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Congenital Diseases Concerning Airedales
By Dr. David Post, DVM, MS

Congenital diseases and conditions are problems that occur due either directly to the genetics of the dog or because the genetic make-up predisposes a problem. All dogs can have congenital problems and Airedales are no exception. Airedales are generally quite healthy dogs. Responsible breeders try to avoid dogs with serious congenital problems and they pay close attention to existing problems in the breed. There are a number of conditions that have been reported in Airedales and they are discussed below. Some data from the 2001 Breed Health Survey is included. See the related article on the survey.

Allergies are common to all wire-haired breeds including Airedales. This is a climate specific problem that varies in significance in different parts of the country. With allergies, dogs exhibit itchy skin, flaky and dry skin, and a predisposition for "hot spots" which are raw sores that break out on the skin. It is also frequently associated with ear and eye infections. Most vets are very comfortable treating allergic dogs and the condition is generally quite controllable. Breeders generally de-emphasize dogs with allergic tendencies in their breeding programs. In East Texas and much of the Texas Gulf Coast region, I estimate that 30 to 40% of all dogs (all breeds) exhibit some signs of allergies. For Wire-haired breeds, probably closer to 70% are affected in these regions. Others parts of the country are much less affected. With selective breeding, affected rates for wire-haired breeds can be reduced to around 20% in these areas. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reported allergies affecting 23% of the breed nationwide. The survey also reported 19% with “hot spots” and 11% with problems with ear infections. These conditions are often associated with allergies, but it is not clear from the survey results that these were dogs already considered allergic.

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia is a condition where an animal will start to destroy their own red blood cells, without explanation. It is sometimes treatable, but death often results. It is believed to have some genetic predisposition, but this is not proven. The evidence is strong enough that affected dogs should not be used in breeding programs. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reports a 2.3% affliction rate.
In the mid 1980s, we lost a very lovely bitch (CH. Briggsdale Baby Jane, a True Grit X Baby Gay daughter) to this disease and consequently remain very aware of the disease. Only since the late 1990s have we finally been able to return to the level of quality of Jane in our breeding stock. This illustrates how congenital disease can set a breeding program back, not to mention the personal loss.

Cancers are more frequently reported in Airedales than most other breeds. However prominent dogs dying prematurely is exceptional. Recently, a nationally-prominent show dog did just that by dying of lymphoma at age 4 or so, shortly after several big wins. This unexpected event has made most Airedalers more aware than usual of this class of disorders. Cancers as a rule are more reported now in veterinary medicine than they were a few decades ago. Many incorrectly believe that this is due to greater toxin exposures or other causes. A simpler, and more likely explanation is that dogs are simply living longer than they used to. Improvements in nutrition and dog care as dogs become more a part of the family rather than “just dogs” has greatly lengthened lifespans. Cancer tends to affect older individuals more than younger animals, so we now have more older pets and consequently see more cancers. With exceptions of dogs like the example above, most dogs afflicted by cancer are older and are often great-grandparents in breeding programs. Selecting against the tendency to get cancers under that circumstance is realistically impossible. By the time a dog is a great grandparent, it is often an ancestor of many dogs in many breeding programs. Selection against many of these cancers (if they have genetic origins) will likely wait until there are identified genetic markers for these diseases. Such genetic markers will likely begin to be available in veterinary medicine within the next 20 years. The 2001 Breed Health Survey found cancers to be the most common causes of death in Airedales, but the vast majority of deaths due to cancer are in senior dogs. No particular form of cancer stood out as particularly prevalent in the survey. Melanoma was reported most frequently, followed by adenocarcinoma, hemangiosarcoma, then lymphoma.

Cataracts werereported by the 2001 Breed Health Survey as affecting 8% of Airedales. The survey reports may be a misinterpretation of what is actually nuclear sclerosis of the lens, a fairly common change associated with aging, rather than actually being cataracts. The vast majority of cases were senior dogs, but roughly 1% were affected as younger dogs when juvenile cataracts would be suspected. The survey reported a very low incidence of other inherited eye conditions in the breed.

Cerebellar hypoplasia is where the dog has difficulty walking and seems unaware of where its feet are, but otherwise, appears normal. This condition is a brain abnormality that is inherited (generally) as a simple autosomal recessive gene. Affected puppies typically exhibit signs at 6 to 12 weeks of age. The problem is not commonly reported in the breed. Affected kennels can test breed their breeding stock to identify and eliminate carriers from their breeding program. The problem is under study at the vet school of the university of Missouri (Dr. Dennis O'Brien) and a genetic marker for the problem in Pointers has been identified. The marker is not useful in Airedales at this point but further research is planned.

