Deb M. Eldredge, DVM
It can be helpful to “know your breeds” for many reasons as a veterinarian but especially for two big ones. The first is health.
Some problems may be breed-specific or at least have a genetic predisposition in some breeds. This can help with your diagnostic planning and, in some cases, could save a life – think of a Border Collie who ingested a tube of equine ivermectin and happens to have the MDR 1 defect.
You might even have a diagnosis simply by noting the breed! A colleague walked through our treatment area one day carrying a West Highland White Terrier pup. She said the pup was not eating well and seemed to have a painful mouth. I looked up from whoever I was working on and said, “CMO – craniomandibular osteopathy. Treat with steroids – most fully recover.” Boy, did I look like a brilliant superhero!
I am very involved with purebred dogs, plus I enjoy genetics, so any articles on problems in purebred dogs catch my eye. Sometimes these articles are in peer-reviewed journals and sometimes they are in AKC or breed club publications. There are also some excellent books out there on genetic problems in purebred dogs and cats. It is well worth the expense to have at least one in your clinic library.
If you work with any breeders at your clinic, keep up to date on those breeds at least. Most reputable breeders can provide you with some excellent information on genetic problems in their breed. Also, put the Canine Health Information Center website on your toolbar.
CHIC is run through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals in conjunction with breed parent clubs. Not all breeds participate but most do. The clubs determine what are the most common inherited health problems seen in their breed. Then they provide a list of required health testing for a dog to be CHIC-certified. For example, in my main breed, the Belgian Tervuren, a dog must be tested for thyroid, hips, elbows, and eyes to be awarded a CHIC certificate. It is important to note that the dog does not have to be normal for all the testing, but the breeder or owner must have it done and must make the information publicly available on the CHIC website. That helps everyone involved in that breed.
Encourage any breeders you work with to participate in the CHIC program. It is better for the breed and knowing about the CHIC program makes you aware of what problems might be noted in that breed.
Beyond health, there are behavior considerations with many breeds. Working and herding breeds often have a guarding aspect to their instincts. Think about walking into an exam room with a large German Shepherd Dog inside. Appointments go better if you are in the room before these dogs. That way the space is claimed by you and the dogs are less likely to growl or react to you. This is especially true with large male dogs of these breeds who come in with women. Chivalry is not dead in the canine world. (And this may be a reason why curbside appointments in this “time of COVID” actually go fairly smoothly since you are in the room ahead of the patient and the dog has no one to guard!)
These dogs can also react negatively to any kind of direct stare. Remember that Border Collies actually control livestock using their eyes in many cases. They won’t hesitate to stare you down.
On the other hand, most hound breeds, especially scenthounds, are pretty happy-go-lucky and don’t care whose room it is or if you look them in the eye. But check carefully for any pee marking after these dogs leave the room. Sporting dogs are generally outgoing too, although Chesapeake Bay Retrievers should be treated the same way you would working or guardian dogs.
Terriers tend to be physically tough. Knowing that, if an owner says their Schnauzer is acting painful, that dog may be in a great deal of pain. This is not a case to put on hold.
Some breeds have behaviors that border on medical conditions – think flank sucking in Doberman Pinschers, tail chasing in Bull Terriers, or fly snapping (at imaginary flies) in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The better an understanding you have of breeds, the better you will be able to serve your patients.
A caveat to these comments – each dog is an individual. There are Mastiffs who would help you carry out their owner’s belongings if you came to rob the house. There are Golden Retrievers who will guard an exam room with intensity. Still, general knowledge of a breed can be helpful in your day-to-day life at the hospital.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.