Much of what is popularly known of mini dachshund health is based on truisms handed down over the past 60 years or so. It’s hard to find any solid data. Perhaps these truisms have their roots in truth, but they are certainly not reflected in the dogs we breed and this is the only population I have data on. I cannot speak for the wider mini dachshund population.
It is a fact that much can be controlled through good breeding, but not everything unfortunately. When deciding on a breed be aware of potential health risks. That said, the miniature dachshund would have to be one of the healthiest pure breeds out there. They are naturally a broad group, coming in a wide variety of patterns, coat types and colours.
This article canvasses my professional experience of health in the miniature dachshunds that we breed and good breeding in animals more generally.
Genes – the blueprint of life
There are good genes and bad genes. As a pet dog breeder (or indeed as humans planning our family) we seek to maximise the good genes and avoid the bad ones.
Luckily there are some known rules of nature to guide us.
The most general and powerful rule is that bad genes are typically recessive ones. When two bad recessive genes coincide in the one animal, the animal will display the defect the two genes code for. These animals will not likely survive to reproductive age (depending on the severity of the defect) and in this way nature has stopped the bad genes passing to the next generation. But if only one bad recessive gene is present, the defect is not displayed; the animal lives a normal defect-free life. Rather, the bad gene is hidden away in this animal ready and waiting to be passed on to half its progeny.
So for animals to suffer a given defect, it needs to have inherited the two-bad-gene-combo. This combo will arise when two carriers reproduce, resulting in one quarter of their offspring displaying the flaw. And while this one quarter might not survive to reproduce, another 50% will survive as carriers and live to pass it on to their progeny.
For survival of the species, it pays to minimise the number of animals born with the bad double recessive gene combo. The obvious way for this is to avoid two carriers reproducing. Although we can’t see the recessive genes, we can be pretty sure they are lurking about when there is a family history of a given defect. And this tells us that breeding relatives to relatives is a sure way to bring defects to the fore.
Nature knows this. In the wild we see the adolescent males exiled from the family. Kangaroos come to mind, whereby the young exiled males band together in their own small groups.
Humans know this. Humans have developed laws to stop relatives breeding. Incest is social taboo in most cultures. Animals emit pheromones (hormonal smells) and it has been shown that close relatives are repelled rather than attracted by these.
Enter deliberate breeding
Historically dog breeders have not paid due regard to these laws of nature. In determining who will be allowed to breed with whom, breeders have removed the protective laws of nature from the equation. Worse, they have blatantly defied the laws of nature by intentionally breeding relatives. This is inbreeding, but in show breeding this goes by the term ‘line breeding’. There was no limit to the line breeding, with matings as extreme as father-daughter, mother-son and so on common practice until recent negative publicity forced it to stop. The purpose of these immediate parent/child matings was to ‘fix’ (permanently retain) a desired cosmetic trait.
To say this is playing with fire is an understatement.
Add to all this the law of genetics that says when you select for one characteristic you trade off something else. With breeding goals focused on attaining cosmetic minutia, what was happening to the characteristics of high health and good temperament?
Clearly, deliberate breeding must embrace wide genetics – big gene pools – to consistently produce healthy animals.
Specialist pet breeding
Dachshund Australia was founded on the principle of producing healthy pet mini dachshunds with great temperaments and good looks too. Breeding so others might experience the joy the dachshund breed had given me and David over our life together.
Coming into dog breeding as an agricultural scientist, the need for a wide gene pool was a given. I’m trained in the animal sciences and have worked with animal breeding in agricultural industries throughout my career. I did not enter the dog breeding world as a show person. So imagine my dismay to discover the inbreeding practices of show dog breeders? And further amazement to discover that there weren’t any dedicated pet mini dachshund breeders out there.
I joined the only association for dog breeders – the ANKC – only to be vilified by those I thought would be kindred spirits. Namely, a portion of fellow mini dachshund breeders were horrified by breeding long coats to smooths, my desire to import dachshund patterns not allowed in the show rule book and so on.
Taking the breeding of different coat types together as one example, I knew this was hocus pocus; a truism with no basis in the science of genetics. I stuck by my guns and in so doing effectively doubled the available gene pool in Australia overnight. (I subsequently discovered this is common practice in the USA, so I was hardly alone as it turns out.) And by broadening the gene pool in this way we were decreasing the chances of defective recessive familial genes coinciding in any one dog.
Despite the onslaught from within, I plugged on in full knowledge that the general public were 100% behind us. That was 11 years ago now.
Limitations on what we can control
A good breeding program is one that respects the laws of nature. We do this: never breeding relatives to each other, screening potential breeding dogs for the slightest hint of a defect (temperament, conformation, health), actively importing dogs for an ever widening gene pool and so on. We do this, but still there will be aspects of new life – the blueprint – we can neither predict nor control.
You can imagine this is frustrating for a breeder and I’ve devoted another article to this very topic (Breeders just think they are God) for those interested. This article puts in perspective, I hope, the perhaps unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves as breeders. Why, if it was somehow possible to predict all genetic mishaps then the human species would be long rid of cancer, diabetes, glaucoma, osteoporosis, heart disease…you name it.
So this leaves the breeder to do the best they can with the scientific knowledge of the day. (And that must be reputable knowledge. Some DNA tests for dogs have emerged that are not rigorous and work against dog breed health by discarding good genes along with discarding the purported and unproven bad genes. See my article Blindness test flawed , and the associated comments in response, as one example.)
In the case of miniature dachshunds, there are two commonly cited areas of health concern: intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) leading to slipped disks in young adult dogs, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) leading to blindness.
In regard to IVDD and PRA, it appears our attention to good breeding has held these conditions well at bay.
In fact for back problems, our dog statistics match human stats for having disk surgery (USA data) at 0.16% of the population. This begs the question as to whether it is a genetic defect at all, or simply part and parcel of the wear and tear of daily life. Of course I can’t speak for the incidence of back troubles in the breed as a whole; I only know that this is true for the population we have bred.
Similarly, for PRA the incidence is even lower with only one reported case of ‘PRA like’ vision reduction in our 10 years of breeding. I don’t what the incidence is in the broader mini dachshund population, but I have known three blind dachshunds in my circles and in these cases SARDS (another eye disease) was named.
Interestingly, the one disease of mini dachshunds not widely named is the very one that has perplexed us as pet breeders. It is a condition found in all dwarf dogs, be they purebred or short legged crossbreeds, called Pes Varus (or angular limb deformity, more generally). Until now we had not been able to identify a causal factor and, while not that common, there have been many long discussions between fellow breeders and vets alike trying to find predictors. The incidence stands at about 1% of our DA dogs, which correlates with known data for all dwarf dogs. Clarity on the topic has come recent publication by the world’s leading canine bone expert (1). We now know that this condition is an example of something we cannot wholly control through breeding, although there are ways owners can reduce the risk which I canvass in a separate article on this topic.
I invite your now to read the article on Pes Varus, titled Angular limb deformity. For those planning to add a mini dachshund to their family, this is essential reading.
(1) Canine Angular Limb Deformities, D. Marcellin-Little, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA.
In: Mechanisms of Disease in Small Animal Surgery, 3rd Ed., Bojrab M.J. and Monnet E. (Eds.). Publisher: Teton NewMedia, Jackson, WY, USA (www.tetonnm.com/). Internet Publisher: International Veterinary Information Service, Ithaca NY (www.ivis.org), Last updated: 4-Feb-2016; A5697.0216