Colonic Disease is a catchall phrase of large bowel problems (blood or mucous in stool, diarrhea, constipation) and Airedales may be more predisposed to these various problems than other breeds. Sometimes the term “sensitive stomach” is associated with this syndrome and some dogs may have the tendency to puke more than most. The origin of these problems can be multi-factorial. Allergies, nutrition, environment, and many other issues are often investigated to identify causes. Often, simple solutions, like dietary modification, resolve the problems without actually identifying the real cause. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reports about 10% of Airedales have some form of problems consistent with the description “sensitive stomach”. This is probably a little above average for breeds in general. Note that the Breed Survey found 4% of Airedales had problems due to eating “foreign bodies”. I have done surgeries to remove tennis balls and rocks from Airedale stomachs!

Heart Disease- The 2001 Breed Health Survey reported heart disease as the third most common cause of death of senior Airedales. It reported that 13% of the participants in the survey were affected by heart murmurs. Murmurs, unlike other forms of heart disease, are generally a benign condition, but affected dogs should be monitored closely by veterinarians.

Hip Dysplasia is the degeneration of the hip joint causing discomfort and lameness. All breeds of dogs can be affected. Smaller breeds compensate sufficiently for the problem in that the condition causes only minimally (generally unnoticed) effects. Larger breeds can be crippled by the defect. It is generally recommended that breeders of larger breeds of dogs test their breeding stock by X-rays to assure that there is no problem. Airedales are included in this recommendation.

There are two common ways to "certify" breeding stock as tested for hip dysplasia. The main system is OFA certification . Under this system, a vet takes X-rays (generally under sedation) of the dog when it is over two years of age. The X-ray films are submitted to a board of three veterinary radiology specialists that score the hips as excellent, good, fair, borderline, mildly dysplastic, moderately dysplastic, or severely dysplastic. Any of the first three scores are acceptable without significant bias.

The second method of certifying hips is the Penn-hip system. This is a patented technique, run by a corporation and is not as commonly used. Few vets offer the service, since special (expensive) training is required and insufficient demand exists for the service. Those involved with the service consider the system superior since it can be done on dogs as pups and they feel that since it tests laxity in the hip joint, it is a better indicator of hip dysplaysia development, when normal X-rays would not detect a problem. Scoring for the system is numerical with scores below 0.3 considered very good. The average score of Airedales tested in the system is currently about 0.5 and scores above this number are considered inferior. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reports that 11% of Airedales in the survey are dysplastic. This is probably below the actual breed affliction rate due to the high percentage of intense Airedalers in the survey and the likely high average quality of their dogs. They survey also reported that approximately 14% of Airedales in the survey were arthritic.

Texter kennels uses OFA certification and still regards this system as the gold standard of excellence in hip certification. See more information in “Breeders Corner”.

Hypothyrodism is a defect in the production of thyroid hormone that typically manifests itself as primarily skin problems in dogs. Breeding stock can be tested with a simple blood test. All breeding stock at Texter kennels is tested. The disease tends to be over-diagnosed in veterinary medicine. Many dogs with normal thyroid levels may appear to have improved coats, be more reproductively efficient, or just seem to “do better” with thyroid supplementation. But it is a misuse of the drug to use it under such circumstances. Selective breeding for more vigorous dogs is a more appropriate approach. The 2001 Breed Health Survey reports that 7.5% of Airedales in the survey were hypothyroid.

Juvenile renal dysplasia syndrome is kidney failure in young dogs. The problem has been reported in Airedales. A genetic marker has been identified for this disease in Shih tzus, Lhasa Apsos, and Soft-coated Wheaton Terriers. A genetic marker allows a laboratory test to identify carriers of the disease. The disease is more common in the breeds mentioned than in Airedales. The requirements to develop a marker for Airedales is samples from 20 families of Airedales where two or more individuals have been diagnosed by wedge biopsy and finding the gene would cost from $150,000 to $200,000. This study is not currently underway.

Renal failure was identified by the 2001 Breed Health Survey as the second most common identified cause of death in senior dogs. However, the survey identified zero dogs dying of juvenile renal disease of any form.

Malocclusion (teeth that don't meet correctly) occurs in the breed and can develop in pups up to one year of age. Generally, this problem has no medical implications. Unfortunately, some carriers of this trait have been widely used in the Airedale and the problem is unfortunately common. It has been stated that it takes at least 5 generations to get rid of this problem, and this statement does not seem to be an underestimate! Some Airedale breeders have reacted to the difficulty in ridding their lines of this fault, by putting (unethical) veterinary dentists on their speed dials, that are profieient at braces and other devices to "fix" bad bites. Of course, nothing is fixed, the genes are the same, the offspring continue with the problem...... for at least 5 generations.

Sacralisation and Lumbalisation (spondylosis) are where bony abnormalities develop along the spinal column and may lead to some discomfort, lameness, or stiffness. If often manifests itself as the dog ages. The 2001 Breed Health Survey identified 3% of the participants being affected by spondylosis.



