this aspect which breeders are most interested in. A dog or bitch with a low hip score may throw puppies consistently better or worse than themselves, so the scores of all Wheatens, whether they are to be used in breeding programmes or not, are important in the long term.

Having the hips x-rayed usually requires the dog to be anaesthetised to ensure that it is placed correctly prior to the x-ray being taken. Some vets are willing to work with heavy sedation rather than anaesthetic. Do discuss this with your vet if you have any concerns. Again recent BVA regulations require any dog tested by one of their panel to have been microchipped or tattooed. It is worth considering having the hips x-rayed should the dog need to be anaesthetised for any other reason. However it is essential that the dog’s Kennel Club registration number is put onto the x-ray plate at the time of the x-ray. If this number is not present on the x-ray, the plate cannot be scored by the scheme’s scrutineers. 

Hip scores are regularly reported in the Kennel Club’s Breed Records Supplement which is published quarterly. A complete list of scores is recorded in the Yearbook every other year. The intervening Yearbook reports the hip score for those Wheatens done on that particular year. To see the whole list, click here (coming soon).

For further information on Health issues, visit www.wheatenhealthinitiative.com