Buying a Puppy? Ask for the Facts, Tufts Veterinarian Says

Simple, common, and mostly inexpensive genetic tests available for most breeds

NORTH GRAFTON, Mass. — Whether you’re looking for a Norwegian Buhund, a Pyrenean Shepherd, or any other breed of dog that caught your fancy at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show, doing a little bit of homework can save you years of heartache, a Tufts University veterinarian advises.

All breeds have varying risk factors for diseases ranging from hip dysplasia to heart troubles. Responsible breeders test for these genetic conditions, share their findings with potential buyers, and work with their breed organizations and parent clubs to breed these diseases out, said Jerold Bell, DVM, Clinical Associate Professor of Genetics at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. 

“Buying a puppy tends to be an impulse decision for many families. But if you think about it, this animal is going to be a part of your family for 10 to 15 years,” says Bell. Buyers can do their part by asking for the facts. “You owe it to yourself to put at least as much research into buying a dog as you would when buying a car.”

By asking for the results of simple genetic tests of the puppy’s parents, people can be better informed consumers—and create a higher demand for responsibly bred dogs, says Bell. If genetic test results are not available, then there has been no quality control for genetic health, and there can be no expectation of genetic health. I would strongly recommend finding a different breeder.”

Genetic testing—some as simple as a cheek swab and as inexpensive as $65—can  reveal, for example, a chance of bleeding disorders in Dobermans, extreme drug sensitivity in Collies, and heart, eye, and skeletal disorders in many breeds. Testing for these disorders helps reduce the chance of producing affected dogs, Bell says.

Specific tests for each breed are listed at the Canine Health Information Center, established by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals ( These tests should be performed on both parents before their first breeding. Your veterinarian can assist you with these tests, Bell adds.

The not-for profit Orthopedic Foundation for Animals maintains registries for testable genetic disorders in dogs on their searchable website, Users can type in the parent’s name or registration number from any registry, such as the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club and find a webpage containing genetic test information if it exists. “This is Facebook for dogs,” Bell says. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation ( website also contains eye examination results, Bell added.

In addition to teaching Clinical Veterinary Genetics at Tufts’ veterinary school since 1989, Dr. Bell runs his own small-animal practice in Enfield, Connecticut. Dr. Bell sits on the Board of Directors of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and on the American Kennel Club Health and Welfare Advisory Committee. Together with his wife, he breeds Gordon Setters.

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is internationally esteemed for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; three hospitals and two clinics that combined treat more than 80,000 animals each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, public, and environmental health.




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