What should I know about Airedale temperaments?

In addition to the intelligence, sense of humor, courage, faithfulness, and playfulness described elsewhere, there are several Airedale characteristics that fall under "behavior". First, be aware that these dogs are very stoic and can be in a great deal of pain or distress and not show it outwardly. This means they can be in more serious condition due to illness or injury than might be apparent. Second, these dogs can become "dominant" and be deliberately disobedient toward individuals they consider submissive. This is not a breed for the mild-mannered or casual dog owner. Third, they easily become bored and restless, particularly if left to their own initiative as "backyard dogs". They can become destructive or escapists or just so independent that they seem not to care. Once these events occur, it is VERY difficult to correct. These dogs thrive as family members, particularly after appropriate training. Fourth, with some people, including some vets, Airedales have had a reputation for aggressiveness. When I first discovered this, I was surprised since it was the opposite of my rather extensive experience with the breed. Historically, the breed has had periods of great popularity, and this often results in inferior dogs being bred. Bad temperaments result and I think this has occurred in Airedales in the past. To get some perspective on current opinions of dog breeds by veterinarians, I conducted a survey of other vets around the world via the Internet. The question was regarding which breeds were most troublesome visitors to their clinic, with each breed given a numerical rating. Most dogs at vet clinics are quite good, especially under the circumstances. The vet clinic is a very stressful environment for a dog. It smells strange, it is noisy and strangers restrain, poke and prod at the dogs. Some breeds handle it with grace, some try to attack the vet and the staff. However, worldwide vets agreed that Rottweilers and Chows typically were terrible. Chihuahuas were almost as bad, temperamentally, but they were so small, no one cared. Labradors were the example of good-natured, non-problems in the survey and this held up worldwide. Labs are popular and should be. Even an idiot has a hard time messing up a lab! Other "bad" breeds at vet clinics were Shar-pei's and Fila brisilias. Cocker spaniels are either wonderful or awful without much middle ground, and they were frequently mentioned as problems at the vet clinic. Pit bulls also got mixed results. Most with experience with the breed regarded them well.....unless the owner was an idiot that encouraged aggressiveness. Dobermans scored well, despite the reputation. Had the same survey been done at the height of the breed's popularity a few years ago, they would have scored poorly. Now, the popularity fad has passed and the breed reputation has been restored. Boxers did surprisingly well, almost the same as labs! The point to the story, of course, is Airedales....they scored well, about in the middle ("typical dog that comes to the clinic") range. For scale, Labs and boxers scored about 1.8, Rottweilers (the current fad breed) scored about 4.5 on a scale up to 5 for bad behavior at the vet clinic. The score for the "average" dog that walks into the clinic is 2.1. Airedales scored about 2.1. Most mentioned problem seen with Airedales is hyperactivity at the clinic. A lot of vets had no experience with the breed or their opinion was shaped by exposure to one or two dogs.


How long do Airedales live?

Typically, Airedales live 11 to 14 years. They frequently remain active even late in life. Two prominent studs serve as examples. CH. Bravo True Grit was (at his time) the top winning Airedale of all time. He lived to be 15 years old and was seen chasing a squirrel the day before he died. His son, CH Finlair Tiger of Stone Ridge beat his dad's show record and lived a healthy 14 years. Both these dogs from the 1980's are common in current Airedale pedigrees, including the Airedales at Texter Kennels. "Jack" discussed in the stories section of our website was a Finlair Tiger son, and also lived well past 14 years. I specifically mention True Grit and Finlair Tiger as examples of longevity for reason. They are so common in current pedigrees, that any dog that has a rare congenital illness is very likely to have these dogs in their pedigree...perhaps numerous times. Both of these dogs have been (probably incorrectly) implicated as carriers of a number of genetic diseases. They probably carried some, ALL DOGS DO CARRY SOME GENETIC BAGGAGE, but we always take such stories with an element of skepticism. We incorporate the information as part of the total evaluation of breeding stock. As the illustration shows, three generations of Airedales living past 14 years is pretty dawg-gone good! Below is a copy of an article on a related topic.

Longevity and Genetics

The question of dogs dying young(er) comes up periodically with lots of diverse opinions. I have a unique background to access these events and opinions. I have a masters degree in geno-toxicology (toxins causing birth defects/cancers) and spent a number of years doing research on the molecular biology of aging. I am currently a practicing veterinarian.

Certain breeds of dogs clearly have a problem with premature deaths due to cancers. Cancers are known to have genetic predispositions, although the mechanism of the predisposition is not known for most cancers. Boxers very commonly die at age 7 to 10 from cancers. Twelve year old boxers are the exception. The same is true in Scottish Terriers. Golden Retrievers are also clearly predisposed as well. There is some evidence to support the idea that Airedales have some predisposition to cancers, but the problem is not nearly as pervasive as in some other breeds. Many breeders are producing dogs that live to 13 to 15 years old in our breed. However, I suspect this is luck, not design. Usually, by the time a breeding dog gets cancer (a disease of the aged!), it is frequently a great-grandparent! Are there ANY breeders that will cull 4 generations of breeding stock because one older dog died of cancer? Not likely, and probably not appropriate! We will have to await genetic tests for certain predisposing genes to screen young breeding stock for disease potential. Those screens will probably be available for many diseases within the next 20 years. Some are already available for some breeds and diseases.

As for the observation of "more cancer", it is true. However, it is probably not for the frequently voiced concern of "toxic exposure". Cancer is a disease of aging. Youth is infrequently effected. Since pets are living longer generally now (see below), we see more cancers as vets. Living longer? Yep! It is a factor of the success of progress in veterinary medicine and pet husbandry. In the 1960s, most vets saw more "hit by cars" in a week than a typical vet sees now in a year! Why? More and better fences, and pets considered as family members rather than "just dogs". They are kept safer. Nutritional problems in the 1960s? Common. Commercially available, quality diets have all but eradicated these issues. Distemper in the 1960s? Daily event at vet clinics. Now? A handful of cases a year unless the practice is in an impoverished area, where vaccines are not given. Vaccines for distemper and parvo are extraordinarily effective when appropriately used. Why do vets notice these things? Income! Over the last 30 years, vets have had to replace the hit by car, poor nutrition, and infectious disease income! What do we replace it with? Geriatric medicine. Pets are living long, vets have to develop new skills. The vet industry pays a lot of attention to these trends. Yea, not what you often see on Internet lists, but things are dramatically better for dogs now than ever before and they are living longer and living better! And vets are glad!


Oorang and "Working/Hunting" Airedales

During the 1920's, Airedales were among the most popular breeds of dog. Anytime a breed goes through a popularity fad, people trying to make a buck are attracted to the breed and the general quality of the breed suffers. During that popularity swing the largest Airedale kennel in the country was the Oorang Kennel. They advertised nationally with the slogan "A dog of any size for any purpose". This slogan, combined with the general Airedale brag of "my dog can do anything your dog can do, then lick your dog!", stimulated the breed to popularity. The Oorang Kennel even used the famous American-Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe, to advertise. Their operation was so large that they farmed out brood bitches, bringing pups back for sale. At their peak, the kennel produced thousands of dogs every year. In today's terminology, they were similar to a large scale, one breed puppy mill. The dogs varied greatly in quality and size. They did produce some (traditionally) respectable dogs that won AKC championships and some extraordinary hunting stories exist about their dogs' exploits. The kennel faded from existence as the breed popularity fell in the 1930's. However, since they were so heavily advertised, demand for Oorang and "Oorang-type" Airedales exists to this day, and some kennels still produce this type of Airedale. They are not a separate breed, just a variation in type within the breed. Typically they are over the standard size for Airedales (often 25 to 28 inches and 70 to 100 pounds), and are advertised as "working/hunting" Airedales or "mountain" Airedales. Some of these large-type Airedales are descendants from the Oorang dogs and some are not. (The Airedale standard calls for a 23 inch dog, which usually weighs from 50 to 65 pounds.) The large type dogs do have typical Airedale personalities and are very suitable pets for some. They do not conform to several aspects of the AKC standard and their breeders are excluded from the Airedale Terrier Club of America (the national breed club). Members of the national breed club most frequently come in contact with these Airedales through breed rescue activities and general quality of the oversized Airedales in rescue is poor.

There are a few other “variant” forms of “Airedales”. There is a “redline” strain of short haired Airedales, “black Airedales”, and even red Airedales. Most of these variations have only one or two significant advocates and are of minor significance in the breed. Occasionally, a different pup will appear in a litter even of well bred dogs. It will grow bigger than average or have less coat or have more black or less black than average. (It would be genetically extraordinary for a whole litter to have some unique trait that had not been previously selected for.) If you select those different pups to continue breeding, you will see more of those traits in subsequent litters. However, if you continue to pick atypical traits, at some point you have very large, short coated, black dogs and they are not Airedales. They are a new breed. In the case of “black Airedales”, they are not eligible for AKC registration. The national breed club has a standard that describes what an Airedale is and quality breeders tend to try to select for traits consistent with that description and de-emphasize dogs that fail to adhere to the standard.

Like most Airedale breeders, Texter Kennel breeds to the national standard for the breed. The national club has a very active and successful working/hunting group that trains and competes with these activities with standard Airedales. A number of current AKC (conformation) champions Airedales also have working/hunting titles.


Puppy Socialization: Places to Go, People To See: Puppy Socialization

Socialization: Exposing your puppy to as many new and different positive experiences as possible.

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